Let’s Unpack “Professional Victims”

The only thing more annoying than a phrase that’s overused to the point of cliché is when that overused phrase isn’t even remotely accurate — and in fact, borders on completely nonsensical. The one I’ve heard far too many times in the past year is the all-purpose favorite of Red Pillers, MRAs, GamerGaters, and other defenders of the status quo when they want to dismiss the arguments of anyone speaking up against injustice: accuse her[1] of being a “professional victim”.

And I am sick to death of hearing that stupid, overused, and meaningless phrase. Put bluntly: the concept of “professional victims” is bullshit. For one, the accusation is an obvious ad hominem attack that’s supposed to shut down the listener’s critical faculties by casting the target as an unreasonable, weak, whiny person who has no credibility and should be dismissed.[2]

But aside from that, it’s a damned stupid epithet that just doesn’t make any sense. When you hear it, you should be insulted that someone thinks you’ll fall for it. Let’s unpack this odious concept:

Professional: The person does this for a living. It’s their profession. It pays their bills.

Right there, we’ve eliminated a huge number of the people that the Gamergater and Red Pill crowd deride as “SJW professional victims”. Ellen Pao is a great example: she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) on a lawsuit that she lost. Where’s the profit in that for her?

Or take women like Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian. The Gaters claim those two are “making money from being victimized”, but what’s that supposed to mean? Someone pays them money every time they get attacked or harassed? Sorry, but there isn’t some social-justice slot machine that coughs up a payout, ka-ching!, from nowhere every time an abusive tweet gets posted.

Instead, actual human beings pay Sarkeesian and Wu to do things that they find useful. For example, Wu’s major, full-time job is as head of development at Giant Spacekat games. Think that might pay her a full-time wage? Randi Lee Harper creates software, Anita Sarkeesian produces videos, and Zoe Quinn makes… well, all kinds of stuff, really.

And many of them also get paid for speaking about things. But even if they’re speaking about harassment (rather than, say video games or software development or, you know, their actual areas of expertise), they’re still getting paid for speaking and giving lectures, not for “being victimized”.

For a perfect example of how they’re not getting paid for being victims, consider the incident where Sarkeesian’s talk at Utah State University was canceled in the wake of terrorist threats. Given the circumstances, I expect she did not collect any speaker’s fee, so all the time and effort she spent coordinating with the university and preparing her speech was completely wasted. If she hadn’t been victimized by those threats, then she could have actually engaged in her profession!

Just because someone is still making some money doing something — just because you haven’t completely demolished their livelihood — doesn’t mean they’re making money from their victimhood.

And, about that victimhood, that’s the second part of the accusation:

Victim: Being a victim is not something someone can actively do. “To victim” isn’t a usable intransitive verb, unlike “to eat”, “to sleep”, or “to code”. If someone asks me, “Hey, Kagan, what are you gonna do today?” I can say, “Well, after I eat, I’m gonna code for about six hours, then I’ll sleep.” But I can’t say, “And then tomorrow, when I’m feeling really revved up, I’m gonna victim like you wouldn’t believe,” because that… doesn’t make any sense.

The word you can use as a verb is “to victimize“, but there’s a critical nuance there: that means “to make someone else a victim” — in other words, to attack them.

You can’t make yourself a victim. And you sure as hell can’t make yourself a victim at people, the way the reactionary, conservative elements in tech and gaming keep claiming. If you think someone’s doing that, your move is really clear:

Just stop attacking them. Then they won’t be victims anymore.

And then all the power you claim they have from “being a victim” is gone.

If they really gain their power by “being victims”, then you can take it away from them by the very simple expedient of not attacking them. It’s really easy.

Why don’t you try it?

[1] I say “her” because somehow, the reactionaries never seem to throw this insult at men. I’m not sure if it’s some sexism in their worldview, that they can’t see men in such a victim role? ↑↑

[2] RationalWiki points out that the phrase is a snarl word. (They also suggest my own solution for dealing with such people in a later section.) ↑↑

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