Victim Blaming: Language that Diminishes the Value of Women
The Language of Misogyny in Early Western Literature
Beginning early in the literature of Western culture, women are depicted as the pitfall along the male-paved road to enlightenment and perfection. The Bible begins with the creation story quickly parlaying God’s speaking light into existence and calling forth mounds of land among the water into a tale about the predecessors of humanity. Adam is created from the earth and animated by the very breath of God. Indeed, Adam is a self-portrait carefully sculpted from the newly formed ground. Each detail of Adam is calculated as God intends to mirror the divine self in the person of Adam and breathed into him the character, creativity and dominion of The Eternal.
Eve, on the other hand, is an afterthought of creation. In fact, Eve is a creation inspired by divine pity. God looks upon Adam, sees his loneliness and provides a “Helpmeet”- a worthy helper for man. But Eve is not crafted from the earth by the hand of God and given life via the essence of God’s own mouth. She is pulled from the side of Adam while he sleeps. The details beyond that are not given, but the message is clear. Woman is subservient to man because she is a derivative of man. Man is the intentional creation of God endowed by Him with the eternal essence. Woman is the lesser version of man that exists to serve the whim of man not satisfied by the land or beasts of the earth.
The story goes on to tell that God had placed a Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden with the express warning that consuming the fruit thereof is certain death. Of course, Adam has no difficulty heeding the words of his father. Why would he? Adam possessed the nature of God. Eve was not so stalwart against the voice of temptation. At the first suggestion by a crafty serpent, she broke the only rule in existence forever damning humanity to labor and pain. So, with no exegesis required, the Bible seems to expressly tells humanity (at least the portion that reads the Bible) that women are the root cause of all of the discomfort that men experience.
So, what’s the significance of this Sunday School story in context of the topic? Certain interpretations of this story generate a denigrating vocabulary for use by males in discussion of females. For example, in the later writings of Paul, Eve is referred to as the “weaker vessel”. Paul also denotes the “natural use” of a woman as being the sexual service of a man in Romans chapter one. The message conveyed by Paul is simply an echo of the musings of his day; a compilation of the understanding of the world’s natural order extrapolated from the Genesis story. Moreover, the Bible, from its onset, has been interpreted to prop up victim shaming and the language that it spawns.
Modern Media and Shaming Females
In modern media, women are lampooned. They are depicted as caricatures- stunningly beautiful, seductive but aloof and vapid. Promiscuity is typically the only means of obtaining success but will mark a woman as a deviant, not a heroine. Sometimes, misogyny is subtle and only noticed by the keen eye and sharp mind that continues to think in spite of a laugh track. Other times it is not only overt but the bedrock of the humor which drives the show. Looking at the ten most popular shows of 2015, there is no shortage of the memes and language of shaming. Let’s evaluate three from different genres, stations and timeslots:
Game of Thrones: This example is actually a complex one. While there are women depicted in this series as powerful and in control of their fate, intimacy is still a tool women use to manipulate men, the true holders of power. Moreover, female characters are often placed in compromising scenarios where provocateur is the order of the day and the bodies of women are writhing in a static of background decadence. It does not advance the narrative. It baits the male viewer with the promise of gratuitous nudity featuring some of the most attractive women Hollywood has to offer. Worst of all, regardless of how demeaning the objectifying of these women is, the characters are depicted as reveling in the unabated carnality. They want this because it is their natural use.
Big Bang Theory: This is the perfect example of females as caricature. Each female character is one dimensional, and the primary female character is defined by her physical attractiveness, lack of intelligence and sexual liberality. And while the show pretends to be accepting of her sexuality- she is an adult after all- shaming her is still the basis of much of the series’ humor. Each morning as yet another well-muscled man groggily lumbers out of the unkempt apartment, one of the intelligent, responsible male characters is present with a disapproving glare. The female character drops her head and retreats into her apartment having been silently castigated by the unspoken authority of the moral compass- the male. So, when this particular female character is relentlessly pursued by a male character, her refusal of his advancement is ignored. Clearly, a woman with a track record of poor decisions does not actually know what she wants. The audience is not surprised that she eventually concedes to a relationship with her pursuer. She needs guidance from a man. “No” does not mean “no”. It just means, “Not yet.”
Criminal Minds: This has to be the worst example. Naturally, the show depicts criminal behavior. So, it could be argued that since the protagonists are officers of the law and the perpetrators are criminals, there is an implied rebuke of the behavior of the criminal. But, there is something permissive within the narrative of the show with regards to violence toward women. It isn’t just because most of the victims are young women who are depicted being graphically abused and humiliated. It’s that the victims are often young women who make poor choices. She’s out too late. She has too much to drink. She entertained men too frequently. She was a runaway. Then, show after agonizing show, there is a sadist waiting to satiate a deviant appetite with the suffering of the female character. And, for an hour, the audience hangs in suspense as the heroes track down the wayward girl but not before the body count rises and the criminal exercises dominion over an incapacitated female.
Modern Misogyny: Legacy of Shame and Blame
Recently, an adult film star made headlines, not because she had broken into the mainstream and found success. Rather, her bruised and swollen face, pummeled to an unrecognizable pulp, emblazoned the pages of internet articles whose topic was not actually her story. Instead, the story was of a mixed martial arts fighter named War Machine. He had risen through the ranks of the sport only to become a fugitive of the law.
The picture came from a beautiful, young woman named Christy Mack. She had made her career modeling and eventually performing in adult films. However, she had discontinued her film career at the behest of her then boyfriend, War Machine. But, the relationship was rocky, he was possessive, and they spilt up. Then, as Ms. Mack was resting in her home with a friend, War Machine entered the home without permission, rendered the friend unconscious and proceeded to mercilessly beat Christy Mack. With the force of a professional fighter, he caused damage to her internal organs, permanently damaged her face and violated her individuality. She was left scarred and in need of several reconstructive surgeries.
The attack was brutal, but the backlash was humiliating. War Machine fled the police before being apprehended and taken to court. Christy Mack bravely testified against her assailant. But, the public grew angry- an ire toward the victim. Cries to, “Free War Machine” rang out over the internet punctuated by, “She probably likes it rough.”
Disgusting as it is, it is understandable. Society in its infancy was nursed on the milk of misogyny. The narrative of victim blaming and shaming was interwoven into the DNA of civilization being codified into religion. The young men of today stand in the shadow of thinkers who dismissed the contributions of women and saw the “weaker sex” as fit only for gestation. And, the minds of tomorrow are being filled with the idea that physicality is indeed the natural use of a woman, and the use is at the discretion of a man.