If You Act Like A Victim, You Will Likely Be Victimized – And: Complementarians Ask Women and Girls to Be Small To Make Men Feel Big
I could have also headed this post, ‘If you act like prey, you will be treated like prey.’
One theme I have seen in numerous books, articles, television programs, and blog posts I have read on topics ranging from boundaries, people pleasing, workplace abuse, crime prevention, domestic violence, school yard bullying, to Animal Planet channel’s My Cat From Hell television show (seriously!) is that individuals looking to hurt or exploit another individual almost always seek out the most vulnerable-looking target.
Bullies, abusers, con artists, and predators usually do not seek out strong, self-confident, or healthy victims. (There are exceptions, but that is a general rule, based upon much reading I’ve done.)
It’s important to note upfront that my post is not intended to be victim-blaming. I am, rather, a big fan of prevention.
I like to read articles and books to learn how I can lessen my chances of being selected by muggers, jerks, abusers, serial killers, sociopaths, con artists, and workplace bullies. I write this post from that perspective.
I am also interested in learning why I do what I do, or why others do what they do. If the thing that I do has been problematic for me over my life, I try to figure out why I started doing that behavior in the first place, and read on how to stop doing it.
At any rate, I am in no way suggesting if you have been targeted by a mugger, robber, burglar, rapist, a jerk at your job, or an abuser in the dating world, that you deserved to be targeted.
From the book The Bully At Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on The Job, by Gary Namie, Ph.D.
Bullying is wrong because of the unilateral decisions bullies make. Targets do not invite, provoke, desire, approve of, nor prosper as a result of the bully’s assaults.
Daily torment from a bully also encourages self-denial by Targets. She is told that she is too sensitive, too competitive, and trying constantly to have her own way. It is akin to brainwashing and can even extend beyond work to encompass her family and her life.
Bullying is NOT the Target’s Fault! (p 49)
From page 140 of the same book:
The greatest danger a Target [workplace abuse victim] faces in the working world is to have loose or non-existent boundaries. That person becomes an unprotected Target for all who love to hurt others.
So, if you are a passive person, one who has weak boundaries, you may be seen as easy prey by any bullies at your job – or in any other area of your life.
One thing I’ve learned from having lived approximately 25 or more years as a target, as a passive person, as a codependent, is that mean, selfish, or abusive people are absolute experts at sensing who in a room is the most vulnerable to being exploited or abused, and they will make a bee-line for that person.
The bullies and jerks can read the signs you give off – if you’re a passive, unconfident person who is not apt to stand up for yourself when mistreated, you give off signals via your body language, facial experience, how you speak, and so on. This applies to friendship contexts, jobs, and to dating.
From the book The Disease to Please, in a discussion on romantic relationships:
It is imperative that you recognize how dangerous and self-sabotaging your people-pleasing [lack of boundaries or lack of being assertive] tendencies with men can become so that you can change the unhealthy dynamic of your relationships. Otherwise, the Disease to Please will serve as a veritable mating call to men who have a perverse need and desire to control nearly every aspect of your behavior.
In other books I possess, the psychiatrists and therapists describe women who ended up dating abusers and creeps, because these women behaved in a passive manner, which is attractive to a lot of jerks, and many of these women were unsure how to break up with the jerks; their passivity prevented them from distancing themselves.
(Again, this is not saying that women “deserve” to be mistreated or are to be blamed if they are in an abusive or unsatisfactory relationship, only that if a woman wants to lessen her chances of attracting mean, self-absorbed, abusive, or manipulative jerks in the first place, there are steps one can take.)
I spent many years being passive. I was codependent. I didn’t have boundaries. As such, I did attract a lot of mean people, self absorbed jerks, users, and bullies from childhood and into adulthood. Co-workers in full-time, professional office jobs I had would regularly take advantage of me, or just bully me for the fun of it.
For years and years, I could not figure out how or why someone who was so agreeable, non-confrontational, and “nice” as I was could keep attracting people who would treat me so horribly.
Now I know why. I was advertising to the users, jerks, and bullies in one way or another – my speech, body language, actions – that I lacked boundaries, I was soft spoken, I would allow myself to be pushed around and would not stand up for myself.
All of that behavior was like wearing a target painted on my chest, the word “WELCOME” written on my forehead, and a sandwich board reading, “Harass Me, Bully Me, Use Me, I Won’t Fight Back!”
