I’m not an expert on that or other similar incidents, but I do consider myself an expert on the western feminist mindset that
such incidents illuminate: a mindset that blends self-justifying claims of moral purity with anxious deflections of guilt. I know this from the inside. When I was a student at university, I spent years studying feminist theory, conversing with other feminists, and believing in feminist ideology. I worked for a year at a Rape Crisis and Women’s Centre in Vancouver, I marched in Take Back the Night marches, and I cut my hair short on my head and grew it long on my legs as a symbol of my feminist convictions. It took getting my first job and seeing affirmative action hiring in practice to turn me off feminism forever. Here, I will reconstruct the typical story of how an individual white woman becomes a modern western feminist—which is also a mini-psycho-history of modern feminism.
I’m not alone in having come to see modern feminism as a social movement that attracts adherents who are vulnerable to or already possess certain severe emotional problems, in other words that the feminist way of perceiving the world is both an expression of and an encouragement to disordered and irrational thinking. In particular, feminism manifests many elements of a victim mentality disorder (VMD for short)
A victim mentality is a learned personality trait in which one believes oneself to have been harmed in a manner that is entirely undeserved and for which one bears no responsibility.
Typical characteristics of the victim mentality include the following (these are summarized straight off the internet):
Typical characteristics: Blaming others, particularly men, for a situation that one has contributed to; being unwilling to take responsibility for one’s own actions.
Ascribing non-existent negative intentions to other people (particularly to men).
Believing that other people (particularly men) are generally luckier and happier.
AND—and perhaps most importantly, and more on this in a minute--Gaining pleasure from feeling sorry for oneself and eliciting pity from others; and therefore telling exaggerated stories about one’s victimization, in some cases even harming oneself to support the story. When I was a graduate student in Vancouver, I knew a girl who beat herself up and then claimed she had been attacked by two young men (supposedly because she was a feminist).
People with VMD often develop elaborate arguments in support of their theory—for an example try reading the jargon-laden Judith Butler—but are often not above rather more earthy analyses: I often think of the Professor of Philosophy who responded to me with the eloquent “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” Feminists with VMD tend to be self-absorbed, unable or unwilling to consider a situation from another's point of view. They are hyper-defensive, often reacting with accusations of abuse if anyone doubts their story, and tending to see skepticism or counter-argument as evidence of further unjust victimization.
Obviously, individuals who exhibit these behaviors are difficult to deal with: they create a great deal of conflict and emotional heartache in their roles as friends, family-members, co-workers, or, heaven forbid, bosses. BUT when they make up a significant interest group in society with power to influence laws and public policy, they are catastrophically dangerous.
Here is my thumbnail sketch of feminist psycho-social development:
The average young white woman grows up in a culture that tells her that her feelings about herself and her experiences matter very much, and this has been the case for the past 40 years under the reign of Second Wave Feminism. This average young woman is typically the beneficiary of school programs to help girls succeed—all the way from primary school to the post-secondary level—and she is typically taught almost entirely by pro-feminist teachers, many of them women, who praise her for her insights, her social interactions, and her verbal skills. She is told from an early age that she should assert herself, that girls and women’s contribution to society are worthy of special praise, and that boys and men have no right to make her uncomfortable.
At some point, she is also introduced to feminist ideas of blame: she learns that the history of humanity is a history of women fighting for their rights in a male-dominated society. She is also told that women still have a long way to go—that many women still face discrimination, harassment, and objectification. If she is explicitly introduced to feminist theory, these ideas are intensified ten-fold but even if she never learns feminist theory explicitly, the ideas of such Second Wave feminists as Gloria Steinem and Catherine MacKinnon about women’s subordination are now so widespread in our culture that the average young woman simply absorbs them as uncontested facts about the world.
For many girls, the years-long immersion in mainstream feminist thinking has a two-fold effect: 1. It channels any feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, resentment, or self-dislike (which most young people feel at one time or another) into anger at male-dominated society, which is seen as actively and eternally biased against women. 2. It creates a powerful, heady, and exhilarating rush of euphoria, deeply pleasurable, at perceiving oneself an innocent victim of social forces beyond one’s control.
We live in a culture in which victim-status confers authenticity, moral innocence, and an aura of admirable courage for surviving. It wasn’t always this way, of course. There were times in the past, and there are still cultures, in which being a victim is a shameful thing, equated with loss of status, perceived weakness. But at least since the late eighteenth century in the west, a movement to elevate victims as objects of sympathy and interest has gained traction and is now in full flower.
In our day, the combination of the two effects I’ve named—the creation of a target for anger and the outpouring of sympathy for female suffering—contribute to the development of the feminist victim mentality, especially the belief that any difficulty in a woman’s life, from disliking one’s big bum to a failing grade in Math, is caused by a single malevolent source beyond her control, and that she is owed public sympathy and compensation.
