Feminism
How I became a feminist victim

How I became a feminist victim

Oxford student Eleanor Sharman explains why feminism fails women.

As a female student in a nightclub, I expected to get some unwanted attention. What I didn’t expect was for feminism to turn me into someone so terrified of unwanted attention I stopped going out.

In the past, someone groping me would only annoy me for a minute – that would be the extent of it. If they were being really pushy, I’d go to my male friends and stay with them, because they’d enjoy making it clear that the guy’s attentions were unwelcome. And yes, other men were more likely to listen to my tall, imposing male friends than me – a shy, skinny 18-year-old. You could call it male privilege, I’d call it the benefit of self-confidence.

And that was all fine. No harm, no foul. That was, until I discovered the (now-infamous) Oxford feminist group Cuntry Living. It was a big thing in Oxford; everyone was talking about it and, curious, I joined. I read the posts, I contributed and I engaged in discussion about everything from rape culture to misogyny in our curriculum. I learned a lot, and, slowly, I transitioned from a nervous, desperate-to-please ‘gender egalitarian’ to a proud, full-blown feminist.

Along with all of this, my view of women changed. I stopped thinking about empowerment and started to see women as vulnerable, mistreated victims. I came to see women as physically fragile, delicate, butterfly-like creatures struggling in the cruel net of patriarchy. I began to see male entitlement everywhere.

The experience also changed my attitude to going out. I would dress more cautiously and opt to stick with female friends in clubs. And, if the usual creeps started bothering me, I became positively terrified. I saw them, not as drunk men with a poor grasp of boundaries, and certainly not as misguided optimists who might have misread my behaviour, but as aggressive probable rapists.

If I was groped by someone, I didn’t give them a scathing look or slap away their hand, and I certainly didn’t tell them to fuck off. Instead, I was scared into inaction. How could I countenance such a violation? How could I possibly process something so awful?

After the event, I would go outside and cry. And then I would leave – feeling traumatised. I saw the incident, not as some idiot being a bit too handsy, but as sexual assault – something scarring to dwell upon. It was something to whisper to friends in a small, hushed voice – something to preface with a trigger warning. And the appropriate action of friends, upon hearing this, was never to question how upsetting the incident had really been. It was to sympathise, express shock and horror, and say things like ‘I don’t know how you coped’. Not support, but pity – anything else would be tantamount to victim-blaming. Any suggestion that such incidents weren’t really that big a deal (and shouldn’t be treated as trauma) was repellent to me.

Victim feminism taught me to see my body as inviolable – any action visited upon it was violence. Eventually, I stopped going out. It wasn’t worth the risk.

It took me a long time to realise what had happened. Feminism had not empowered me to take on the world – it had not made me stronger, fiercer or tougher. Irony of ironies, it had turned me into someone who wore long skirts and stayed at home with her girlfriends. Even leaving the house became a minefield. What if a man whistled at me? What if someone looked me up and down? How was I supposed to deal with that? This fearmongering had turned me into a timid, stay-at-home, emotionally fragile bore.

Thankfully, I learned a lot from the experience. Teaching women that we exist as probable victims (to the probable attacks of men) is not freeing or empowering. Modern feminism trains us to see sexism and victimhood in everything – it makes us weaker. It is also anathema to gender equality. How are we to reconcile with our male ‘oppressors’ when we view them as primitive, aggressive beasts? How are we to advance female agency when everything from dancing to dating is deemed traumatic?

The answer to the problems we face as women is not to submit to the embrace of victim feminism, but to stand up for ourselves. We must throw off the soft, damp blanket of Safe Space culture and face the world bravely. If we do not do so now, we will consign any prospect of real equality to the ash heap of history. 

Eleanor Sharman is a former editor of Versa and a student at the University of Oxford.

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