Agents vs. Victims

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I have recently begun reading the community blog at feministing.com. Though many of the posts I disagree with, and some of them have me shaking my head with disappointment and anger, I often find the material thought-provoking and engaging, especially when I disagree with them. These aspects, I think, are the makings of a good blog, and what I hope to achieve here.

One such post I found was someone writing on rape politics in the show Private Practice. I have never seen this show, but the post is detailed enough so that  it matters little. It’s a long but captivating essay, and if you have the time, I encourage you to read it. My response here is not a direct response to her post (and the 800 things I think she got wrong), but rather an engagement of the dichotomy the author sets up and its wider implications.

Natasha Rose praises Private Practice for its casting of their character Charlotte King as a survivor of rape, rather than a victim. Charlotte “takes control” of her situation by refusing to tell anyone that she was raped, rather than robbed. She eventually confides in her colleague doctor, who manages to figure out what has really happened. Additionally, when King’s boyfriend calls her a victim, she becomes irate, throwing a tray of food at him.

Rose goes on to explain how the portrayal of the means helpless and powerless contributes to the showing of King as a survivor rather than a victim.A victim, says Rose, needs to be taken care of, protected, even avenged, often by men. rose comments that making women who have been raped into victims only further deprives them of power, which simply continues the cycle f weak, submissive women who are caught in the waves of male power — positive or negative.  Survivors, on the other hand, take action. It is through their own volition, rather than someone else’s, that they live, survive, and flourish. The difference: survivors have agency. Victims do  not.

Victims vs. Agents: the real dichotomy

I think this framework of victims vs. agents can be expanded to consider interactions between people and states. This is particularly true of disadvantaged races, classes, genders, and other social minorities. It is easy and tempting to see these people as victims. Victims of history, victims of society, victims of states themselves. So, as we are want to do with victims, we rush to their rescue. We implement “equalization” programs, support them on government welfare, have the state protect, nurture, or avenge at its will. However, this does not make the disadvantaged not so. It does not make the poor person not poor. It does not make a socio-political minority empowered. None of the actions that the state takes in these instances empowers. Rather, when the state “takes care” of you, it steals your power. It robs you of your agency. when the state comes to your rescue, that is when you become the victim, rather than the survivor.

Like the rape victim Rose seeks to move away from, when you let the state take care of you, you become caught in the throws of state power (which, many will argue, is male power), and you have less of your own.

States do not seek to create agents. States want victims, because the more victims there are, the more power the state gets. Agents have the power that the states want, and they will victimize whoever they can until they get that power.

Instead of letting the government make us victims, we should make ourselves agents.

~V.A. Luttrell