[Content note: discussion of victim blaming]
Some discussion came up today on twitter that everyone agreed doesn’t really fit in 140 character blurbs, so the right thing to do seemed to be makin’ a blog about it and continuing the discussion in comments.
In my elementary school, we had the morning announcements every day, and each time they were ended with the platitude “Make it a great day—or not. The choice is yours.” This always bugged me at the time, and now that I have a few more clues than I did when I was 8, I think I can put my discomfort with it into words.
The message that I got from this boils down to “If you’re unhappy, it’s your own fault, no matter what other people have done to you,” which seems like a toxic message to be sending to kids. Something bad happened? Smile and move on, or else you’re a problem, and your unhappiness is your own fault. It’s victim blaming at its finest.
This isn’t to say that choosing to “get over” things (for lack of a better term) is the wrong choice. For some people, it’s what they need to do. But the whole point here is that word “choice”—people should be empowered to choose how they react when bad things happen, not pigeonholed into one response that’s been deemed the most appropriate by the rest of society. Sure, the “choice” is yours, but it’s a choice made under duress. Make it a great day or we’ll make it a worse one; don’t be a blemish on our perfect happy society.
What would be a better thing to say? Part of the problem with this is that it targets survivors* and makes them responsible for making things better, rather than targeting aggressors and attempting to prevent aggression. Of course, there can and should be a healing process for victims, too, but the point is that it will differ from person to person. Unfortunately, “Respond to the shit life throws at you in whatever way you think is most healthy for yourself, also consider seeing a therapist, brains need doctors too” isn’t very catchy; neither is “Don’t make other people’s lives shitty—the choice is obvious!”, though at least that one’s shorter.
Maybe a better approach wouldn’t be to end the announcements with some kind of moral at all. Maybe the right approach is to create a culture within the school where people are treated well, malfeasance is discouraged, and sadness and anger are accepted as natural states of being that should not be unnaturally suppressed. I can’t help but wonder how many of my classmates heard those announcements (and other, similar messages that I’m sure were sent), took them to heart, and are now spreading victim-blaming and body policing on their own. Not to mention how many of us, despite our young cynicism, still managed to internalize some of it.
*I kind of want to say “victim” here, since “survivor” has very specific connotations to me, but I know some people don’t like the “victim” label, so I’m saying “survivor” instead. If someone has better terminology for this, please let me know.