Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A victim who's made mistakes is still a victim

A raccoon that says, "Yes~ yes~ my evil plan has been set in motion." Image source.
[content note: this is a story about getting coerced into spending a lot of money. And what that experience taught me about victims in other scenarios too, like abuse or rape]

A few years ago, I somehow ended up spending a lot of money at this beauty place that does face-wash stuff and spa-type stuff. Well, not really "somehow"- it was because the sales people coerced me into it. They were deceptive from the very start- I was told "we're having a special event today and doing a face treatment for free!" Yeah, it turned out not to be free. "It will only take 10 minutes!" Yeah, I was there for 2 hours.

They were so nice, and friendly, and polite, that I couldn't see that they just wanted my money and didn't care about me. And I told them, over and over, that I wasn't interested in buying anything, but they refused to accept that answer. And I was operating under the rules of politeness, which say that I'm not allowed to just refuse- I have to give a reason why, and then when they argue that that reason is invalid, I have to respond to that argument. I can't just say "I already said no, seriously what is wrong with you? Leave me alone, okay?" No, that would be "rude." I was following the rules of politeness rather than actual morality.

The rules of politeness say that my money is not actually mine, that my choices are not actually mine. It's all up for public debate. I'm only allowed to refuse to buy something I don't want or need if I can give an answer that satisfies the sales person. They were all so nice and friendly to me, I shouldn't be "rude" to them. I either have to keep playing the game and arguing about why no, I actually don't need to buy this, or give up and just give them the money. Or be "rude" and refuse to play.

(And here's a sign that we live in a rape culture: if your partner wants to do something you're uncomfortable with- come to your home, kiss, spend the night, have sex, whatever- you're expected to provide a reason why you don't want to. Your body is not your own- you're only allowed to make your own choices if you can offer a well-reasoned and convincing argument to support those choices. Yeah, not cool. Your body belongs to you. Maybe in some situations you're willing to hear your partner out, so a little bit of pushback is okay I guess, but if they expect you to issue rebuttals to all of their counterarguments about why you're wrong to feel a certain way, that is NOT OKAY. Your body, your choice, and you don't owe anybody an explanation.)

I kept saying no, and they kept putting more and more pressure on me, and I was so uncomfortable and they seemed so nice, I didn't want to be in conflict with them. The tension was too much, I couldn't stand it, finally I said yes. I thought that would get them to quit badgering me.

And it worked for a few minutes, they swiped my credit card and they were so happy and told me what a good deal I was getting, how lucky I was. And then they brought out another thing I didn't want or need and the whole thing started over.

In the end, I spent a lot of money and got a year-long membership. And they were all like, can't wait to see you again next week, we're friends now! And I felt really excited and happy. Also a little guilty and ashamed for spending so much money- but I decided to look on the bright side and make the best of the year-long membership.

I went back again, a week or two later, and one of them- a very friendly and nice woman- did the face-washing service for me, which was very nice. And then a few others came in and told me I totally needed to buy another product, and I said no, and they refused to accept that. On and on and on about all the reasons I needed this product, and how all my reasons for not wanting it were wrong, and I needed to justify myself.

And again, the next week. Got the face treatment, because I'd already paid for that, and I refused to spend money on anything else. But the sales people kept trying. And I had to keep explaining myself, I had to keep thinking of new reasons to refuse, because we were just having a polite and friendly conversation and I couldn't just tell them to STOP IT. And they would say ANYTHING. They completely made up so much bs, and the rules of politeness said I couldn't just point out how much bs it all was. ("I don't need that, I already have one at home." "No, there's no way you have one at home! Our product is completely different from all the other companies'. It's way better! You definitely don't already have this." Seriously?) It was exhausting. (And entirely in Chinese.)

I only ever spent money that first time I went. I was determined that I wouldn't buy anything else from them, I would only make use of the service I had already paid for. Sometimes when I went there, I would leave my credit card at home, so that no matter how much pressure I was under, and how hard it was to keep saying no, I could feel secure in the knowledge that it was literally impossible for me to buy whatever it was they wanted me to buy. Which pretty much shows just how nasty and unhealthy the whole thing was- I knew I was going into a situation where people would try to coerce me into making bad choices, and yet I chose to go there anyway. (At the time though, I thought it was hilarious. "LOLOLOLOL joke's on them, I didn't even bring my credit card!" I never told this to them, of course.)

After each appointment, I had to fill out a card and check a box that said I was "extremely satisfied" and sign my name. And of course I did it. The face-wash service itself was totally fine, and people were so friendly and I wanted them to like me. I didn't like how they tried to sell me stuff, but that was just small talk and politeness and feelings, not something that actually mattered, right?

I didn't know how to care about my own emotions, to be aware of my emotional health. I didn't realize how much stress it was for me- they were all so friendly and happy to see me, and there were a lot of things I liked. It was fun at the beginning! My attitude was like, wow I'm in China, having all these strange new experiences, how exciting! I got a lot of good practice speaking Chinese, and I learned words to describe how great one's boobs would supposedly look if one were to buy this bra.

