A movement for social justice that does not assign blame is a movement without a solution. Our reluctance to assign blame, or to name the agent, in somewhat gentler terms, is an instinct rooted in both the politics of manners and in our own meek socialization, that cultural force that teaches every oppressed group that it is rude to speak up or speak ill.
Here’s the thing: if there is a system that marginalizes a group of people, that system can have one of three causes: it is either natural, it is constructed and perpetuated by those who benefit, or it is constructed and perpetuated by those who are marginalized. When we refuse to assign blame to the powerful, to ask them to recognize their active and passive roles in upholding this system, we are either saying that the hierarchy is natural (and thus women, people of color, people with disabilities, or LGBT people, depending on which hierarchy we’re discussing) are simply biologically or intrinsically inferior, or we are putting equal blame on the marginalized for their own victimization by saying they share equal responsibility for upholding an oppressive system. If it is the former, we are saying that oppression is natural and we have no business talk about or need for social justice other than to find ways to gilt the cages where we can. If it is the latter, we ignore the logical question of why a group would uphold their own oppression by removing that group from all context of history, culture, and socialization.
Assigning blame to the powerful seems wrong because suddenly you’re not angry at an unknown, faceless “system,” but you are forced to recognize the role of all people in a marginalizing group in creating and perpetuating this system, even people you love. Suddenly it’s not just “the patriarchy” or “society,” it’s your father, your brother, your boyfriend, your favorite teacher, and your cool boss. Suddenly you feel like to name the agent would be to betray these people, or to say that you can no longer love these men because you recognize not only how they have benefited from but how they have upheld your oppression. So you either try to make them exceptions, or you decide that really everyone’s to blame, or you decide that’s just the way things are.
And then your movement has no future, because you can not work to overthrow a system that has no root, no base, no cause. So you can gilt the cage by convincing yourself things that harm you are actually helping or even empowering you, or you can just give up entirely and say the whole movement is stupid.
What we need to realize is that blame is necessary, and that assigning it doesn’t make us bad people, or delegitimize the emotions and connections we feel to individuals. A lot of women refuse to assign blame to men because it would make them feel stupid or weak for loving them. But the men that are worth loving, the men who love us, care for us, want things to change for us and recognize the insane degradation of our lives will want change. Will want to see how the way they act and what they say harms us so they can change themselves and the men around them.
And the men who don’t? You might still love them, you might keep him in your life, you might even cut ties to the liberation movement rather than to him. But he will always have chosen the comfort of the status quo over helping women.
Oppressive systems are a virus, and activists who refuse to assign blame, who do not name the agent, are like doctors saying they can’t do anything because viruses just happen, or that you’re partially to blame for being sick because your body is supporting the virus too. Which is very nice for the individual virus cells don’t have to feel bad because they weren’t part of the initial infection, but you’re still going to be the one who suffers.