vic·tim [vik-tim] noun
1. a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency: a victim of an automobile accident.
2. a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency: a victim of misplaced confidence; the victim of a swindler; a victim of an optical illusion.
This one is going to rankle some feathers, and I look forward to a brisk dialogue in the comments section!
So let me set the stage. It’s Monday night, #BCSM TweetChat. As the chat begins introductions are made. Since the majority of the group knows each other, quite intimately in fact, there’s lots of cross-talk: updates on health, conferences, journal articles, blog posts, etc. You can feel the sheer joy many of us experience in reconnecting and settling in to an hour of support, love and learning, with virtual milk and cookies at the end.
Now imagine you’re new to this group. I would guess that for some, jumping into the dialogue is a bit like daring to be the newcomer at a crowded table in the high school cafeteria. I know when I started in chat I was a bit unsure. I know, too, that many newcomers introduce themselves with a bit of trepidation, letting us know that they will be lurking – both negotiating the rapid pace and ensuring they feel safe are challenges.
On a few occasions it’s gone something like this:
“Hi, I’m so-and-so and I’m a cancer victim.”
Which is then greeted with some variation on:
“We aren’t victims here.”
And THAT is where I get bent out of shape. I mean, we’re not even talking about the labeling of someone else as a cancer victim, but about self-identification.
I get it. I know that there are no “regulars” in the #BCSM community who identify themselves as “victims.” Even the label “survivor” is wrought with controversy and resistance. I know that it’s actually frowned upon to be a “victim;” considered disempowering. I also know that this is not an issue unique to #BCSM. You see it in oncology offices, cancer support groups and I even know someone who was “corrected” by her own therapist.
My question is this: Who are any of us to shape, determine, judge how another self-identifies? Are we really that sure that our view is the right view?
When it comes to crimes, car accidents, 9/11 and natural disasters we are quite comfortable with the word “victim.” There is no judgment, no stigma. The Red Cross rushes in with aid, we provide food and shelter for victims, money pours in from across the country. In the US, FEMA arrives…we focus our efforts and energy on solving the problem, not placing blame. In fact, we assume blame exists externally – no earthquake or tsunami victim is at fault.
Then there are things like cancer and poverty and rape, where “victim” becomes an shunned word; one that does involve blame. Look back at the definition at the top. There’s no blame there. Somehow, though, when these more subjective topics come into play we recoil, get angry about – even judge – the use of the word “victim.”
Yet it seems to me a victim is someone upon whom an outside force acts, impacting the person negatively. Wouldn’t we all say that about our cancer?
I often find when we turn things upside down they are not at all what they first appear to be. And I find the more I think about this, the more I wonder if our visceral anger when hearing “cancer victim” isn’t about our not having completely, deeply shaken the notion of blaming the cancer victim. Is it possible that we reject so full-hardly the “cancer victim” in an effort to dispel any possibility that this is our fault? And if so, why do we accept the blame at all?
Looking forward to your thoughts passionate responses…please play nicely!