BET's Being Mary Jane star Gabrielle Union recently appeared on ABC's The View, where she discussed being attacked and raped at the tender age of 19. While sharing her experience, she shared some curious views on those who identify as "victims."
“I got sick of people letting me off the hook because being a victim is so comfortable. People give you attention, people are nurturing, they’re basically the way you’ve always wanted them to be your whole life without something bad happening. So, when something catastrophic happens in your life, everyone rallies around you. You’re getting all the attention, love and support that you’ve always wanted,but it’s not for something positive. And I hated that. I hated feeling like a victim. I hated the cloak of victimhood,” she shared.
“I realized that they were going to allow me to be a victim and not succeed and not achieve any of my goals and not step outside the box. It makes you lazy. I wanted that cloak of victimhood off. I want to embrace being a survivor because that’s who I am. I wasn’t raised to be coddled. I was raised to be an independent woman, standing on my own two feet and that’s the road I opted to take.”
First and foremost, I’d like to say that Gabrielle Union’s story and experience is hers and hers alone. But while we all have every right to own our truth, as a victim of rape, I was highly offended when Union suggested that there is anything "comfortable" or "lazy" about that. I was raped at the age of 15 and some 13 years later, it still affects my everyday life.
I do not find comfort in having anxiety attacks while I’m trying to work or because a man on the street has stared at me for way too long.
I do not find comfort in having to rush while using the restroom, out of fear that someone is going to “accidentally” come in behind me.
I do not find comfort in walking home with one hand on my pepper spray and the other on my knife, you know because “just in case”.
I seriously wonder what is that “comfort” that Union was referring to.
She also mentioned this idea of people giving victims attention, support and nurturing following their assault. That's not the most common experience, especially considering that most rapes go unreported. I would never want to speak for all victims, but I think it’s safe to say that most people who do not speak out chose so for fear of being ridiculed, not being believed and not garnering support. Personally, I did not want to speak out initially because I feared judgment and, when I did decide to speak out, I was demonized and ridiculed. I even was told that some of my family members were embarrassed. I’m not saying that I haven’t had people reach out to me and show support, but that was easily overshadowed by those who didn't.
So, no, I don’t wear being a “victim” as some sort of badge of honor.
Although I was offended by Union’s words, I understand where she’s coming from in regards to embracing being a “survivor." I understand that words have power and that we should want to triumph over tragedy, but I also think that she spoke from a place of privilege. Union is lucky to have had a large group of people willing to love and support her; many other victims/survivors can't say the same. In the midst of sharing her personal experience, she victim shamed and perpetuated rape culture by toying with the notion that if you refer to yourself as a victim, you’re weak and you’ll become lazy. It’s extremely problematic to flirt with the idea that rape victims just want attention and support. “I want to be raped. So that I can garner attention,” said no one, ever.
Sexual violence is often swept underneath the rug and we also live in a day and age where rape culture is real. So attention should be called to these horrific atrocities. It’s not about an individual receiving attention or a platform, it’s about awareness. We need to make the people who commit these crimes feel guilty, as opposed to placing additional burden on those who have been assaulted. When you have society, family members, the media and a multitude of people telling you that it’s your fault, asking you what were you wearing, asking you how many drinks did you have and doing everything to shame you and reverse the blame, you do not need a fellow “victim” or “survivor” to perpetuate rape culture by making you feel guilty for simply accepting the fact that what happened to you happened. Hopefully, Union will choose her words more wisely in the future.