If we see Jill as strong, it’s difficult to see her as a victim.
In fact the stronger we see Jill being, the more difficult it is to see her as a victim.
We need lots of evidence to convince us that Jill is a victim.
And even if we are convinced Jill is a victim in one circumstance, we quickly go back to seeing her as strong and need lots of evidence to convince us she’s a victim in any other circumstance.
We don’t have an emotional association between strength and victimhood. That’s why it’s hard for us to see strong people as victims.
This is because we are psychologically inclined to separate people into 2 categories: ‘actors’ and ‘acted upon’.
We resist seeing the people we classify as ‘actors’ as being ‘acted upon’. Likewise we resist seeing the people we classify as ‘acted upon’ as being ‘actors.’
This is Jack.
Compared to Jill, Jack is almost always in the ‘actor’ category.
We place women as a group into the category ‘acted upon’ relative to men.
When Jack’s hit by Jill we resist seeing him as a victim and try to find a way to blame him for her violence, recasting him as the actor in the encounter.
Conversely we recognize the internal life of the ‘acted upon.’ We see their vulnerabilities and needs. We feel compassion and wish to protect and provide for them. We tend to blame their circumstances rather than them for their actions.
When Jill hits Jack we resist seeing her as an actor and instead try to find a way to recast her as acted upon by Jack.
We recast the ‘acted upon’s’ actions as reactions to someone else’s actions; and we the actor acting even when he’s being acted upon. We resist seeing ‘actors’ as being acted upon; and we resist seeing the ‘acted upon’ as taking action.
Put together, we judge ‘actors’ based on how their actions affect those we see as ‘acted upon.’
We consider women weak but at the same time we are concerned about women’s well being.
Because we associate women with weakness, with the category ‘acted upon’ it’s easy to see them as victims.
And the more we see women as victims, the stronger the association between “woman” and “acted upon.”
If we associated strength with womanhood, we would need lots of evidence of women’s victimhood. Rational evidence, statistical evidence, factual evidence and we would look to both sides of the equation. We would look at the situation for men.
But because we associate being “actors” with manhood we resist seeing how men are “acted upon”. We resist seeing men as victims and we find it particularly difficult to see how men are victims because they are men.
Jack is 5 times more likely to commit suicide. He is 25% less likely to graduate college. Studies suggest he is just as likely to experience domestic violence or rape, but he receives almost no support as a victim of either. In fact he’s more likely to be arrested than his female abuser. Jack receives many times less government funding in social programs overall relative to Jill even though he pays more in taxes. Jack is fifteen times more likely to lose custody. He serves 60% more for the same crime. He is 4 times more likely to be unsheltered and homeless and 9 times more likely to die on the job.
If these statistics applied to Jill we would say they were evidence of Jill’s oppression, that they are evidence that Jill belongs in the category ‘acted upon.’ But because they apply to Jack and our subconscious resists putting Jack in the category ‘acted upon’, we resolve the cognitive dissonance by saying Jack is a victim of racism, ableism, classism, homophobia… anything but recognize that Jack can be acted upon as a man.
Men act; women are acted upon.
Men are strong; women are weak.
Men’s Rights activists seek to bring awareness to how men are acted upon by society, acted upon by other men and acted upon by women.
They are opposed by feminists who think that bringing attention to how men are acted upon will take something away from women.
Every era has had its mythology of women’s weakness and men’s strength. Ours is no different and it’s not progressive.
How easy is it for you to see Jill as a victim? How hard is it for you to see Jack as vulnerable?