Why Do We Blame The Victim?: We Want To Control Others’ Behavior

Why Do We Blame The Victim?: We Want To Control Others’ Behavior July 18, 2014

This is my third, and final post in a series I’ve been doing about victim blaming. Why, as a society, do we tend to blame victims of terrible or unfortunate circumstances for the bad things that happen to them, as if it is their fault?

My church has been covering this topic in it’s latest sermon series (which you can listen to online). Also, I’ve been taking a seminary class on the Psalms and Wisdom Literature, which contain some interesting, and often contradictory messages about victim blaming.

In my first post in this series, I discussed one possible reason for why we blame victims: We are afraid of a world outside of our control. Today, I’m going to discuss another possibility.

In my second post in this series, I talked about another reason why we blame victims: We don’t want to face our responsibility and privileged. 

Sometimes, though, I think victim-blaming can be much more insidious. Sometimes it goes beyond ignorance, fear, and selfishness, and comes from a place of hostility and abusive control. This brings me to my third reason for why we blame victims.

3. We Want To Control Others’ Behavior

White Supremacist, Capitalist Patriarchy thrives on the control of marginalized people. Privileged classes profit imensely off of the exploitation of others. In order for this exploitation to continue unchallenged, control must be maintained, and victim-blaming is an important tool for those trying to maintain control.

Think about the rich fast food CEOs, making thousands of dollars a day, who claim that raising the minimum wage would devastate their business.

Or how about the abusive Christian leaders with a vested interest in maintaining patriarchal religious structures, who claim that complementarianism is the safest family structure for women wanting to avoid rape and abuse.

I’ve talked about the latter example in my “You Are Not Your Own” series, on rape and sexual assault in Christian dating books. The authors of these dating books claim that benevolent sexism–the “kinder, gentler” [1] approach to sexism–is the answer to more hostile forms of sexism.

Take this quote from Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage: 

…the Bible commands wives to submit to their husbands by respectfully following their leadership. In doing so, a woman is protected from the abuse of other men. (pg. 83)

The other end of this coin is women who are not submitting to their husbands being told that, because they stepped outside of the realm of God-given male protection, they brought abuse on themselves. I referenced Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco in a previous blog post, and I think it illustrates my point.

The authors tell girls that if they decide to transgress their feminine gender roles and in order to spend time in “guy world,” they will be treated badly. The authors say that this bad treatment “makes you [girls] feel like you don’t belong there. The reason is…you don’t!” (pg. 154-155)

Here, victim blaming is about control and it’s about threats. It’s about dictating where women and girls do and don’t belong, what they are and aren’t allowed to do. Sexism isn’t the only area where this control goes on.

Rich CEOs have to keep the public from supporting strikes by low-wage workers, by telling us that low-wage workers are lazy and uneducated and deserve to be overworked and underpaid.

White people have to find reasons to blame the victims every time a black person gets gunned down for no reason in a white neighborhood, because they don’t want black people around.

Parents tell their sons, when their sons are bullied at school, to “toughen up” because they want to keep their boys from turning out to be “sissies.”

Folks blame the victim whenever a transgender woman is brutally murdered, because they don’t want anyone stepping outside of the cisheterosexist gender binary.

Victim blaming can be about fear of a loss of control. It can be about ignorance and selfishness. But it can be much, much more intentional and abusive as well. In fact, those who want to control often use the other motivations behind victim blaming to gain support from other, more benevolent peoplejust think about the Fox News anchors using fear-mongering to convince middle class white people that the world will end if steps are taken to end poverty, queerphobia, sexism, and racism.

Whatever the motivation for victim blaming, it is a terrible thing, and it is a blasphemy against the God who stands with the oppressed and the victimized.


[1] Glick, Peter, and Susan Fiske. 1996 “The Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: Differentiating Hostile and Benevolent Sexism.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70(3):491-512.

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