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Victim-blaming is a significant facet of rape culture, and as such, it shows up in parts of the broader culture. Like political hearings.

Creative Commons image of the protests when Comey was initially fired.
Creative Commons image of the protests when Comey was initially fired.

Like many Americans, I was glued to the Comey hearing yesterday. I found it fascinating, and I’m eager to see where it goes, but I also noticed something disturbing.

Two or three of the senators questioning Comey said the equivalent of But why didn’t you react better in a moment that was a shocking breach of political etiquette? What’s wrong with you?

And I cringed, because that’s classic victim-blaming.

According to the transcript at the New York Times, Senator Rubio questioned Comey as to why he didn’t do a better job of standing up to Trump in one unexpected encounter (the one where Trump made a request about dropping the investigation on Flynn). Similarly, Senator Collins hounded Comey on this topic, saying things like “I remain puzzled by your response.” Senator Blunt later questioned why Comey even took phone calls from Trump (when he was still employed in his role as FBI director).

I am not the first person to notice this eerie victim-blaming. I spent a chunk of the morning and afternoon retweeting similar sentiments from others, and I rather like this opinion piece on the topic by Nicole Serratore drawing parallels between Trump’s predatory behavior toward Comey and toward women.

The fact is, when faced with a strange or unexpected aggressive situation, people don’t always react ideally. We know this from trauma studies as well as observations of human nature. To focus on the behavior of the wronged party and not the behavior of the aggressor is to blame the victim.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this rhetoric, which conservatives embrace when it comes to sexual harassment and assault, pops up in other arenas. I suppose I’d just hoped for better from politicians apparently concerned with seeking the truth.

Edited to add: this article by Nell Scovell also captures a lot of the feel of being expected to accommodate a powerful man.

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Jeana Jorgensen

FOXY FOLKORIST Studied folklore under Alan Dundes at the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to earn her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy...