On agency

I was reading a course-required blog by a very articulate graduate student in a women’s studies course.  She was reviewing a novel in which the main character, a young girl who is trafficked, is “not established as a victim.”  The character “chooses” and has “agency throughout the novel.”  The student wrote that she “appreciated” the non-victim characterization of the trafficked child.

Recent feminisms (i-feminism, “sex-positive” feminisms, et al), which are all “in” in academia, are reproducing, through biased curricula, another generation of feminists with distorted views about liberating feminist theories and practices.  One of the great mistruths of recent feminisms is that “old” radical feminism is an ideology of victimhood that doesn’t endorse—or even worse, believe in—the agency of women and children.

Quite the opposite. Yes, it is true that radical theory refuses to ignore and appropriately uses the word “victim” to describe the recipients of such acts as racial violence, sexual violence, hate crimes, and domestic violence.  But we do that in order to name and hold accountable the individuals (eg. predators, traffickers, perpetrators of lesbian and gay hate crimes, perpetrators of race hate crimes, rapists) and the power structures (eg. patriarchy, institutionalized white racism, skewed legal systems, capitalism) that create, maintain, and benefit from victims.  If victims are rendered invisible, then those individuals and power structures are in turn rendered benign, unaccountable, and unnamed.

Equally important:  radical feminism does not stand in opposition to or deny women’s agency.  We recognize the truism that victimhood and agency can and do co-exist.  Moreover, our endorsement of agency is why we are such a threat.  We are all about unleashing women’s agency, full force, unfettered.

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3 responses to “On agency

  • Undercover Punk

    we do that in order to name and hold accountable the individuals . . . and the power structures . . . that create, maintain, and benefit from victims. If victims are rendered invisible, then those individuals and power structures are in turn rendered benign, unaccountable, and unnamed.

    Yes! To deny that there is any VICTIM is to render feminism Dead on Arrival. No injury, no injurer.

    And yes, humans can exercise agency while, AT THE SAME TIME, being constrained by external forces. These concepts are not mutually exclusive.

    Thanks for writing.

  • wohom

    Thank you for thanking me for writing :). It’s nice to have my blog finally discovered by Google, and better yet, thanks to whoever put me up on RadFem Central! I’ve finally got traffic. I was pretty much chatting with myself for a while…. :P.

  • Michiru

    There is a deep fear of ‘becoming a victim’ they disassociate from victimhood like the because they see it as weakness or a character flaw; hence the mental gymnastics.

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