Brandon Bartlett is an English sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News editorial.
Through the past several decades there has been an ever-widening shift in our rhetoric to make room for those who have been hurt and abused by the world around them. From laws that help people who have been unfairly disadvantaged by our system and its history, to criminal defenses that find abused women innocent when they kill their abuser in self-defense, we seem to be moving ever closer to a more understanding view of humanity.
And we absolutely deserve to celebrate this. We have shaken loose the fetters of barbarian justice which discriminately dooms some to lives of quiet desperation as their skin color or sex organs silently work against them.
But in the great throwing off of chains, we must be careful to not take up new shackles which will further pin the new thinker. And I fear this is exactly what we have done.
We have, as many have done before us, taken too much of a good thing. The dragon has eaten its tail and our desire to empower victims of unjust situations by liberating them has turned to stripping them of agency and systematically objectifying huge swaths of individuals.
It has been noted the increasing regularity of labeling someone as a “victim.” Victim, in this context, merely means guiltless of the wrong done to or by them: They are a product of a system and, hence, not culpable for actions taken as such.
And while the former is a necessity for justice, it is the latter which should be feared.
Secondly, what does it mean to be objectified? Though there is debate on the exact definition, at the concept’s core it is to treat someone as though they do not have agency or will of their own; it is to treat someone as a mechanism of a larger system.
At this point, my reader, you should begin to see the similarities between these actions: In both cases, one is assuming that the person in question has no agency of their own.
But equally so, you should notice the difference: Objectification is done for the sake of the party doing the objectifying, whereas victimization is done for the sake of the party being labeled a victim.
And while this distinction of motivation is very important, the fact that the two actions are, in practice, so similar raises some questions — especially when the reason one is labeled a victim is often for the sake of empowerment.
Take, for instance, the stronger form of this as example: In a recent discussion I had with one of my liberal friends, they told me that African-American individuals who were raised in unprivileged areas are not culpable for crimes as they have been socialized into a world in which they are constantly identified as criminals by the media, police and society.
Which is to say, because they were raised in a certain environment which criminalizes them, they had no choice but to become criminals. And, of course, if someone had no choice, then they are not culpable for their actions.
One quickly sees the problem with this as soon as the shoe is put on the other foot, such as in Ethan Couch’s “affluenza” case.
But now, let us take a softer form of the ideology. Such as when rape is conflated with having sex after drunken consent is given.
Removing the lens of gender for a moment, what is being said here is that after a person makes a choice to lower their inhibitions, the culpability of the outcome of that choice is now placed on someone else who may also have their inhibitions lowered.
And, as we have already discussed, it is this divorcing of action from culpability which is a key factor in both labeling someone as a victim and treating them as an object.
Moreover, let us examine how this is being done.
The new trend of stricter policies concerning sexual assault comes out of the feminist movement, a movement whose goal is to empower women. However, when, as has been documented, you have a situation in which both parties are intoxicated but only the man gets punished for the supposed rape, we are, necessarily, implying that men have a greater capacity for agency than women.
Which is to say that we are further objectifying women through our attempts to empower them. And this, obviously, is a bad thing.
While I am proud to be a part of a society which attempts to better understand the motivations and psychology of a person before passing judgement, I also implore you, for the sake of those who have been systematically discriminated against, to stop treating people as objects and let us stop their further victimization.