Pity pumping is a tactic that increases victim cred. To use it you first have to have victim cred to increase. If you don’t, if for instance you belong to a group that is designated as non-victims or non-victimizable, it will backfire. You won’t increase your victim cred you don’t have to begin with, you’ll just get labeled pathetic and some way to blame you for your plight will be found or invented. But if you are in a recognized victim group it often works very smoothly. In fact it’s nearly effortless.
Let’s look at some forms of pity pumping.
Portray an extreme example as a modal example – For while about ten years ago it was fashionable to brandish the statistic that murder was a major cause, or even the leading cause, of death in pregnant women. It accounted for more deaths among pregnant women than any medical problem with the pregnancy. Of course no actual numbers of these deaths versus others were ever mentioned because then it would have been obvious how few pregnant women die from any cause, medical or otherwise. Patriarchal medicine has seen to that. And publishing actual numbers of murders of pregnant women would allow the reader to compare these numbers to the statistics on male murder victims, and that would have defeated the whole purpose of the exercise.
But leaving in the realm of percentages and expressions of outrage allowed the moral entrepreneurs waving this red shirt to play on people’s normal instinctual protectiveness toward pregnant women. It fed the domestic violence narrative they were pushing.
Sly inversion – In this form of pity pumping you portray a harm to your victim group as greater than much worse harm to a non-victim group. An example of this is claiming that rape is worse than murder, that the victims suffer more. Another is the standard claim that the fact that war is institutionalized violence against men is really misogyny in disguise because it reflects a sexist consensus that women are not fit go off to die, because being considered unfit to die is like so much worse than actually dying. Another example of this was the way the Women’s Liberation movement portrayed the being a housewife as some form of oppression. Betty Friedan actually compared the lot of the housewife to that of a death camp inmate, saying they were both progressively dehumanized. She was speaking of American housewives in the 1950s living in what to the vast majority of humanity would consider a rather privileged position, certainly compared to that of their Man in The Grey Flannel Suit husbands who have all died off by now, years before these oppressed darlings.
See what Friedan did there? She exaggerated and misrepresented a life of relative privilege and thereby implicitly distorted and erased these women’s men’s lives of relative disprivilege – work that shortened their lives, denied them parenting time, required mindless conformity, based on an ethic of male disposability.
Slogans – Rebecca West’s formulation “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” is an example of pity pumping. “[Daddy!] look! They don’t even think I’m a person!!!!” Sob, sob, sob…….
Motherhood – The prime target for pity pumping, the dark heart of Mother McCree sentimentality about women, is motherhood and the way men, mostly idolize motherhood. And it can be exploited to very good effect. Yes, it’s ultimately misogynist and a part of patriarchal oppression and feminists have denounced it since the 70s – and still are, thank you, Mary Elizabeth Williams, than you very much for shredding this particular piece of sexist bullshit – but that hasn’t stopped feminists from insisting on the trope and exploiting it since before the 70s and right up to the present day. You see this in discussions of abortion and parental surrender, you see it in discussions of who gets primary child custody – “But, but, she CARRIED that child in her own body!!!” – although this seems to be waning – good – and you see it in discussions of the “wage gap” and why women work fewer hours than men. They answer is not more but better feminism.
So that’s pity pumping. And I am avidly collecting more examples.
- The Woman Card - May 2, 2016
- Frat boy bachelorettes and the invasion of gay bars - April 15, 2016
- “Not my kid….” - February 22, 2016