What’s Wrong With Being a Victim?

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There has been a lot written in recent years about the Victim Mentality. It’s based on the premise that others are to blame for all the bad things that happen to us and it keeps us from taking responsibility for our own actions. At least that’s the definition.

Those who go on about the Victim Mentality focus mainly on three groups: people of color, the poor, and feminists. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that if blacks, the poor and women would stop focusing on their victimhood they could get on with the business of making something of their lives. As if recognizing all the ways that they’ve been discriminated against automatically makes them feel sorry for themselves and unwilling to do anything about it.

But what if it’s not self-pity but social awareness that makes a person see him or her self as a victim? After all, you know the saying, “You’re not paranoid if there really is someone after you.” Why are so many people so quick to label victims as paranoid when it’s clear that they are being victimized?

Yes, you can take being a victim too far. If it paralyzes you and destroys your self-esteem, it’s obviously not a useful mind-set. But rather than seeing it as a character defect, I see it as a positive thing. Because far to many of us don’t blame others enough for the hardships we encounter in life. We put ourselves down for not being strong enough, or clever enough, or hard-working enough to overcome our personal difficulties.

But if we do happen to express the thought that someone else may have “done us wrong,” watch out. There are plenty of people out there who will accuse us of playing the “poor me” card. “You’re just lazy,” they say. “You aren’t willing to work hard for what you want. You’re a baby.”

“They” want us to swallow that swill because they don’t want to face all the ways that they have contributed to our subjugation and our hardships. Whites don’t want to admit that they’re prejudiced. The rich don’t want to admit that they could care less what happens to the poor. Men don’t want to admit that they really do see women as inferior.

See, there’s no excuse in the good ole U.S. of A. for personal failure. So if a black, poor person or female has a hard time getting ahead, it must be his or her fault. Institutional or personal discrimination couldn’t possibly play a role in their less-than-stellar outcomes in life.

There are such things as racism, classism and sexism is this country. People do discriminate against others based on their own self-interest and biases. Human nature dictates that one way to keep yourself on top is to make sure that others stay down. Those who victimize others blame the victims for their own victimization. It’s a clever and insidious technique.

I think it’s important to see yourself as a victim. Because until you identify the ways you’ve been victimized, you’re never going to have enough fire in your belly to do anything about it. You need to be able to identify the people who have a vested interest in keeping you in your place and the processes they use to accomplish it.

And then you need to fight like hell to make sure they never victimize you again.

Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Who You Are

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Things have been fairly quiet on the feminist front lately—at least on my feminist front. I haven’t written a post for Femagination for a week.  But that’s partly because there hasn’t been much to inspire me. And frankly I’ve been more focused on my journey as a new Muslim. (If you’re curious about that, check out I, Muslimah.)

The Burqa Controversy

That doesn’t mean that my being a Muslim has nothing to do with feminism. On the contrary. As a Muslim woman, I’ve been very aware of the controversy about the recent ban in France on the burqa. I don’t wear the burqa and can’t imagine ever wearing one, but I’m solidly on the side of a woman’s right to wear one. I think those who claim that it is a sign of oppression (and that includes some feminists) need to talk to the women who wear them, especially in the West. If they’re so worried about Muslim women’s welfare, shouldn’t they be asking the women what they need and want?

People who are concerned about terrorism are somehow reassured that they will be safer if Muslim women’s faces are clearly visible. What does showing one’s face prove? And what are they going to ban next? If they start banning the abaya (a long over-dress) or the jilbab (a long overcoat), shouldn’t they also ban all long coats, dresses and skirts? But of course they won’t do that, because it’s only Muslim clothing that is threatening. Is it just me, or does anyone else see that as profiling?

Racial Profiling

That’s what is surely going to happen in Arizona when its new immigration laws take effect. Hispanics will be targeted as “suspicious” and more likely to be illegal. No matter that they may have lived in Arizona longer than most of the white population. It will be interesting to see the statistics after these laws have been in place for awhile. Anyone who is “foreign-looking” (meaning not white) is either a terrorist or an alien (hence the name “alien”?).

I’m sick of the white people in this country acting as if they’re the only ones who belong here. That’s just ludicrous. With the exception of Native Americans, we’re all immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants. That’s hardly a new observation, but some people can’t seem to get it through their thick skulls. You’re an American if a) you were born here, or b) you live here. (Technically you’re not an “official” American unless you have American citizenship, but I’d argue that you can live here long enough without becoming a citizen that you start identifying as American.)

I’m in a somewhat unique position of not looking like a “typical” Muslim. I’m fair and have blonde hair and blue eyes (plus I don’t have an accent). Even when I’m wearing a hijab (head scarf), I’ve had people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, ask if I’m a Muslim. They’re profiling, too. But the Muslims who find out that I’m one of them are delighted, while non-Muslims are mostly just surprised. I suppose one reason why I wear the hijab is that it is harder for me to be recognized as a Muslim without it.

Continue reading Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Who You Are

Burqa Barbie

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Image via Caters.
Image via Caters.

