Two tweets over the last couple of days inspire this post. Here’s the first:
I’ve met trafficking survivors. I used to research economic coercion & the sex industry in Ukraine. A sex-worker doesn’t have to be trafficked to be coerced, btw. Rampant misogyny against Ukrainian women (domestically & abroad) contributes to a climate of violence/humiliation. https://t.co/BaHjZNllvu
— Natalia Antonova (@NataliaAntonova) February 25, 2018
Up until recently, the term survivor was reserved for people who were alive when the odds said they probably ought to be dead. People who stave off cancer, for example, or those who walk away from a plane crash in which most other people were killed. “Survivor” was never used to describe somebody who is still alive after merely being in close proximity to a catastrophic event, or having had their chances of dying increased. Even soldiers who come through a battle or war aren’t described as survivors, except on those rare occasions when a unit is almost obliterated.
But in the past couple of years American liberals, particularly feminists, have started applying the term to any woman who has been raped, sexually assaulted, or – in some instances – had mean things said to her. Now being raped or sexually assaulted is pretty horrific, but they are not, in general, life-threatening. Sure, women do get raped and murdered, and anyone who survives an attempted rape and murder is a survivor; but being raped alone does not merit the term.
I may sound harsh here, but the recent use of the term survivor is a deliberate hijacking of the language for political purposes. The people who use it inappropriately, as Antonova does above, do so because they believe it gives their cause moral authority, granting their side of the argument a gravitas it doesn’t deserve. “I’ve met trafficking victims” would be far more accurate, but doesn’t carry the same force as a word which implies these women are exceptionally lucky to be alive. Yes, trafficked women do get killed. Yes, being trafficked is horrific. But it’s not, in terms of mortality, the same as being in a ferry sinking or a plane crash. Nor is trafficking the same as attempted murder. If victims of campus sexual assaults deserved the term survivor, and these assaults were happening at the rate feminists say they are, the grounds of American colleges would look like the beaches of Iwo Jima.
Over the last few days, the term has been hijacked further – again for political purposes – to describe any teenage left-wing political activist who might have been somewhere in the vicinity of the Parkland school shooting. Now if you were cowering under the desk with bullets flying around you, watching your classmates getting shot, then I’d grant you the right to call yourself a survivor. If you were in the class next door and jumped out the window before the gunman came in and massacred those who remained, perhaps then also. But if you were merely at the school – which covered several acres – and did nothing more than hear the gunshots I’ll concede you’ve been through a very traumatic experience which should not be dismissed out of hand, but you’re not a survivor in any meaningful sense.
But what we’re now seeing is a bunch of teenagers from Parkland school catapulted onto the national stage to argue in favour of progressive political policies and given “survivor” status to justify their new-found fame and to deflect criticism. As one person on Twitter wrote:
Is anyone else having trouble with the definition of survivor in this latest shooting? I mean if my next door neighbors shoot each other; I’m close to the shooting, but not actually a survivor. #justathought
— A Girl Has No Name (@Mellecon) February 26, 2018
When I was at school an Argentinian boy was killed when a tree blew over in storm, crushing a load of those underneath. They were out playing army cadets and had taken shelter under an enormous beech tree. The squall was short but brutal, and blew the thing over. At the time I was a few hundred metres away, also playing army cadets, and I sheltered my squad under a different tree. When I heard screams and saw people racing to the other side of the playing fields I knew something was up, so ran over myself. I found utter carnage, a dozen or so bashed-up schoolboys in army gear lying in a jumbled pile of wood and branches, blood everywhere. The dead lad – Nick Montanaro – caught a branch right on the back of his head, and his face been covered by a combat jacket by the time I got there. I still remember how grey his hands were, though. By some miracle he was the only fatality, but a couple of the other kids were badly smashed up. Once had severe leg injuries, but I think everyone made a full recovery. I’d say the fellows who were under the tree at the time could call themselves survivors, especially the ones who were injured, but the idea that I was a survivor of that incident is preposterous.
It’s another example of a perfectly reasonable and useful term with little ambiguity that has been hijacked by the left and rendered meaningless. My advice is to assume anyone using it inappropriately is flogging an agenda, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
A helpful response to my post:
These activist kids were in a completely separate building. They are upper class man students.
There was a dedicated building for freshman, and the shooting took place therein.
— Brad Slager CPAC Shark 💻🥃🎬🍸 (@MartiniShark) February 27, 2018