WOMEN ARE SURVIVORS: THEY AREN’T TRAPPED IN ETERNAL VICTIMHOOD

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Whilst this patriarchal society of ours may position women as eternal victims, by rote of their biological weakness, women have an internal strength that allows them to somehow survive.

Yet media narratives often fail to recognise this, and instead carry on portraying women as victims. Simultaneously, men are positioned as naturally aggressive- meaning that society does not challenge male violence as much as it should. Unfortunately, this has led to victim blaming, and the assumption that women must bring violence upon themselves.

We were very starkly reminded of this victim-blaming narrative following the shocking murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021.

Sarah’s death sparked a frantic debate all over social media, between those who understood that she could not have been responsible for her own death, and those who felt that she could have protected herself. Yet her killer was a police officer, and this was a vital component in the story of her murder. Wayne Couzens abused his position as a police officer, to control his victim.

Abusers in general get a kick out of the control they have.

Mainstream media creates a narrative of panic, around crimes such as female killings, and this places women in a position of victimhood. Narratives that make women afraid to go out alone, and which place the onus on women to adjust how they live their lives- instead of expecting men to address their violent tendencies.

In a world of sexual and gender equality, this narrative is very much outdated.

Although it is tempting to put all the onus of change onto the perpetrators of violence- women’s outlook on their role in all of this is overdue change too. Women need to stop seeing themselves as eternal victims.

In life it is always easy to think of the negatives, and seeing the positives is a much harder thing to do.

As Peter McWilliams once eloquently said:

 “The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news… and it’s not entirely the media’s fault, bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news. 

Society has been obsessed with bad news for a very long time, and yet unless attitudes change- the narratives are unlikely to change any time soon. However, because people get their sense of reality predominantly from the media that they absorb, new narratives must be created to challenge those which are outdated and demoralising for women.

As Catt Gibbs, a dear friend of mine wrote in her poem entitled “Surviving scars”:

“Although my heart wears the scars, I’ve learned these marks lead many a path”

Words from a woman who has suffered much abuse herself, but who considers herself to have survived, to have become stronger for her struggles. A mindset that builds up a mental defense, but also creates inner strength as well. However, such a state of mind is by no means easy to achieve. Those who are lucky enough to get there, often experience a long journey to reach this destination.

As hard as it is to get beyond the mental scars of abuse, it is necessary to break the cycle of abuse.

According to ons.gov.uk, a staggering 1/3 of all child abuse victims go on to experience domestic violence in adulthood. This is due to abusers being tuned into the vulnerability of those they choose to control.

Media narratives do nothing to dispel this narrative of female vulnerability.

Many feminists would probably agree – that Victorian notions of women being to blame for how their sons turned out are neither fair nor particularly accurate. Especially now in a society with a variety of different family units, and where the nuclear family is on the decline. The pendulum has unfortunately swung too much the other way, meaning that women who are subjected to violence, are seen as being either eternal man haters or are consigned to eternal victimhood.

Yet neoliberalism thrives off people’s worst fears.

Whole industries have emerged off the back of this sense of prolonged female vulnerability. Companies offering women’s self-defense classes reported a 50% increase in inquiries following the death of Sarah Everard; and 29% of women polled, said they believed that they have been followed by a stranger. Showing that media narratives had created fear amongst the female population. Many of which, may have never felt they could be victims before such a narrative was set off.

The whole victimhood narrative acts as a trigger, for those who have lived experiences of abuse, making their healing process much harder to achieve by dragging up memories of their own abuse. This is because media narratives of violent crime, focus far too much on the victim, and say little about the often-male perpetrators.

Society is left with an indelible view of the crimes committed.

Media largely says more about the victim than her abuser. Leaving those reading about it, to fill in the gaps in the narrative.

In the digital age of social media, assumptions are aplenty and everybody becomes a keyboard warrior.

The anonymity afforded social media users creates a platform, in which many can proffer an opinion, without fear of personal consequences. These opinions are undoubtedly very different from what people would voice when they are in normal social situations, unable to hide behind their screens.

As was the case after the murder of Sarah Everard; with some of the social media comments portraying her as being somehow responsible for her own death. Or in the aftermath of Prince Andrew paying off his victim, instead of having his day in court; when social media users were questioning the whole age of consent (positioning his victim as being a consenting agent, instead of the victim of abuse). Narratives that suggest that the victim should have prevented their own abuse, but that they were too feeble-minded to do so. However, such comments ignored Prince Andrew’s position of privilege; a position that would have been a factor in his opportunity to take advantage of Ms. Giuffre. Much like Couzens, whose position afforded him the opportunity to take advantage and kill Ms. Everard.

It is our patriarchal society that puts some men on pedestals, whilst simultaneously disempowering women in the process.

It goes without saying, that men are also sometimes victims of abuse. Also, there are many influential and strong women the world over. However, mainstream media rarely reports on either. Yet surely it is equally bad that women abuse men? And surely women are worthy of as much praise for their strengths as their male counterparts?

Isn’t it about time this imbalance was addressed?

Women are by nature, extremely resilient beings. Designed to withstand the rigors of childbirth, they have an inner strength that allows them to take on the challenges that life throws at them. Including having to survive abuse! The selfless nature of many of the female population means, that they often see themselves as having no choice but to carry on regardless of what they have been through.

Friendship groups and close family bonds that many women form, prove essential to their ability to bounce back. A lack of this kind of support is often what prevents women from regaining their sense of self-respect and self-confidence. In a global society, often these family and friendship ties can become fractured by distance, leaving some women feeling totally alone.

However, like a phoenix, we women will rise from the ashes!

Published by Karen Burns

A 50-year-old mother of 3. Graduated from Warwick University in 2021 (with a degree in Social Studies). I have chronic illness, which affects my mobility. However, I love writing and I am a prolific writer of poetry as well.

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