Cats are not people, and people are not cats, but one program I find still parallels my experiences with how damaging codependency and a lack of boundaries is, would be Animal Planet channel’s “My Cat From Hell” show.
The host of the show is Jackson Galaxy, who is an animal behaviorist.
In many shows, the families who contact Galaxy asking for assistance for their troubled cat are a “one-cat” home. In several episodes, however, I’ve seen situations where Galaxy is called in to a multiple-cat family, to deal with one cat, a bully, who keeps targeting another cat.
One example can be viewed here (You Tube):
On many of the episodes I’ve seen, Galaxy will note that one reason the bully feline is tormenting the target is that the target is acting like prey. The target cat will act bashful, unsure of himself, timid, afraid, and unworthy.
As Galaxy usually says on the show, concerning the bully cat situations he is asked to address:
“Remember – if you act like prey, you’re gonna get treated like prey.”
From what I’ve read in books by psychiatrists and others on abuse (whether it’s marriage, dating, friendships, or workplace), that quote about cats holds very true for human beings!
There was one episode of “My Cat From Hell” where a young lady had at least two or three cats.
One of the woman’s cats was what was referred to on the show as a “bottle baby” (she had raised the cat from a kitten herself). Any time this cat showed anxiety, she would either pick it up and cuddle it, or allow the cat to hide in its favorite hiding spot: the foot of space between her bed and a bedroom wall.
In this specific episode, Galaxy said that the young lady’s coddling of the cat, of catering to the cat’s fears, was making things worse. Rather than living a large life, out and about, exploring the house, the cat was retreating to a tiny spot in the house.
The cat’s guardian thought she was showing compassion to that cat by allowing him to hide away from his fears, but Galaxy said no, she was causing more harm than good.
This cat and this cat’s guardian reminded me so much of my mother and myself.
I clearly had anxiety issues from the time I was a toddler, but my mother (who noticed I had anxiety, even as a small kid), did not encourage me to outgrow it, to take risks, to defend myself, but to be small and to retreat from life. My mother encouraged me to hide away from life and from fear.
My mother was a strong believer in conflict avoidance, which is one thing among a few that left me very vulnerable in my teen and adult years to being exploited or run over by bullies. I didn’t have the self confidence or experience at handling conflict as a kid, because my mother forbid me to be assertive, so I had no idea what to do when confronted by users, jerks, or bullies in adulthood.
In my mother’s case, some of this mindset was mixed in with her beliefs about Christianity and gender roles (gender complementarianism).
My mother believed that it was wrong or un-biblical for girls and women to be assertive and bold, that God called women to live very small, meek, mild, quiet lives.
My mother also had anxiety and a fearful temperament herself.
As I grew older, my mother was always portraying the world as a scary place: she was always reminding me to be on watch when I went out shopping, so I would not be raped, kidnapped or mugged.
Instead of encouraging me to fight my fears of failing, fears of going new places, meeting new people, trying out for contests or activities, my mother allowed me, and in some cases, sweetly discouraged me, from trying anything.
My mother was with me much like the cat guardian on the program: she would encourage me, or allow me, to find a “hidey spot” and curl up there and just give up, too afraid to leave that comfortable spot to face my fears, face bullies, or face life.
GENDER COMPLEMENTARIANS LIKE THEIR WOMEN SMALL AND UNTHREATENING
I will camp out here for a moment to really hold Christian gender complementarians to account for this same thing.
Many complementarians teach women and girls to possess traits that are indistinguishable from codependency, which makes them appear as push-overs, and easy victims and targets, and in turn, makes them appear enticing to abusers, manipulators, the self-absorbed, the users, and jerks.
And, complementarians believe that these codependent traits, which make women appear as easy prey, are feminine, biblical, and God’s design, but they are not.
Complementarians do not always agree with each other on every topic, but quite a number of the complementarian-like Christians I grew up with, or books and articles I read, or sermons I heard by complementarians, encouraged girls and women, and taught girls and women, to be small, act small, and to stay small.
We girls and women, raised in Christian families, were taught by complementarian Christians that we exist only to act to meet the needs of others; to assist men (specifically a husband if we married).
