From Tragedy To Victimization: Whatever It Is, It’s All About Me
Religion & Liberty Online

From Tragedy To Victimization: Whatever It Is, It’s All About Me

There are two intriguing articles at The Federalist today. They deal with different topics (mass murder and institutional racism), but they share insights into the same topic: victimization. It seems our culture wants to take whatever is happening and make it all about “me.”

First, Heather Wilhelm writes about the tragic news from California on Friday, where it seems that Elliott Rodger killed 8 (including himself) and injured 13. Rodger was known to have mental health issues, and his family had reportedly asked police to make a welfare check on him about a month before his killing spree. What Wilhelm is concerned with, however, is how this tragic occurrence got hijacked by social media into a victimization rampage, with the hashtag #YesAllWoman. Overlooking that fact that four of those killed were men, people started turning the discussion from Rodger’s illness and actions to what had happened to them: it’s all about me.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “hours after a shooting rampage in this coastal college town that the alleged gunman said was ‘retribution’ against women who’d rejected him, a woman launched a conversation on Twitter about what it’s like to feel vulnerable to violence. ‘As soon as I reached my teens, I didn’t feel comfortable being outside in the evening on my own street,’ the woman wrote in one of her first posts under a Twitter hashtag called #YesAllWomen.”

Some of the #YesAllWomen tweets offer harrowing tales of sexual assault. The vast majority, however, seem, well, less than empirical: “I know that not all men threaten women, but that all women have been threatened by men.” (Really? How do you know?) “Imagine the creative energy we would release if half of humanity didn’t have to devote so much time in fear of the other half.” (Yes! Then they could spend more time writing things on Twitter.) “I’ve spent 19 years teaching my daughter how not to be raped. How long have you spent teaching your son not to rape?” (Quick answer—so far, on three sons, I’ve spent about zero seconds. But they’re all under six, so I figure they don’t turn into rampaging, predatory, inhuman monsters until they’re about 12 or 13.)

As Wilhelm says, sexual assault is a serious matter. However, many of the tweets had to do with a pushy boss, a badly-behaved boyfriend or a wolf-whistle on the street. Women proclaimed they were tired of having to deal with such things, whereas men were free to do whatever they wished, whenever they wanted, and no one had taught them any better. Somehow, we went from the tragic murder and injury of dozens of people to, “Hey, bad stuff has happened to me, too! Feel sorry for me, too!”

Really? Are these women so fraught with fright that they can’t handle a man with roaming hands? In college, I once worked with a guy like that. I asked my mom what to do. She told me, “Tell him point-blank to knock it off. And tell him if he doesn’t, you’re telling your boss and his wife.” I did just that, and the guy never came near me again. I understand women are vulnerable in ways men are not, but don’t give you power away, and for heaven’s sake, don’t make someone else’s tragedy your platform for your issues.

In the next Federalist article, David Masciotra opines, “One of the most vomitous and hideous regressions of American culture is the eager embrace of victimhood as a means of self-identification from Americans of seemingly all ages and races.” Masciotra discusses the issue of victimhood with Shelby Steele, author and fellow at the Hoover Institution. Steele calls the idea of victimhood “seductive.”

One has to go to human nature. There’s a part of human nature when people – particularly young people or minorities – who have very little experience in the mainstream or experience being responsible for their own advancement in the mainstream, are afraid. In other words, they wonder if they won’t be able to make it on their own. When you go through six years of an economic downturn where jobs are scarce, people are insecure. Then, the idea that ‘I’m a victim of someone else’s greed or cruelty or indifference’, is seductive.”

If you’re a victim, you “get things.” You get attention, government services, subsidies, a pay-out. Victimhood is not about personal responsibility and accountability; it’s about being scared. Steele says (regarding race in the United States):

We were vastly freer than we ever were before. What everybody at that time missed – I certainly did – is that freedom is the most terrifying thing in the world, because what freedom says is, ‘It’s all on you now.’ Freedom sits there in judgment of you, and makes you feel extremely inadequate if you don’t have the values and skills necessary to thrive in freedom. So, we were right away seduced by the idea that we can be spared the idea of individual responsibility with the Great Society. When we scream that we are victimized all the time, it spares us the terror of freedom.”

Both articles are worth a careful read, as there are many nuances that require close examination. However, Wilhelm and Masciotra come to the same conclusion. There is a pervasive “ideology of victimhood” in our culture, and for some people, everything – every perceived slight, wolf-whistle, failure – is personal. It allows a person to take the tragedy of a mentally ill man killing people into a social media event giving women a way to vent about their personal issues, and gives those who’ve never experienced slavery a platform to call for reparations. It’s all about me, and everybody owes me something.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.