Campbell and Manning’s (2014) paper “Microaggression and Moral Cultures” has been positively discussed in the anti-SJ sphere. The paper argues that intersectional social justice advocacy has created a “victimhood culture” distinct from either the “honor culture” or “dignity culture” of the past.
I am going to argue that Dignity Culture is, at least implicitly, anti-gender-traditionalism. Honor Culture and Victimhood Culture, on the other hand, represent the traditional gender roles (with Honor Culture reflecting traditional masculinity and Victimhood Culture reflecting traditional femininity). As such, the embrace of Victimhood Culture by social justice activism is a manifestation of the fact that for all of intersectional feminism’s claims to reject traditional gender roles, the reality is that intersectional feminism is ultimately just another form of gender traditionalism.
Honor Culture, Dignity Culture, Victimhood Culture: A Summary
Dignity Culture is fundamentally rooted in the basic worldview of Enlightenment Individualism; a Dignity Culture presumes that all human beings, by virtue of their humanity, have an innate dignity which is to be respected and cannot be taken away by any other person or any circumstance (this dignity can be violated but it cannot be taken away). Dignity Cultures, as such, have primarily been cultivated in the western world and particularly in the Anglosphere.
A Dignity Culture fundamentally believes that where there is interpersonal conflict, it should be solved privately and nonviolently except in situations where one of the party’s rights (conceptually intertwined with innate human dignity) is violated, in which case a crime has been committed and law enforcement should be involved in the matter. But mere incivility or non-defamatory insults or interpersonal unpleasantries are not a big deal and do not warrant the involvement of authorities.
Before Dignity Culture emerged from Enlightenment thought, the West generally believed in an Honor Culture. Such cultures were the norm in the ancient world, and to some extent still exist (albiet rarely to violent extremes) in Asia and Mediterranean cultures. Gang cultures in the western world typically operate as Honor Cultures. Honor Culture refers to a culture where there is no notion of innate dignity, and that one’s dignity is really one’s reputation in the eyes of others. As dignity is earned and can be lost, it must be defended, with violence if necessary.
In such a culture, people avenge their “honor” with interpersonal violence. They do so directly. Duelling over slight insults is the archetypal representation of Honor Culture.
The rise of intersectional social justice, however, has caused a shift from a modernist Dignity Culture to a Victimhood Culture. Victimhood Culture is one in which, like Honor Culture, people are hypersensitive to the slightest insults. Instead of an innate dignity that cannot be diminished, one’s very self-worth can be debased and destroyed by the incivility of others. Injuries to this dignity, however, are not resolved through interpersonal violence but rather through appealing to external authorities; direct individual retaliation is outsourced to proxies. This process of outsourcing requires one to exhibit/declare one’s injuries to others in order to enlist their aid.
Masculine Honor, Feminine Victimhood
Traditional masculinity aligns with the ethos of an Honor Culture; like “real manhood,” one’s Honor is conceptualized as a fragile thing which must be earned, can be diminished/revoked by others, and must be demonstrated and proven and defended through action. “Honor” is a form of hyperagency; it holds individuals responsible for not being able to sufficiently defend or assert their own honor and thus places responsibility for other’s actions onto oneself. Traditional masculinity, like an Honor culture, creates a situation where by being in need of external aid one forefeits one’s right to such aid.
At the same time, traditional femininity aligns with the ethos of a Victimhood Culture. Women are seen as fragile, and thus as possessing an easily-impugned status. Impugning this status is an injury upon the woman, yet the woman is not expected to defend herself; rather, she is granted social license to appeal to men (whom are conceptualized as her caretakers) and to have them exercise agency on her behalf in order to defend her status. Men are the third-party authority in the feminine Victimhood Culture, which encourages women to practice dependence and hypoagency.
If this is true, then it can be argued that we never lived under a “pure” Honor Culture and that Victimhood Culture has always existed in a gendered symbiosis with Honor Culture. Men, when dealing with each other, practiced Honor Culture, yet women’s relationship to men often embraced Victimhood Culture. Indeed, women’s easily-tarnished status often was (and, in certain communities, still is) considered part of the Honor of the men who ‘should’ defend her (elder siblings, fathers, husbands, romantic suitors etc).
Dignity Culture As A Rebellion Against Gender Norms
In a Dignity Culture, gender is irrelevant; your dignity/status derives not from your sex but from your humanity. This is true whether one is a man, woman, cis or trans. Dignity Culture demands that women “man up” and embrace personal agency and stoicism in nonviolent conflict resolution, without saddling women with the hyperagency demanded of men in Honor Cultures; Dignity Culture directly forbids the hyperagential, violent retribution which Honor Culture compels of men, and takes male vulnerability just as seriously as female vulnerability. Everyone, after all, can have one’s rights violated by violent conduct. One need not earn dignity, but nor is victimhood celebrated; moral agency is seen as a human universal, and neither moral patiency nor moral hyperagency are endorsed.
This is a rejection of the underpinnings of both traditional gender norms. If males are not hyperagents, and females are not hypoagents, and if all humans are agents, there is no basis for differential social or legal treatment on the basis of sex. If all human beings have an innate, inalienable worth, then males cannot be held to be disposable and females cannot be held to be more precious. If women are moral agents just like men, they cannot be justifiably infantilized.
A Dignity Culture represents a universalist, egalitarian, individualistic vision. It is gender-blind.
Social Justice Victimhood As Femmecentric
I have noted before that at times, feminists seem to reverse classical Androcentrism and instead embrace a Femmecentrism; a belief that the stereotypically feminine role is the natural healthy human norm and that stereotypically masculine traits represent a deviation from that norm (http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2016/10/03/third-wave-feminisms-cultural-feminist-roots-an-underanalyzed-topic/ see “And One Final Unrelated Thought…”).
Social Justice promotes Victimhood Culture; indeed, it effectively creates a social heirarchy where one’s prestige is a linear function of how oppressed one is. But more importantly, Social Justice normalizes the idea that the traditionally feminine method of dealing with slights against one’s status – the enlistment of proxies to carry out retaliation – should be universal. In other words, it treats an aspect of stereotypical femininity as “human” and thus implies that stereotypical masculinity is “inhuman” and fundamentally unnatural.
Surely a social constructivist perspective would see both traditional gender roles as ‘unnatural’ to at least a substantial degree, yet Social Justice posits moral patiency as a source of prestige and the appeal to caretaker-authorities as the proper way to avenge grievances which are self-admittedly “micro.” The traditionally feminine has been framed as the human, with the implication that alternative methods (and in particular the traditionally masculine method) is something other than human.
Honor Cultures are traditionally masculine and Victimhood Cultures are traditionally feminine; the former espouses hyperagency and earned social status, whereas the latter espouses moral patiency and the enlistment of others’ agency in one’s service. Dignity Cultures, on the other hand, defy both gender norms and ultimately render gender irrelevant.
Social Justice activism, through inflaming Victimhood Culture, has done a grave disservice to the cause of weakening traditional gender roles. Even though Victimhood Culture is principally feminine, it also coexists with and in some ways depends upon the existence of traditional masculinity as well. As such, the moral culture of Social Justice represents gender traditionalism and constitutes an attack on the gender-transgressive Dignity Culture.
Anyone truly interested in liberating men and women from traditional gender-based duties should promote Dignity Culture and criticize Honor and Victimhood Cultures. Those who promote Victimhood Culture are traditionalists, and arguably they are just the flipside of those who promote Honor Culture.
Campbell and Manning (2014), “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” Comparative Sociology, v13:6, p692-726