Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Emotional Intelligence FAIL: Victim-blaming 101

A few weeks ago I was at a conference. While waiting in line at the hotel's tiny coffee shop (I was carrying too much junk with me to walk the 1/2 a block to Starbucks), I heard the lady behind me complain, "They should have planned better for this."

It was a tiny hotel coffee shop. There were three employees working back there, and I honestly could not see where a fourth could possibly fit. The line was moving quite quickly.

It was 8:32. The conference's first session started at 8:30. I had meant to get downstairs earlier, but didn't, and was therefore not surprised by the line at the coffee shop. At least I got in line before 8:30, unlike the lady whining (who had cut in line, by the way).

"They should have planned better"? Really? How about YOU get your lazy arse out of bed early enough to order your double-pump white chocolate cappuccino before the meeting starts? How come THEY have to plan to accommodate YOU? Why can't YOU be held accountable for YOU?

This is one of the problems in our society, the blame is always on the other guy. Yesterday, I went to an all-day workshop on emotional intelligence. In a nutshell, emotional intelligence is about personal accountability and being self-aware; realizing that you cannot control the other guy, that you can only control what you do; therefore, focusing on what you need to do, not what the other guy needs to do.*

In the case presented above, the lady should have gotten herself down to the lobby earlier than 8:32. It is not the hotel's responsibility to get her coffee, it is her responsibility to find herself the coffee. She should have realized her role in the line-waiting incident: the hotel coffee shop was sure to be busy in the morning, she should have scheduled appropriately.

The workshop started bugging me early on, but I tried to keep quiet. Nobody wants to be the person who argues with the presenter. But then, the guy went off on a tangent that boiled my blood.

He was talking about the amygdala in the brain and how it works, and decided to tell us about his friend's book, about women ignoring their intuition.

Example 1: Woman forgot her briefcase or purse at the office. She goes back to get it. In the dark street, her intuition is telling her something's wrong. In the parking lot, her intuition is telling her something's wrong. As she hits the button on the elevator, her intuition tells her something's wrong -- but she ignored it. Elevator doors open, large rapist grabs her, rapes her, and stabs her 60 times. SHE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. If she had listened to her intuition, she would not have been raped.

Example 2: Woman meets guy at bar. He seems nice, they exchange phone numbers. Next day, he calls her in the morning and at night. Next day, he calls her morning, noon, and night. Next day, gives her a cell phone, so he can call her at all hours of the day and night. Next day, he calls, she doesn't answer, he goes to her house and beats her up. SHE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. She should have done something to stop the guy.

Excuse me, but I'm at a workshop to learn that I cannot control other people's actions, I can only control my own, and this guy tells me the victims are to blame?



How can these situations be the victim's fault? There is nothing the women could have done to keep the attackers from hurting them.

"Oh, if the woman hadn't been in the building late at night, the rapist wouldn't have gotten her."

True. If a woman never leaves her house, she will not be raped on the street.

The problem here is not the woman, so let's stop focusing on her. She's innocent. The problem is the rapist.

"Oh, the girl should have known the guy was a psycho when he kept calling her."

I'm sure she had a pretty good idea that he was not your average "nice guy." But if he didn't snap on day 5, he would have snapped on day 1, when she decided to not answer the phone the second time he called. The problem is not the girl -- it's not like the psycho was sitting there, thinking, "If she continues the relationship for X days I'll beat the living cr@p out of her, but if she breaks up with me after one or two days, I'll leave her alone." You cannot control someone who's crazy/imbalanced.

Again, she is not the one with the power to avoid the act of violence. The only one who can prevent that act of violence is the one committing it.

So stop focusing the attention on what women need to do. Try some of these tips instead.

*This is Criss's Vague Notion of Emotional Intelligence. If you know better than she does, which would not be hard, please feel free to share your knowledge and expertise in the comments. Criss went to the workshop to learn more about EI, but, as you can tell from reading the post, the presented didn't spend a whole lot of time talking about EI. It was more about him.


  1. I got into an argument with a sociology professor in college on a topic like this - he was talking about a study where sexual assault victims who said to the interviewer, "I should have known better" made a better recovery than ones who said, "I'm so stupid." Being basically incapable of shutting up I raised my hand and asked about all the ones who said, "A crime was committed against me and it wasn't my fault, it was the fault of the criminal." He got embarrassed and said that wasn't included in the survey. No DOUBT.

  2. Wow, he might as well have called the elevator example "surprise buttsecks" for the amount of intelligence behind it. "It's dark outside, so I have to assume the absolute worst as a woman." That is no way anyone should live.

  3. Ok, hold on a minute...did the first woman survive the 60 stabbings? If not, how did they know what her intuition was telling her? Are they just assuming that because something bad happened to her she magically would have known?

    Also, I can sort of kind of see their point if she had been attacked walking down a dark alley at midnight. But INSIDE AN OFFICE BUILDING? The one where she works?? How in the world is that possibly asking for it in any way shape or form?

    As an aside, that book I'm reading also talks about emotional intelligence and how for a while it (along with self-esteem) was hailed as the magic cure-all for society's evils, that if only we could teach him self-esteem and high emotional intelligence, we would all be better people. But it turns out, according to research, that neither of those 2 things have any correlation to anything. That rapist (and many even most aggressive, violent people) tend to think very highly of themselves, and they also mentioned a study that showed that prison inmates tend to be very emotionally intelligent.

  4. "the blame is always on the other guy"

    YES. As a teacher, I see a lot of this. Maybe we need to start focusing on this while people are younger - educate young people that taking responsibility for your actions is one of the most powerful things you can do. Then, maybe things might start changing.

  5. ...sounds like your day got off to a rocky start having to listen to the whiney budimsky in the faux SBUX line. Bummer. But yeah. This reminds me of people at Javitz Center in NYC complaining to a cashier about the prices. Like they set the prices. People need to take more responsibility for themselves and Americans need to appreciate their privileges. And also, be kind to your local barista. Without that person, there is NO double pump white chocolate cappuccinnos.

  6. Great article! Thanks for linking to my post!

  7. Anonymous7:24 PM

    Wisdom is the appropriate use of other's people's experience. I don't have to go through something myself to learn. Experience based learning is also expensive--it cost me time and life.
    So I am the only one who can guide my life effectively. Whether its when to stand in line for a cup of coffee or go to my car on a dark night. Other people's experience tell me not to go walking in a thunderstorm. It is my responsibility to learn from THEM. That is the core of personal responsibility. Learn wisdom and follow the principles. They may be able to NOT guarantee me safety but will often guide me into it.

  8. I'm sorry, dude, but if there's a thunderstorm when I get off work, I WILL walk in the thunderstorm to get to my car. Period.

    Some things I can control. I can learn from other people's experiences and not text while driving, because I don't want to cause a wreck or drive my car into the median. But no matter how wise I am, I cannot control the guy in the car next to me texting while driving. When that person fails to see the brake lights on my car and crashes into me, all the wisdom in the world will not keep my car from being hit by his.

    If a rapist is hiding in the mall parking lot, looking to rape someone, nothing I do can stop him from committing that crime. If I hide in my house and never leave, I can keep him from raping ME (until he decides to break into my house to rape me), but I cannot stop him from committing the crime. If I never show up, he'll just wait for the next girl. The crime was not "avoided" or prevented -- it still happened, because THE RAPIST WANTED IT TO HAPPEN AND HE'S THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS CONTROL OVER HIS ACTIONS.