I was just rattled by this article about “victim feminism.” Marla Braverman claims that second wave feminism, in pointing out the systematic forces that work to keep women down, has created a generation of women who see themselves as victims. Consciousness Raising itself creates women who don’t feel stronger for recent gains, but rather accept that the deck is stacked against them.

The most startling claim she made is that sexual harassment victims who do not protest and or make reports immediately are part of the problem. Had we been trained to see ourselves as loud outspoken strong women then…. well then what?

Problem is, Braverman suggests that those women who report abuse after the fact are themselves adding to the sense of victimization by declaring their own victimhood and scaring more women about the invincible predators lurking around the corner. So perhaps they should have protested in the moment, she suggests.

Yes why not, women should be trained to voice their consent or refusal loudly and clearly. Maybe we can strengthen our sense of choice and voice. Yet that does not erase all the societal barriers than need to change for this utopia of women’s strength to flourish. (Maybe that’s the “victim feminist” in me). Society at large – not just women- still attributes shame to being sexually harassed and to talking about sex in general. Moreover, how do we change a boss or a professor’s awareness about his or her power, without talking about it?

I’m not sure how I would react if I was ever put to the test, but I know that I have gained from the conversation about power dynamics. I know that as a teacher I am aware of the influence I hold over my students and I try to use it wisely. I agree that all relationships: sexual or professional, work of friend, across gender lines or across power divide are complicated. And perhaps the court room, as Braverman suggests, is not the best place to begin policing some of the more nuanced cases she mentions.  Still I am not certain that the work of feminism in the societal and educational spheres can yet afford to stop raising awareness.




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