Who’s blaming who? Victims, survivors and perpetrators.
Why Women Are Blamed For Everything: Exposing the Culture of Victim-Blaming
Dr Jessica Taylor
Hardcover : 432 pages
ISBN-10 : 1472135482
ISBN-13 : 978-1472135483
Publisher : Constable (27 Aug. 2020)
I was drawn to this book by what I viewed as an excellent interview of the author, Dr Jessica Taylor in the Psychologist magazine (Dec 2020), if one could bottle the enthusiasm and determination Dr Jessica exudes in her interview, one would make a fortune flogging it as a snake oil alternative. Dr Jessica is also an OU Psychology alumni graduating the same year as I did. There the similarity ends, Dr Jessica describes herself as a young, working class [radical] feminist psychologist, further as a woman who has been subjected to sexual violence. It is often dangerous as a white middle class male to enter into the arena where feminists patrol, even harder into the area of sexual violence when a male is oft viewed as a potential predator. How can I as a male understand? Does a school master putting his hand down your pyjama bottoms at school camp give you any true insight, possibly not? It is perhaps the job of this book to enlighten me and my like.
I so wanted to like this book, unfortunately it comes largely in two parts, the main part seems to be the bulk of her PhD thesis linked to associated research she has published. This academic part is written as a PhD thesis, has effectively been peer reviewed as the doctorate was granted and is commended to students thinking of taking this route as an example of what is required. Dr Jessica is careful to position herself as “an active agent” in the research, nonetheless as a radical feminist there cannot but be bias, it is not good enough to simply admit it! There is a virtually whole chapter on the creation of a new psychometric test, she hoped to be not “ineffective”, personally I cannot see how when one sets out to measure blame one avoids questions that lead to finding what is sought. I personally dislike anything that involves Likert scales, so I’ll not comment further on this part of the research.
Dr Jessica then details two qualitative studies; one with those that have been subjected to sexual violence and the other to the professionals that pick up the pieces. The former perhaps gave results that could be predicted the latter showed great value with possibly unexpected results, not so much in the research per se but rather in the ‘review’ comments from a couple of the participants who seemed to be disappointed in their ‘performance’ or their real ability to make a difference to those they were meant to be helping.
The other part appears to be assembled from her collected blogs and other opinions and is somewhat more problematic. Dr Jessica claims to have “refrained from writing a traditional academic textbook” yet writes in that style with every page peppered with in-text references. This would be all fine and dandy if the referencing were correct, sadly it often isn’t as the references often aren’t found in the reference list, in some cases also so vague as to be pointless e.g. The Guardian, 2019, with no detail given in the reference list! Further there are a number of quotes either taken out of context or misquoted e.g. the 1927 Nobel prize winner “proved he could cure schizophrenia” and suggesting that Aristotle in one sentence described women as “inferior, incomplete deformed versions of men”. This is unfortunate as in my opinion she quite correctly attacks psychiatrists but doesn’t do her case any favours by describing psychiatry as “notoriously White(sic.), elitist and racist”. She does better when she pans the psychiatrists for categorising and often diagnosing those that have suffered sexual violence. She quite rightly criticises the DSM definitions though to my mind she might have focussed more on the very term ‘disorder’, it would fit very well with her narrative with ‘order’ being defined by the male dominated psychiatrists, presumably modelled in their own likeness and disorder being these terrible girls who were often ‘asking for it’?
The underlying theme of the book is that Dr Jessica claims we live in a patriarchal and misogynist society, a society that perpetuates sexual violence against women who must be held responsible to protect themselves from primitive male urges or even ‘rights’. The stud / slut binary where the promiscuous male is to be celebrated, the female berated. Unfortunately, whilst the book is written for a non-academic audience, gaining authority from Dr Jessica’s doctoral achievement it doesn’t really do the job. Plenty of inequalities listed showing the poor treatment of sexually attacked women yet with little balance as to why, rather it would seem in many ways she reverses the title of her book to read ‘men are to blame’. She is right of course when it comes to the brutal sexual assault of rape, by definition, that can only be committed by men, but even her own research demonstrates poor treatment of women by women too.
Others have given detailed critical reviews listing the numerous errors within the book, it is a shame they are there, it seems to have been written more on the basis of quantity rather than quality, why write 50 words if 500 will suffice? This is a very serious issue, the rates of successful prosecution for sexual assaults is pitifully low and seemingly falling. Even worse if number of non-reported cases is taken into account. It seems crazy to educate girls to be ‘careful and cautious’ yet to barely educate boys that sexual assault is unacceptable. No sane person can but agree with Dr Jessica’s core message that it is the perpetrator that is guilty never the abused. Sadly I cannot recommend the book, I can however recommend the interview in the Psychologist- to my mind that does a much better job of pushing forward Dr Jessica’s campaign.
Barry Morgan MBPsS
19th November 2020