I don’t have many strong memories from my childhood, but there’s one that sticks out for me, that reignites itself like a theatrical performance on the arena stage of my mind every time a similar situation arises.
It was a cold, wet morning and it was a Monday, I remember because the start of the week was the only time we ever had a morning assembly.
The Deputy Head was called to the stage, after the usual announcements of the weekly cafeteria menu (these were in the pre-Jamie Oliver days when the central protein was a Turkey Twizzler or Beef Burger, with Tomato Soup and a side of Fish Fingers for the vegan kids), she arrived dressed in her usual ghoulish attire. A dark grey suit and cream loafers.
This was the one occasion we’d ever see the deputy head, normally confined to a corner office, her once-in-a-blue-moon assembly speeches were like discovering the girlfriend Jimmy had been going on about for the last 3 years really was real, and not existent only in pixels, at the annual end of year dance.
This speech stuck out to me because of the line of argument she was making, more than the shocking announcement.
She had come to warn us of a ‘thief on campus’, that we should be aware of.
Great. It’s nice to be aware of these things, yay for transparency in leadership! Now we could use extra caution and keep our eyes peeled to catch the slimy sod.
But, she went on, the thief was targeting ‘willing victims’ who left expensive laptops and mobile phones inside their bags hanging on pegs (designed for bags to be hung on) OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM!
Gasp. Kids leave stuff in their bags outside their classrooms?! This was our way of life in the pre-risk assessment to use the crayons and stickers era.
Her speech quickly segued into some fable about a boy who left himself open to attack, and then acted surprised when he got hit. It was a bizarre story of which the only moral was that victim blaming was OK and the boy ‘got what he was asking for’.
Since becoming one of the few kids from that school to go to University and research human behaviour, I know that the Just World Fallacy is a well-known, and well-studied concept in the social sciences.
Back then all I had was a weird uneasy feeling. Today I feel angry that the old bitch used THIS as the key takeaway lesson from her warning speech.
She could have spoken about the innate human need for justice. She could have spoken of the strength of our community and how most honest, decent people don’t go through bags and steal stuff, and will come together to find those who do, and put it to a stop. She could have used it as an opportunity to highlight the problems of victim blaming and, while it’s important to use common sense and try not to leave valuables out and put yourself directly in harm’s way, we must not blame those who are stolen from, but the thieves who do the stealing.
Instead, she told a powerful story that put the victim firmly in the antagonist’s role, leaving the person doing the robbing unjustly well-lit as the leading star.
This narrative is one we are now much more aware of as it relates to victims of physical and sexual assault.
It is for this reason I share this amusing comedic sketch that tells the story in a much more amusing and thought-provoking way. If only Miss Ghoulish had this video back then;