Women’s groups and conservative spokespersons alike have been sputtering with outrage over the decision to auction off Burqa Barbies for a Save the Children “Rewrite the Future” fundraising campaign. (The organization’s purpose is “to educate children in conflict areas around the world”.) Italian designer Eliana Lorena has outfitted 500 Barbies in their respective cultural clothing; Burqa Barbie was meant to represent Afghani culture, not make a political statement.

Why the uproar, then? First of all, the burqa is seen as a symbol of oppression by Western feminists. In essence, what these feminists are saying to women who wear them is: We’re sure that you wouldn’t wear these if you weren’t being forced to. What they fail to take into account is that the clothing has cultural and religious significance for Muslim women in many areas of the world. Imagine if you had worn the burqa all your life, if all the women around you wore them and, furthermore, that you don’t have to wear them all the time (you can wear what you want at home). You might wonder what all the fuss is about.

Then imagine also that your faith means a lot to you and that you believe that the burqa is a sign of your devotion to God. The burqa, or other forms of Muslim dress, may make you feel closer to God and more a part of your religious community. Would you then be so quick to throw it off?

Obviously, though, the burqa is offensive to many people for another reason: it is used in anti-Islamic propaganda to symbolize what is seen as the dark side of Islam. (See this poster that was used in the campaign to ban minarets in Switzerland.) The burqa, and especially the niqab (the face covering), bring to mind all kind of sinister images. What are they hiding under there? Why won’t they show who they really are? What are they so afraid of?

When I tell people that I converted to Islam, at some point I’m usually asked if I’m going to wear the headscarf. The implication is always that if I did, I would be seen as extreme, even threatening, definitely “other.” And that’s just if I wore the headscarf. Imagine if I covered everything! (Some Muslimahs–Muslim women–cover their hands and/or faces as well.) But if I did, that would be my choice, not something that is foisted upon me.

Muslims sometimes criticize Western women for their “immodest” ways of dressing. In some cases, I think there’s justification for that. But Muslims and non-Muslims both need to cut each other some slack. What is considered immodest to Muslims is usually perfectly acceptable to non-Muslims and what is extreme to non-Muslims is ordinary to Muslims. Non-Muslims are arrogant when they insist on judging others by their own standards. Muslims can be arrogant as well. But the arrogance is usually a mask for fear: we’re all afraid that our cultures will be taken over by the “other.” Until we learn that we can co-exist without losing our identities, we will continue to be threatened by Barbie dolls.

Being Afraid of Labels

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When we say that we don’t like to label ourselves, what we’re really saying is that we’re afraid to commit.  When we label ourselves, we’re taking a stand. It’s much easier to say, “I believe in women’s rights and equality between the sexes, but I’m not a feminist,” “I believe in God, but I’m not a Christian/Jew/Muslim,” “I don’t believe in belonging to any one political party,” “I consider myself to be a moderate.” To align ourselves with one specific side is to make ourselves accountable for our beliefs.

Sometimes it’s better to sit on the fence, at least for a time. We should be slow to judge others, for instance. We should be mature enough to see that life is not black or white, but shades of gray. What is good for one person might not be good for another. We should be willing to listen to the opinions of others. Tolerance is a virtue. But at some point we have to choose sides. We’re either for or against the death penalty, war, abortion, birth control, homosexual rights, affirmative action, etc. Refusing to take a stance comes from cowardice and intellectual laziness. We’re afraid of what others think of us. We don’t like having to think for ourselves.

It’s human nature to sort people into categories. But when the labels don’t fit–when they are based on prejudices and presuppositions–they need to be revealed for the frauds that they are. The only way we can fight unfair labels others put on us is to know ourselves fully and not be afraid to defend our positions. We can be proud of our labels as long as we thoughtfully give them to ourselves.

Second Wave Outrage

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I just read Rebecca Traister’s article on Salon.com about Hillary supporters. The title is “Why Clinton Voters Say They Won’t Support Obama,” and the subtitle is “The Attack of the PUMAs, Or A Dozen Reasons Why Clinton Voters Are Too Angry To Come Home.” I thought she hit the nail right on the head. And then I read some of the comments.

I was appalled at the ones which railed against white middle class Second Wave feminists as if we were a bunch of racists, just because we wanted Hillary to get the nomination. I wasn’t for Clinton because she was white and I wasn’t for her just because she was a woman. But her gender influenced me, sure. Are you going to tell me that Obama’s race doesn’t influence some voters (i.e., black ones) to vote for him? Why else would it be said that he has a loyal voting bloc among African-Americans? Oh, but it’s okay to want to be loyal to your race. What isn’t okay is being loyal to your gender!

I wouldn’t have voted for just any woman for President, although I admit that I would give a female candidate a little more leeway than I would a man, because I think it’s about time we had a woman president. So sue me.

So will I switch my vote to Obama? Yes, because as Traister points out in her article, there is nowhere else to go. There’s no way in hell I would vote for McCain. But that doesn’t mean that I’m happy about Obama, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s black or male. I feel that we (white middle class Second Wave fems) are having to settle for second best. I’m not a PUMA (“Party Unity My Ass”), because I will remain true to my party. But I’m still angry. I know I have to get over it in order to give Obama all the support he will need to beat McCain. But for now let me stew in my juices.