There are some – I’d say most – complementarians who encourage women and girls to live small lives, rather than be the star of their own movie, rather than be bold, assertive, and live life on their own terms – because it makes men feel insecure and bad about themselves to see women who are independent, brave, and assertive.
There are some complementarians who find this output by other complementarians embarrassing. At least one wrote an editorial saying he, as a complementarian, is embarrassed by complementarian men (and women) pleading with women to live small, in order to puff up insecure male egos.
Here is an example or two of what I mean; complementarians asking women to live small and be small, so as not to make men feel bad, or to make men feel “manly”:
There was another similar page by another complementarian, who also made a similar argument, asking women not to be so independent and competent, because it made him, and other complementarian men, feel bad about themselves. (I thought I bookmarked it, but I cannot find it. I’d like to link to that page too, if I should find it later.)
Palette cleanser to the “Open Letter to Rey” page above (this is on The Atlantic):
Rey, the franchise’s newest breakout star, is a heroine fans can finally feel good about liking.
Some complementarians ask women to avoid speaking directly to men, or in holding jobs (even secular jobs) where they have position of authority over men (see these pages for examples: link 1, link 2, link 3).
Still other complementarians ask women that if they must exercise authority over men, say, on a job, they should do so in as much a feminine manner as possible and when talking to any man do so in a passive-aggressive manner.
These complementarian writers seems to assume that a woman speaking directly or in a confident manner is too masculine. I’d say that what one considers masculine vs. feminine communication style is due to one’s culture, not timeless biblical standards.
I so often see, and have seen in the past, complementarians promoting smallness for women and girls: don’t speak up; don’t direct men; if you must direct a man, do so in a “feminine” (quiet? passive?) manner; don’t appear too confident around a man.
All of this sounds more like 1950s dating advice to teen-aged girls than anything I’ve seen in the Bible, but complementarians swear their views are “biblical.”
Girls and women, in the church and in secular culture, are discouraged from showing anger, or from being assertive.
Notice when a man speaks up assertively, others around him may praise him and say he is management material, he’s a take charge kind of guy. If a girl or woman behaves in the same straight-forward, no-nonsense manner, she will be referred to as bossy or bitchy.
Some women have been so conditioned to repress anger and be kind to people no matter what that it can and has put them in danger – of being raped, kidnapped, or murdered.
For example, a lot of women may be very much wanting to tell an annoying or creepy man to leave them alone, a man who keeps romantically pursuing them at a bar, a party, or where ever else, but these women will silently and grudgingly tolerate the man and his behavior, because they are afraid of being perceived as mean or bitchy if they bluntly and forcefully tell the man to leave them alone.
Most all these qualities make girls and women seem like easy prey.
Complementarianism, much of it, coaches girls and women to act and be passive – it teaches them to look and to act like prey, which makes them appealing to predators.
I used to watch wildlife television programs when I was a kid, and I recollect episodes where the narrator would point out that some predators generally like to go after the smallest or weakest gazelle or zebra in a herd – whether it was a baby, a sick, or older animal, because attacking one of those took less effort and energy than chasing down a strong or healthy animal.
How unfortunate that some Christians (and some in secular culture) associate femininity with holding weak traits, and then pressure or condition women to adhere to those behaviors. I say it’s unfortunate because it may put girls and women at more risk at being raped, bullied, or attracting an abuser.
By the way, on the My Cat From Hell television series, where the host finally gets a shy, meek cat to “find his mojo” (as the show host often puts it), when that newly transformed, self-confident cat saunters into a room to be reintroduced to the bully cat, one of two things happens:
Either the former target walks around or by the bully cat as though the bully is no big deal, or, the former target cat will sort of pause in front of the bully, and make full eye contact with the bully as if to say, “Try messing with me now. You WILL regret it.”
In either case, the bully cat readjusts quickly, and comes to regard the former victim cat as being his or her equal – and stops picking on, attacking, and bullying the other cat.
I think what works for cats can work for people: behave in a confident, bold fashion (stop it with the passivity, meekness, and soft-spoken, timid nature), and the bullies, criminals, or the abusers of the world may think twice before approaching you as their next target.
This post to possibly be edited in the future to add additional, related links below.
Related Material, elsewhere:
‘Submit to Your Husbands’: Women Told To Endure Domestic Violence In The Name of God (via ABC Aussie news)