Victim blaming and the power hierarchy

You go to a doctor, and she or he treats you like you’re a disgusting waste of time because you should’ve known that rash you have that looks exactly like eczema was actually some obscure parasite from the Bolivian jungle (where you’ve never been). Your car’s broken into, and even though you locked it and parked it in a secured, lit garage, people chastise you for not having an alarm (even though 1987 was the last time anyone actually responded to a car alarm, except perhaps to yell “Shut the fuck up!”). You get dumped and your friends tell you they have no sympathy because if you’d really been serious about keeping him, you’d have lost that last 10 pounds (upon which your entire value as a human apparently rests). You get raped and people ask what you did to make that happen to you. You get tried for a crime you didn’t commit, and the jury assumes if you were really innocent, you wouldn’t be here at all.

It comes in a lot of flavors, but one thing victim blaming relies on is a privilege distinction between the blamer and the victim. As illogical as it is for a doctor to spend six figures on her education and then act like patients who don’t know all she knows are lacking in intelligence, really we’re barely sentient enough to realize how stupid we are, and therefore it’s a very human logic: “I can do this; why can’t you?”

As specious as it is for someone to look at a break-in that happened despite every reasonable precaution and invent a whole new precaution lapse to explain the event away, it’s what humans do: we invent rules by which we imagine ourselves safe. When someone sails a plane into a building anyway, we invent a bunch more rules until eventually we’re all hunkered in cellars wearing gas masks and thinking, “I’m sure we’re safe now. Yep.”

As ignorant as it is to blame crime victims for getting themselves into this position, we do this because it’s convenient. They’re at hand, whereas the perpetrator might not be, and we want to separate ourselves from them (“Oh! So if I never wear a whorish skirt like she did, I’ll never be raped! Yay!”). And even when the perpetrator is at hand, we’re more scared of him or her than we are of the victim. Safer to blame the victim, and after all, it’s all about whatever makes us feel better, right?

As common sense defying as it is to assume no one could be really falsely accused of a crime, we do it because otherwise we’d be able to picture ourselves in the defendant’s position.

The one thing all these examples have in common is a power imbalance between the blamed victim and the blamer. Ironically, the less powerful the victim is, the less likely they are to have had any real influence over their situation, the easier they are to blame. It makes no sense, but it’s not about sense. It’s about comfort. And privilege is a great comfort.


  1. says

    One thing that I noticed about victim-blaming, is that it’s often very much a part of our usual conceptions of personal freedom (“He had a right to dump you for any reason he pleased, including those extra ten pounds!”), and personal responsibility (“Sure, you didn’t CAUSE your problem, but you should take responsibility for the fact that you didn’t prevent it, and be optimistic that if you’re more careful it won’t happen to you again!”). The big problem is that the Western world has so much depression, anxiety disorders, etc., that clearly a lot more people are devastatingly helpless, than we might think. As quoted on my webpage at, many, many ads, books, etc., talk about this as if it’s just millions of personal problems, such as, “If you have depression, this sad mood along with other symptoms can last weeks, months, or even years if not treated. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It’s a real medical condition, but there are ways to successfully treat depression…. Depressive disorders affect about 34 million American adults.” It’s either 34,000,000 rather severe character flaws, or 34,000,000 rather severe medical conditions that are just parts of the natural order. And self-blame is such an integral part of depression in the modern West, that intercultural studies have consistently found that depressed people who’ve lived in developed areas outside of the modern West have tended to feel paranoid, but modern Westerners, whether depressed or not, tend to figure that even if someone did “get you,” that would mean only that you lost the battle so you’re a loser.

  2. Hekate says

    Victim blaming comes from people whO want to think they are in control of everything that happens to them. Also, when we are not in a situation, it is easy to pass off someone elses troubles. Not only this, but people sometimes like to think that this could never happen to them (unless they will it) so they blame the victim. Try to be more empathic. Not everything is in everyone’s control.


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