“Digressive victimhood? Competitive victimhood?” Can’t we just be human?

Ted Bauer
3 min readMar 22, 2022

Wrote something the other week about how we discuss “trauma” too much, which has increasingly felt true in recent years. Concurrently to that idea, it feels like opinions have become identities, and a lot of opinions are tied up or connected to ideas about “trauma.” Trauma is a really complicated topic to tackle, because you don’t want to demean the experiences of others, but you almost need to tier-out the notion of trauma. Someone getting raped and then the building is set on fire is almost universally traumatic; “a boy I think is weird asked me out” is not trauma, but we keep calling it “trauma” these days, and I think that’s where some stuff is getting confusing.

Anyway.

There’s a new article from Northwestern about different types of “victimhood,” a close cousin of the “trauma” discussion, and this part lays out the basic ideas:

With digressive-victimhood claims, dominant group members counter accusations of discrimination by shifting the topic of discussion. The researchers contrast this approach with “competitive victimhood” claims, in which dominant group members respond to criticism by claiming that in fact they are the true, oppressed victims — for example, by saying they have suffered “reverse racism” under affirmative-action admissions policies.

To follow along, “digressive-victimhood” would mean:

  • “That’s racist.” (pause) “It seems as if you’re attacking the First Amendment…”

And now “competitive victimhood” would be:

  • “That’s racist.” (pause) “But you don’t know my traumas as a non-binary!”

In the first one (digressive), you’re changing the topic. In the second one, you’re having a pissing contest.

Why does any of this matter?

At the broadest level, it doesn’t matter. This is stuff that academics talk about and design studies around so that they can publish papers and be seen as relevant to their institutions. Having different, competing terms for victimhood doesn’t really advance anything. If anything, it makes old-school guys with decision-making power roll their eyes even harder, and not want to discuss these topics anymore than they…

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Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.