Feminism | Posted by Katherine C on 01/18/2011

Thoughts on Victimization

a depiction of the Celtic goddess Macha

a depiction of the Celtic goddess Macha

In ancient Celtic myth, the goddess Macha was forced by Conor mac Nessa of Ulster and his men to race against his horses while trapped in human form, even though she was pregnant. It made her begin labor prematurely, and as she delivered her twins, she let out a scream that stole the strength from all the grown men in hearing. Then Macha cursed the Ulstermen, saying, “From this day forward, you will be afflicted by the weakness of a woman in childbirth for your cruel treatment of me. At the hour of your greatest need, you will become as powerless as I am now, and so will your sons and your son’s sons, for nine generations.”

Maybe this happened in a concrete, historical way, or maybe it happened (just as powerfully) in the legacy of Irish storytelling. And maybe the story is the legacy of a pregnant woman who was beaten, or raped, or made to work at heavy labor to the point of miscarriage, and who wished that for just one moment her tormentor(s) could feel as weak, ineffectual, and powerless as she did.

Sexism and gender oppression are, at their core, a mind-game; a sick power trip in which a selection of one gender terrorizes, directly or by suggestion and fear-mongering, the whole of the other gender. Consider one facet of life as a woman in a city: street harassment. It’s been my personal observation, and the observation of the women and girls around me, that street harassers do not focus the majority of their attentions on women who are well-dressed, clean, and purposeful; they save it for the tired women, or the women dressed in tatty clothing, or the sweaty, grimy women. Their goal is to sadistically make someone they perceive as already unstable even more wrongfooted and unsure; in other words, “weak.” To the woman who is threatened, propositioned, whistled at, or groped daily on her way to work, it seems like a concerted effort to keep her feeling vulnerable and afraid. Indeed, the patriarchy “wants” (as much as a semi-conscious and blindly coordinated force can desire anything) women and girls to feel that they are weak and ineffectual.

Actually, one of the most effective things a woman or girl can do to fight gender oppression is to feel good about herself.

Obviously, no one can demand this of anyone all the time, but consider this: every time you take pride in your talents, every time you realize that you are comfortable in your own body, every time you bravely walk out to meet the day, you laugh in the face of everyone who wants you silent and shamed.

No one has the right to make a victim out of you. No one has the rights to shove constant fear into your periphery. This is your world, too. Consider that.

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  • Miriam @ at 11:28 am, January 18th, 2011

    Great post! I’ve always felt that although combating sexism and harassment is obviously very important, there are things we can do right now to avoid some of the harmful effects of these things. This is one of them.

  • M @ at 12:16 pm, January 18th, 2011

    If one of the Ulstermen had been treated like Macha was treated – you can bet he’d feel every bit as weak, ineffectual, and powerless as she did…

    Some guys just don’t realize how sheltered life they lead.

  • david @ at 11:12 am, January 19th, 2011

    If I promise not to start an argument with the information, could you tell me who make up the patriarchy? And, if you know, what are the main organizations, institutions, or afiliations through which they exercise their power?
    Is it possible for a boy to grow up and not be part of it?
    Again, I promise not to continue the thread with or without an argument.

  • Nereida @ at 3:06 pm, January 19th, 2011

    Yes, by allowing ourselves to be treated this way by men for many years, women have not done themselves justice (right idiom?). I think another problem of women is that women have been raised to see other women as rivals, so we do not work together. But just because one grows up in a certain system does not mean they must continue to perpetuate it. One must rise above and look below, with an unbiased eye, and say “this is not right.” Then he (or she) is obligated to do right and try to fix a broken world. Whether it is a boy in a patriarchy or a woman in an oppressive society, it does not matter. Any sort of injustice, when seen, must be corrected. It’s our duty as human beings.

  • Katherine C. @ at 3:06 pm, January 19th, 2011

    @david: I appreciate the fact that you really want to know what I think and are not just looking for an opportunity to start trolling :)

    I will give you the Wikipedia definition of “patriarchy” because it is pretty good: Patriarchy is a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination.

    This is what I think:
    The patriarchy is made up of anti-choice politicians, the media, the profit-blinded businessmen, the warmongers, the rapists, the guy at the hardware store who tries to get a higher price from women, the father who insists on approving every guy his daughter dates, the teacher who gives all of his (or her) attention to the male students. Straight, cissexual males may not directly contribute to the patriarchy, but they benefit from it every day. Women often are used by the patriarchy- think the woman who lives for the approval of her father/boyfriend/husband. Think Sarah Palin. The patriarchy is actually more of a social consciousness- a kind of group-think. It’s pretty damn pervasive.

    I hope that helped :D

  • david @ at 4:06 pm, January 19th, 2011

    Thanks Nereida and Katherine C
    You made me look up some words but that’s always a good thing.

  • A @ at 11:31 pm, January 22nd, 2011

    @ david- also, one of the goals of feminism is to basically get rid of the patriarchy. additionally, it’s almost as likely for a girl as a boy to be subjected to the patriarchy, although its pervasiveness has greatly lessened in the last century to half century. :)

  • David @ at 1:36 pm, January 23rd, 2011

    Thanks again.

  • David @ at 12:00 pm, January 24th, 2011

    May I ask another question, and again, no arguments?
    Do you think that women need more protection by society, particularly girls and young women? I realize that society should try to protect everyone but are females special because of the predatory nature of the world and their importance to the future? In my life there hasn’t been people hitting on me all the time, buying me drinks and trying to weaken my defenses so I didn’t need extra protection. We have so many young women out there, many with children, which are vulnerable. I understand and agree with the struggle to be equal but I also know that some things just aren’t equal, because nature made it that way.

  • Katherine C. @ at 8:15 am, January 28th, 2011

    @David: Women and girls only ask for the same amount of “protection” afforded by our society and government to men and boys- the point that feminists are trying to make is that women are people with the same abilities, common sense, and rights as men, and that therefore we should be seen as different from men, but not unequal. I don’t think that the concepts of equality and diversity are mutually exclusive by any means.

  • David @ at 9:49 am, January 28th, 2011

    There is much that we agee on, Thanks.

  • AHodges @ at 10:28 pm, February 6th, 2011

    David, patriarchy is the authority of men and fathers. It’s the way our society is organized to keep women as second-class citizens.

    If you are interested in feminist issues, please read up on these concepts. There are blogs such as Jezebel, Feministing, Shakesville, and tons more. And naturally, there are more books and articles than you can count. I think its great that you want to know. That curiosity alone puts you ahead of most guys, lol.

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