The cold brush of February air stunned a fatigued 19 year-old Claire on the weekend following Valentine’s Day in 2021. Not one to usually rise at the crack of dawn, she had physically, though not mentally, prepared for her first early shift in a small town’s biggest business.
Her mind was preoccupied with the anticipation of an exquisite post-Valentine’s dinner that evening with her boyfriend—who was also her colleague. It was warm thoughts like those that she had vowed, that very day, would make the early winter morning shifts tolerable.
While the sun sprouted from behind leafless twigs, Claire made her way through the vacant streets of town and to, what she felt, was the quiet safety of a job that she had grown to love.
To those that knew her there— if only at face-value— she presented herself as naïvely optimistic, humble in manners though remarkably gentile in speech.
Claire began carrying out her duties when a middle-aged supervisor, who she was somewhat familiar with, approached her and began prying into her relationship.
He began spouting sexual innuendos before pulling down the collar to peer at a love mark on her neck. She masked her fear with a polite laugh.
Crippled with anxiety and becoming increasingly aware that a long day with this man was ahead of her, she had told one of her managers at the front desk that she had been physically sick in hopes of being let home early.
She left that day, only to return for one more shift at her work that, strangely, was in a different department from where she specialised.
Her boyfriend had reported the incident that morning to a manager in a pursuit of justice and instead, she received hostility in the form of being called both a ‘liar’ and ‘overdramatic’. An investigation was never carried out.
Her only witness was the business’ CCTV footage that she had begged to be reviewed but according to managers, it had conveniently ‘not been working’ at the time of the incident.
“Consequently, I lost my job and I lost my boyfriend,” she tells.“The corporation doubted me, my boyfriend then doubted me, so I began to doubt me.”
Was this really the consequence of false claims from an ‘overdramatic’ young woman; or the consequence of corporate cover-ups and malpractice that contribute to the ever-growing epidemic of victim blaming culture?
According to an article discussing ‘The Psychology of Victim Blaming’ published by The Atlantic in 2016: “Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them.”
Sherry Hamby, a psychology professor at the University of the South reminds us in this article: “Murders, burglaries, abductions—whatever the crime, many people tend to default to victim-blaming thoughts and behaviors as a defense mechanism in the face of bad news.”
With this in mind, we can see that victim blaming can take on many different forms. Sometimes brazen, other times subtle, but almost always —destructive. So, why do we do it?
A 2010 study from the Journal of Social Psychology on ‘General Versus Specific Victim Blaming’ revealed that those that believe in a ‘just’ world are more inclined to engage in said behaviour. These are the same people that believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people and that all is fair.
Though, it has been revealed time and time again that we simply don’t live in a ‘just’ world and those that victim blame tend to instead believe that good things happen to strong people and bad things happen to weak people.
A significant pop culture example of this is in the criticism of the character of Cinderella, who was ultimately condemned for her key ‘feminine’ traits of softness and kindness. Feminist critics claimed that the 1950 Disney film centres on a weak, passive woman who can’t stand up to her abusers and is rescued by a Prince.
However, The Take on YouTube released a video essay ‘Cinderella: Stop Blaming the Victim’ which claims this is a complete misreading, and unintentionally (and almost subtly) feeds into the victim blaming culture.
“This isn’t a story about a man stepping in to save a helpless woman.” The Take claims. “It’s about a woman who faces adversity head on, who chooses kindness and optimism even when it’s hard, and who uses her own creativity and inner strength to rescue herself.”
The video essay discusses in ways the feminist critique ironically misses the mark with empowerment and instead feeds straight into the victim blaming narrative: “She grows up in an abusive environment where she lacks all power.”
“Her kindness and ability to cope through fantasy actually represent her strength and bravery in the face of adversity. In the time since the film’s release in 1950, perhaps qualities like kindness and optimism have come to seem simple, obvious and naive.”
But instead, these are rare qualities that are often undermined and hard to practice. A woman doesn’t have to wield a sword to be a warrior. She doesn’t have to harness traits of masculinity to exude strength. Finally, while we dwindle on what she (the victim) could’ve done as an outward display of strength, we seldom ask the perpetrator why they committed the crime.
Instead we should be looking broadly at the failing societal structures that impede on the progression of moral education rather than looking individually at ways to, not only justify, but enable the ruthless savagery of an unjust world.
According to statistics from rapecrisis.org, as many as 33% of people believe women who flirt are partially responsible for being raped and still, there are those that question why only 15% of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police.
Lady Tremaine shattering the glass slipper, which is the only tangible symbolism of Cinderella’s strength and her story, is no different from the manager shattering the only pieces of evidence and power Claire had as a victim against a huge corporation — the CCTV footage and her voice.
“I didn’t feel I could report it to police,” she says. “I wasn’t believed by the people that I needed to be believed by, though now seeing how prevalent victim blaming is, it has made me realise that nothing was wrong with me— It’s them.”
It’s not so naïve to believe that like Cinderella, Claire will feast on the fruits of her own poetic justice all in good time, in whichever form that takes for her, and I bet it will taste ever so sweet.
*’Claire’ is a pseudonym for the victim in this article. Anonymity has been provided.