There were parts that were fun. It was always funny hearing what kind of total bs they would make up to explain why I needed to buy something. And one time, for some reason, they thought they could convince me to buy a bra by cutting out a piece of padding from the bra, and burning the piece of padding. Yes. WTF? Yes. This is a thing that really happened. It was hilarious. And also kind of horrifying. (I think they were trying to demonstrate some chemical property it had? You'll be shocked to learn that it was total bs rather than real science.) And no, I did not buy anything.

But as the weeks went on, I felt worse and worse about going there. It got to the point where I hated it and was only going because I'd already paid for the service. And then I decided it was causing me so much emotional trauma that it would be better to not go. And they were so dishonest about everything, I figured they weren't the kind of people who would give me a refund if I asked, so I just stopped. Blocked their phone calls, cut them out of my life. Never going back.

And then I got really angry.

Once I had given up on the whole "look on the bright side and tell myself this wasn't a huge mistake", I started to realize how much they had lied. All the time, about everything. Constantly. How manipulative they were, how they had been able to bend reality in such a way that it felt like it was a good idea to spend a ton of money on something I didn't really want. How they had never cared about me- they just wanted my money. They were a bunch of vampires. And what the hell was that comment about how if I don't buy their bra, my boobs won't look good and my boyfriend will leave me because "men are like that"?

So angry. And so embarrassed. I didn't want to think about it, I didn't want anyone to know. I felt so bad that I had spent money on that, that I had made such a bad decision with such a huge amount of money.

And I'm blogging about this now because I've come to the realization that I was a victim, and they are the ones who did a bad thing. I don't need to feel bad about this- instead, the focus should be on how wrong it is for them to prey on people and coerce them into spending money.

I made mistakes. But what they did was actually evil.

In feminism, we talk a lot about how victim-blaming is not okay. How when somebody gets raped or abused, there will always be people who want to analyze the victim's choices and judge whether they did something wrong and are "partly to blame." And feminists say "no, if this happened to you, it's not your fault."

But they go too far when they say, "if this happened to you, it's not your fault. There was nothing you could have done differently to prevent it" because that might not be true, and it doesn't matter because the victim's actions are NOT THE POINT. In my case, I see places where I made mistakes. Like when I said something was too expensive, and they asked me what price I think it should be, and badgered me into saying a number- and then once I had said a number, that was the starting point of the bargaining, and the rules of politeness said I had agreed to pay whatever price we come to at the end of the bargaining. I shouldn't have said a number; that was a mistake. I should have known about how to recognize suspicious and dishonest sales techniques. I should have been more aware about how my behavior was being illogically constrained by the rules of politeness. I should have paid attention to my emotions; I should have known that my emotional health matters and it's not okay for people to treat me that way.

I see a lot of places where I made mistakes or I "should have known better." But none of that changes the fact that I was a victim and they took advantage of me. Nobody should be talking about sub-optimal choices a victim made, when another person consciously made a choice to hurt and manipulate someone.

When people talk about abuse, they ask questions like "but why didn't the victim leave?" or "but why didn't you report the rape immediately?" Really? I can think of SO MANY reasons why. My situation was just about money, not anything as serious as rape or abuse- but you could ask why I kept choosing to go back there. So many reasons. My own optimism. I didn't want to believe I had made a bad decision. I didn't want to believe that they were the kind of people who would claim to be my friends but really just want money. I thought maybe someday I would win an argument with them and they'd have to treat me better. I thought I could get them to respect my right to receive the service I had already paid for, without constant harassment. I didn't even realize how badly it was affecting me because I didn't know my feelings mattered- I didn't know that it could be so hurtful and unhealthy to just have a "friendly and polite conversation."

And I totally believe victims when they say at first they didn't realize it was rape or abuse. It took me a long time to realize just how much stress and emotional trauma those manipulative sales people were causing. I was actually happy at the beginning. I always checked the box that said "extremely satisfied"- if, hypothetically, I tried to get my money back, they could use that as evidence. But there were reasons I checked "extremely satisfied." I thought I was. I thought I was happy, but I really wasn't- like I said, I didn't know how to be aware of my own emotions, I didn't know that it mattered that they made me feel so bad. I was trying to make the best of the situation and be kind to them. It wasn't until much later that I realized how badly they had treated me. Then I saw the warning signs that had been there, so obvious, all along. (We're taught to give people the benefit of the doubt, to not jump to conclusions and get all confrontational when somebody treats you in a way you don't like- and then this is used as evidence against abuse victims. If at any point you acted like you were fine or you liked it, then it couldn't have been abuse, could it?)

An essential part of manipulation/ coercion/ abuse is making the victim believe that they actually like it, that they chose it, that it's not manipulation/ coercion/ abuse. So OF COURSE you're going to have victims that don't realize they're victims until much later. I totally believe you if you say that's what happened.

Anyway, I blocked their phone calls, they don't know where I live, I'm pretty sure I never even told them my real (English) name. They will never do anything to me again. All that's left is my own anger and embarrassment about this, figuring out how I feel and why.

The stuff I've learned from feminism about "don't blame the victim" is really helpful for me. I see that I made mistakes, but that's not the point. The point is that they did an evil thing to me. They treated me as nothing more than an obstacle in the way of getting money. I didn't realize it, and maybe I should have realized it, but that doesn't mean it's somehow my fault. It doesn't make what they did any less wrong.

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