as victim" is one of the Great Lies of our time. Those who care about women's
welfare should correct the damage done by this lie because, today more than
ever, women need to acknowledge their power and take control of their lives.
Nothing has felt secure since Sept. 11.
Global tensions have spun out of control, terrorism means that no civilians
are safe, the news is filled with photos of Iraqi children who break your
heart and leave you feeling powerless to affect anything. You can click off
the TV for time-out but another uncertainty is more difficult to escape:
Everyone I know seems to be worried about job security and rising prices.
A neighbor has returned to work because her retirement relied on company
stock that now sells for less than 5 percent of its peak value. A friend
has survived the latest round of employee cuts at a high-tech job. An acquaintance
who has been laid off for two weeks — again! — is grabbing odd shifts as
a cook at a local bar and grill.
Women today need to take control of their lives. But believing in their own
power is made more difficult by the type of feminism that celebrates "the
victim" as a symbol of womanhood. Victims of men, of the class structure,
technology, government, the free market, the family, the church, Western
values ... everywhere and always women are painted as victims. This Great
Lie stands as a barrier to women realizing their power in at least three
First, the "solutions" proposed and pursued by most feminists have made women
more dependent, not less. It may be true that women now abound in arenas
like academia. But such advances are firmly tied to laws and mandated policies,
such as affirmative action, which impose quotas. The clear message of these
laws and policies is that women cannot compete with men in the free market.
Women require governmental assistance to be successful.
And, so, women's prosperity becomes dependent upon government privilege and
a system of social control, which transfers power from the hands of individuals
into those of politicians and government. This is a relinquishment of control
on the part of every human being, including women.
Second, the Great Lie leads many women to believe in their lack of control
and to blame their circumstances on everything or anyone but themselves.
In reality, there are always alternatives and people constantly make choices.
Sometimes all the alternatives are undesirable but that does not negate the
one sure source of power every individual has: the ability to choose. That's
how you gain some control over a situation and eventually improve it.
The improvement can be a long, arduous process, I know. I ran away from home
at 16 and worked minimum wage jobs in order to eat. Although I felt absolutely
powerless, I wasn't. And, by taking control of every opportunity I encountered,
I managed slowly to expand my range of choices.
The third and, perhaps, most damaging effect of the Great Lie is that many
women invest their emotions and energy in rage rather than remedy. This is
true even of women who have never been homeless, hungry, or victimized by
violence. Instead of attacking their problems, they attack people who have
caused them no harm — men as a class, men they've never met. And, so, the
women swing between celebrating victimhood and venting their rage, neither
of which is likely to change circumstances for the better.
It is sometimes difficult not to feel anger. For example, when a woman is
beaten by her husband, it is natural to feel rage toward him. But being angry
at him doesn't mean ignoring her power. The first question to ask a battered
woman is, "Why do you stay?" In many cases, the women have come to believe
in their own victimhood. What they need to believe in is the power of their
Crime and violence tend to increase during times of unemployment and social
turmoil. And, unfortunately, our society seems to be heading toward such
turmoil. The economy will not recover quickly, the fear of terrorism will
not fade, the controversy surrounding the war in Iraq will continue. Most
us will see friends out of work, a reduction of real income, and an increase
in the incivility with which conflicting factions address each other. These
are times that require self-control and self-reliance.
Women need to abandon the Great Lie and claim responsibility for and control
over their lives. Perhaps a good way to start is to study how women in less
developed nations live. Without a free market and technology, they live in
misery, near starvation. Without Western ideals of property rights and equality
under the law, they have no protection from violence.
The Great Truth is that women in our society constitute one of the most privileged
and powerful classes of human beings on earth. The challenge is to make women
believe in their power. "Woman as victim" is an idea whose time has passed.
The idea of woman as a survivor and a success must take its place.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research
fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author
and editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty for
Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent
Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada. Reprinted with permission of ifeminists.com.
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