Under the feminist VMD, sources of dissatisfaction—rather than being accepted as part of every life or seen as balanced out by sources of happiness—are eagerly identified, remembered, and magnified. The use of the word ‘survivor’ by feminists is a good example of how the two aspects of VMD are expressed in feminist discussions. Survivor is a term that was once used to distinguish those, often Jewish, victims of genocidal attacks who survived the camps or pogroms; it is used now almost invariably to refer to women who claim to have been sexually assaulted.
The word was chosen ostensibly to rebut the charge that women revel in their victimization: but in effect it intensifies the emphasis on heroic female suffering. The idea of victimization remains part of the word—what is one surviving if not one’s victimization?—and to that is added a dimension of noble resistance. Survivors claim all the sympathy due to innocent victims for an assault for which they were not responsible while also claiming public admiration and deference for their alleged moral strength and courage in speaking out about the assault, in alerting society to the problem, and helping other women in similar overcoming. No wonder that a website devoted to outlining the stages of healing from sexual assault makes it clear that it can take years, even a whole lifetime, to fully recover from a sexual assault. With so many powerful public rewards for victim status, it is surprising not that women emphasize their victimhood but that even more women do not do so.
But a big problem developed for the white feminist over the course of time. All of these powerfully positive feelings are vulnerable to claims made by women in other identity categories, especially lesbians, black women, Aboriginal women, and disabled women, not only that their suffering is far more severe than that experienced by white heterosexual women, but even worse that the white heterosexual cis-gender woman actually participates in the oppression of these others through her whiteness, her heterosexuality, her able-bodiedness, etc. This psychological stage corresponds to the advent of the Third Wave of Feminism, when prominent feminists such as Angela Davis, Kimberle Crenshaw, bell hooks, and Gayatri Spivak confronted white feminists with their blindness to the impact of racism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism in women’s experience.
Psychologically, the accusation of complicity in oppression is shattering, threatening all that the white feminist holds dear in her self-conception. Most fundamentally, it takes away her moral innocence and the intense pleasure she has derived from her victimhood. The threat has to be defended against in some manner. But because the structure of the victim claim made by these other women is so closely related—actually identical in outline (another binary model of innocent victim and privileged oppressor)—because the structure of the claim is identical to that made by the white feminist herself, it cannot be rebutted without at the same time threatening the grounding of the white feminist’s own identity. And that identity is far too precious to be surrendered.
So an accommodation has to be arrived at—and in the history of feminism it was—quite simply in theory (it’s become the theory of intersectionality) though in practice it has involved myriad fairly complicated and sometimes incoherent calculations of degrees of victimization and complicity. In practice, essentially, white feminist guilt for white privilege or hetero privilege is acknowledged, even embraced. Since the deflection of blame is always the end-goal of the feminist psychosis, that is achieved in this case by accepting and then renouncing privilege, through confession and contrition. Confession involves, as we have seen, public acknowledgement—the ritual announcement of one’s sources of privilege—and contrition involves attacks on the externalized source of that privilege, whether it be racist patriarchy, heteropatriarchy, western colonial patriarchy, or what have you. Thus the white feminist reclaims her temporarily lost moral innocence by focusing with ever greater fury on white heterosexual able-bodied cis-gender male villainy and declaring her allegiance with its various victims: the non-western ‘other,’ the sexually marginalized, and so on. She becomes innocent again by becoming a victim advocate for her brown and lesbian sisters—and even in some cases brothers.
This may involve the white feminist in blatant contradictions, but that’s fine. In recent debates in Canada about the wearing of the Muslim niqab, the white feminist position in support of the niqab involves accepting ideas about female sexual purity under Islam that contradict the core principles of western feminism, but such acceptance is eagerly proffered in quest of the moral innocence required by the white feminist VMD.
Islam is by definition, in the intersectional feminist schema, ‘othered’ by the colonial west and therefore cannot be the main target of feminist criticism no matter how repugnant and barbaric elements of it might be. It is always more important, whatever the real issue, to maintain anger at white western patriarchy and above all to maintain the white feminist identity as a blameless victim or victim advocate.
In its simplest outlines, this schema of white feminist VMD can be applied in every situation that we encounter today. White feminists march in the Slut Walk one day and call non-Muslim white women to wear a hijab in Muslim solidarity another (you can bet they don’t try to shame Muslim women into walking topless in the Slut Walk.) They fuss and fuss about a male astrophysicist who wears a supposedly inappropriate shirt—seeing his transgression as symbolic of discrimination against women in STEM—but stay silent out of multicultural deference when Swedish girls are systematically attacked by male migrants at a music festival. Though one might have expected to find disagreement amongst white feminists over such issues, in practice the degree of uniformity is striking.
Though we are accustomed to saying that feminism is about female supremacism, events such as the Rotherham scandal and recent Muslim attacks on women in various European cities about which feminists have been silent or conflicted demonstrate that what feminism is primarily about is the feminist victim fantasy—a fantasy that has not that much to do with ordinary women’s lives. It is about a psychology, an orientation towards the world having to do with claimed innocence, rather than reality. As a mental disorder, it cannot be argued with, only defeated—but given its hold on western society today I fear that only a crisis of massive portions, perhaps one that will destroy the whole society that gave feminism root, can ever dislodge it.