blaming the victim

who wants to play?

I'm an occasional reader of xoJane. It's a guilty pleasure, kindof my quasi-feminist version of a fashion magazine. The posts are mostly fluff, often from a cringingly young-and-inexperienced perspective, but sometimes there's one that strikes a chord. Yesterday's entry from Vanessa Formato, "I 'Accidentally' Read My Mom's Diary Over the Holidays and It Turned Out Terribly," was one of the latter.

Formato, a woman in her early 20s with a rocky mother-daughter relationship, describes getting an item out of her mother's bedside table drawer - with her mother's permission - and coming upon her open diary in the drawer. What she reads confirms her darkest suspicions that she is unloved and dredges up angry feelings about the way her mother treated her as a child/teen. (Side note - she mentions her mother's perfect cursive. Anybody else identify with that? Were you shamed for less-than-perfect penmanship by your mother like I was?) What follows is an examination of her feelings - her sadness, the anger that covers it - and some really insightful thoughts about who her mother is, why she parented the way she did, and how she might engage in some self-healing in order to avoid making the same mistakes.

You or I would probably wrap her up in a hug, tell her that we know exactly what that pain feels like, and tell her that it's NOT HER FAULT. I would want to tell her that I'm proud of her for figuring out some of these things in her 20s and encourage her to keep exploring those feelings.

Do you think the readers of xoJane shared this reaction? Oh, no no no. Here are some choice reactions:

"you're a bitch"
"She says YOU don't love HER. And you read that as SHE doesn't love YOU. I think that could be very telling about your relationship with her."
 "I very rarely think xojane should not publish a good story because of its content. But this, I don't know about."
"you would have been better off writing about it in your diary, and then letting it go."
"She never made you feel loved and you gave that back. What if you could just love her now?"
"you lack perspective"
"Sounds like you had a healthy dose of narcissism that manifested as defiance and victim hood."
"if you try my suggestions, and be the daughter she wants and the daughter you wish you could be, things will get better."
"Everyone lies and everyone keeps secrets, yourself included. Humans are pretty messy, accept it and enjoy the happy moments with your loved ones while you have them."
"This article was a major invasion of privacy and shame on you for asking to have it published and shame on XOJane for not having any integrity."
"It definitely sucks not to be loved by your parents, but whatevs. Shit happens."
"If you read another person's diary, you deserve to see whatever mean things are written about you in there."
"Your mother feels like you don't love her and you more or less confirmed that in this essay."
"you're jumping to conclusions about her diary entry"
" sounds like you and your mother have more in common than you'd like to recognize...except you might be a worse person for being completely oblivious to it"
"you're an incredibly shitty daughter. Time to own it. Especially if you want to play grown up."
"This feels kind of guilt-tripping and manipulative, though your reasons for that are damn clear. What are you going to get out of it?"

In other words: you're a childish and horrible person who doesn't consider her mother's feelings, and you deserve exactly what you're getting. You deserve to be unloved by your mother. You deserve to be criticized by us. You should shut up and sit down and try harder to be a loving, forgiving daughter. And *if* any of what you have said is actually true about your mother, you're just like her. But it's doubtful, because you clearly don't have any credibility when it comes to reporting your own experiences and feelings.
One commenter even goes so far as to insinuate that Formato is a pathological narcissist. The mother goes undiagnosed. Formato is pushed back toward the closet by people who don't seem to really grasp that emotional abuse thrives on secrecy.

Here's a quote from an essay of my own:
Now, regarding public bashing: talking about my feelings is not bashing. Nor is discussing my parenting goals. Owning and talking about my own truth is my prerogative. Part of my truth is that I have noticed that public comments such as this one generally contain more loving and accepting language than private conversations or written communication sent directly to me. In those types of conversations, I have been called delusional, hard-hearted, a poor communicator, and avoidant. I've been informed that her friends, when polled (kindof the older generation's version of blogging, no?), believe that she's entitled to disrespect her children's boundaries. I've been threatened with the "I hope your children do this to you someday" line, a classic conditional-parent move. I've been threatened with a lawsuit because physical access to my children is apparently more important to her than the effects of legal action on their family. These are all my personal experiences and mine to share.
If you don't want somebody to talk about how you abuse them, try not abusing them.

That's what I want to say to those commenters, and to Formato's mother. Fuck you and your protection of the abuser. Fuck you and your shaming of the abused.

I stuck up for her in the comments. I hope you'll join me. There is a scattering of support for her there, and I'd love for it to drown out the victim-shaming.


  1. Thanks for sharing. This shit is so hard. I can't hardly bring myself to read comments anymore when I see things like this. It's never the mother's fault. Ever. It's always the 'bad kid'. Respect your parents, be the bigger person, shit happens, life is like that, every family has their problems. I'm so, so, so tired of the excuses for abuse.

  2. Words from people dissing their mother are discounted from the get go. I have no idea why people that love and believe the representation of a Joan Crawford in Mommie dearest, can't make the leap that mothers like that are every where. The star maker machinery didn't make Crawford a retched person. She was already fucked up and Hollywood tolerated it.
    There is gender biased involved. A bastard father fits right into people expectations of an abuser. No one can work around and accept that mothers can and are the as bad. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say,"How can you hate your mother"?
    I would really only have about ten bucks. I learned early on to keep it to myself.

    1. That's a good point about the gender bias Q. No one would think twice about someone saying their dad was an ass, never loved them, and now they don't talk. Maybe for too many people, it hits too close to home. Like if they admit their are mother's like this, then they might have to look at their own mother. And no one wants to believe that their own mother can't love them.

    2. The greatest thing about them blaming the victim is we get to hear their irrational comments in stereo.

  3. Claire. I clicked over to that link and found the girl there to be refreshingly candid about her own flaws and contributions to their inability to have a better relationship. While we didn't get a chance to hear the mothers side first hand, the daughters self awareness let's me take her version of their relationship at face value.
    Unlike the usual sociopath palavering of being perfect and not having a clue to why no one likes them.

  4. Thanks for the heads up. I'm heading over to see how I can help.

  5. This really hit home. My mother told me last year she wished she had never met my dad. The relationship described in this article sounds a lot like my relationship with my mother as a teen and in my twenties. And everyone would tell me I should be good to my mom because she is a great lady.