Kajsa Ekis Ekman on The Invulnerable Person

Why this fear of calling someone a victim? …

Like all systems that accept inequalities, the neoliberal order hates victims. To speak of a ‘vulnerable person’ points to the lack of, and need for, a just society and a social safety net. Making it a taboo to talk about victims is a step towards legitimizing class divisions and gender inequality. This takes place in two stages. First we are told that the victim is by definition weak, passive and helpless. But because in reality vulnerable people develop a variety of strategies to cope with their situation, it is ‘revealed’ that the idea of the victim is false. The vulnerable person was not passive and helpless, but exactly the opposite: she was strong and brave with a devil-may-care attitude. As a consequence, victimhood must be abolished. It follows, therefore, that we must accept the existing social order -— including prostitution, a class society, global inequalities —- if we want to resist labeling people as passive and helpless. But there is something strange about this definition of victimhood. A victim, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a person who is put to death or subjected to torture by another; one who suffers severely in body or property through cruel or oppressive treatment” or “one who is reduced or destined to suffer under some oppressive or destructive agency.” That is, someone who is subjected to something by someone else. Nothing is said about the characteristics of the subjected person in this definition —- it is all about what someone else does to him or her. Someone hits, robs, cheats, is cruel towards or takes advantage of someone else in some way.

What characterizes the neoliberal definition of the victim, however, is that victimhood has become a characteristic. It means that a person is weak, that we can be either passive victims or active subjects. We cannot be both. In this way, the victim is depicted so negatively that the concept must eventually be abolished completely. Instead of the vulnerable person (who has now disappeared), the illusion of the invulnerable person is created -— the person who, by definition, cannot become a victim. No one -— not women, drug abusers, people subjected to human trafficking, people living in poverty, illegal immigrants, or even children with no other option but to dig in the trash for food -— can be called ‘subjugated’. The ideal of the superman/superwoman becomes the natural condition of the human. For whatever this invulnerable person’s fate -— to be screwed by multiple men per day, take drugs and contract HIV/AIDS at ten years of age, have her body covered in bruises, lie passively and let herself be used, or turn other children into slaves -— she is, by definition, an active subject who exercises opposition and control. The only possible violence that can be exerted against her is by calling her a victim. It is worse than any other physical or psychological violation to speak of her as subjugated -— only then does she become a victim. A consequence of this belief system is the conviction that if there are no victims, there can be no perpetrators. The unmentionables, the men, are completely exonerated in a highly convenient, imperceptible way. …

Under the surface lies the same victim-blaming ideology: victimhood is for the feeble; those who are capable and self-aware don’t become victims. …

This type of rhetoric consistently presents the position of the victim as related to the behavior of the vulnerable person. There is a value judgment here as well as an imperative: don’t be a victim! Being a victim is for losers! Victimhood becomes an identity associated with a variety of negative qualities nobody wants to have. The doctrine of the invulnerable person quickly develops into an imperative to be the responsible, liberal individual. …

But the most vulnerable individual is always the one who is depicted as strong. Her alleged strength becomes a way for society as a whole to escape having to feel any solidarity with her.

Ekman, K. E., & Cheadle, S. M. (2013). Being and Being Bought : Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self. North Melbourne, Victoria: Spinifex Press.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusmail

Leave a Reply