My girlfriend has this tradition, every year, she tries to see as many Oscar nominated films as possible. This year, I decided to tag along with her in this cinematic adventure, and this was how I stumbled upon Inocente. Inocente was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Documentary Short Film, and follows the story of a young girl in pursuit of her dream: being an artist. She faces challenges of poverty, homelessness, and rocky family relationships, and a painful past that follows her like a shadow.
What struck me the most about this film was how she internalized some of her struggles, primarily her past. In the film, Inocente recalls the catalyst that led to her and her family’s journey of homelessness. She recalls vividly how her father got angry with her for not asking her mother to make him dinner. His temper exploded and he began beating Inocente relentlessly until her mother intervened, and called the police. She then fled with Inocente and her other children to avoid deportation alongside her explosive husband. Any person, upon hearing this story would probably think “That poor little girl” and condemn the father’s actions, but Inocente did not take this view. Instead, she feels that she is to blame for the event and for her family’s homelessness, and she bears the heavy burden of guilt for something that, in reality, she had no control over.
Guilt is an emotion that is too familiar to many people and it is often out of place. I think in many cases people blame themselves for things that they cannot control. I know I have done this, I cannot count the number of loved ones who have done this without running out of fingers on both of my hands, and I’m sure there are plenty of others. I think a large part of this epidemic of self-blame stems from a culture of victim blame. We live in a society that says we must control everything, our looks, our diets, our speech, our feelings, our actions, our perspectives and beliefs, literally everything, even our bodily functions (think of the shame associated with farting in public or losing your bladder control). So, when one inevitably finds oneself in a situation where control is out of their hands, it is almost incomprehensible because we are conditioned to believe that everything is in our hands and in our control, and that if something goes awry, it is our fault. We have a hard time, as socially conditioned beings, believing that there are situations which we cannot prevent, stop, or control, and when met with this kind of cognitive dissonance, we rely on blaming ourselves as a way to soothe said cognitive dissonance. Needless to say, its a false consolation, because we aren’t always to blame. This is seen too often in cases of sexual violence, and not only in victims, but in society as well. It is bad enough that a victim of sexual violence might blame themselves for harm done to them by another person, but it is even worse that society upholds and perpetuates this attitude of self blame by saying shit like “Well what do you expect when you dress like that” or “why else would she go to his/her house so late at night” or “they should’ve known better than to get so drunk”, and the list goes on. This kind of victim blame is not limited to sexual violence, it is pervasive and contaminates all sorts of situations. It is evident in the case of Inocente that this young girl is blaming herself for something that was not at all in her control. I wonder, how many other people, and how many other young children, blame themselves for the pain that was brought upon them by others?
As a blogger for the Women’s Center, I don’t view myself as being here to make a profound statement, or to uphold any one idea/view/perspective, but instead I view myself as being here to make readers think. I hope that whatever it is I write will be seen by some person, maybe multiple people, and even if it is cast off as “extreme” or “weird”, I hope it lodges in their brain like spinach in their teeth for them to find later and chew on. In the case of this particular post, I want to leave you with this little tidbit: How do you break down or uphold victim blame and blame in general? How do you react to the pain of others? Whatever your answers are, please remember that healing is not like a hill to “get over” but more like a tunnel to go through, often times, there is no “getting over it”.