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6 ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Controlling the Damage Making Meaning When “Things Go Badly” It was violent and hurtful and really scary. But I don’t think I could ever call it rape. Let’s just say that things went badly. —Olivia, 22, “heterosexual,” “Caucasian” There are lots of times when women can’t control the shit that men do to them. I mean, come on, men are really the ones with all the real power. But I figure, as long as I’m already going to get screwed, at least maybe I can set the terms of the abuse or humiliation. At least I can try to control the damage. —Elaina, 22, “lesbian/bi,” “white” DESPITE WOMEN’S BEST EFFORTS to manage power in their hetero -relationships, all too often “things go badly.” And when they do, young women, like Elaina, are motivated to “control the damage.” As with their strategies for managing contradictions in their encounters, women’s strategies for controlling the damage tended to rely on individual, psychological maneuvering, rather than on expressions of outrage or collective work toward prevention and redress. These strategies typically involved rewriting painful experiences to make them seem less frightening or alienating—somehow less overwhelming than “victimization” or “abuse.” Women formed attributions that allowed them to feel that their victimizing circumstances were somehow under their own control—that, in fact, they could not have been victimized because they were complicit in making things go badly. Contrary to right-wing claims that women are eager to go public and “cry victimization,” these women went to great psychological lengths to privatize their experiences and to “disqualify” themselves as victims. Indeed, only two women in this study ever referred to a personal experience as victimization, even though the vast majority (90 percent ) reported at least one instance of violence or coercive sexual contact. Young women recounted many detailed stories of pain, humiliation, manipulation , violence, and force in their hetero-relations, and they were willing to concede that “things went badly.” Yet they were largely unwilling to use such labels as “rape,” “acquaintance rape,” “battering,” or “abuse” to describe those experiences to me or to themselves.1 Interestingly, while they rejected terms like “victimization” to define their own encounters, they were quite willing to apply such terms to the experiences of others. In this chapter I attempt to shed greater light on this phenomenon by examining the psychological strategies young women develop for controlling the damage of their abusive hetero-relational encounters, and by exploring the cultural and situational forces that motivate them to avoid naming their experiences victimization. We will see that women often re- flect back on the very strategies they relied on to enter, manage, and make an exit from their encounters, and transform them into internalizations of personal responsibility for their own abuse. Although their strategies may appear counterintuitive or even self-defeating, we will also find that the cultural discourses they have internalized and the social and developmental challenges they face encourage these women to resist naming their victimization , to devise individualized coping strategies, and to attribute their mistreatment to their own behavior. Finally, we will see that while women may derive certain psychological benefits from their attempts to control the damage, the individualized nature of those attempts tends to squelch collective resistance and thus to leave dominant hetero-relational power asymmetries intact. 150 ❙ Controlling the Damage When the Political Turns Personal: Naming and Forming Attributions When “Things Go Badly” Throughout the interviews I noticed a marked discrepancy between young women’s abstract or political assertions about female victimization and their assessments and attributions for their own painful experiences. These participants were well aware that women are victimized and they were consistently sympathetic to their plight. Yet they also tended to distance themselves from others’ experiences and often saw themselves as “exceptions” who could not be abused. Uncomfortable seeing themselves as victims, they found (or created) reasons to explain why their own experiences did not “qualify” as abuse. Tonya, for instance, applied a different standard to label her own experiences than to label the experiences of others. Needing to believe that she could not be raped, she interpreted her own experience of forced sex as not “really” rape. I know a lot of women, like one in three, get raped in their lifetime. But I know it could never happen to me. Not that it couldn’t happen, because it could, I mean, God, it sort of has. But for me, I say...


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MARC Record
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