I like Kristen Stewart, I really do. She gets a lot of criticism for playing Bella in the Twilight Saga films but most people don’t know that she has a history of playing dynamic roles in independent films. For example, she played a teen rape victim in the film Speak. She even starred in a PSA about sexual violence on college campuses.
And now comes her new movie, Welcome to the Rileys, in which she plays a young, runaway stripper. Maybe this is her chance to highlight limited roles for women in our society. So why do I keep hearing her say, in interviews about the movie, “If you don’t love yourself, then no one will.” Come on, Kristen.
With this statement (which I’ve heard many times this week), Kristen is putting out the idea that people who don’t have good self esteem, don’t feel confident in their worth, are preventing others from treating them well. Though she may intend to empower women and girls with that statement, it simply serves to perpetuate victim blaming.
Believe me, I spent a year co-facilitating support groups with a fellow facilitator who made these sorts of statements constantly. Did it make the women with whom we worked feel better? Did it empower them? Not at all. All it did was make them think they could have done something to prevent the abuse they experienced. It convinced them that if they had just loved themselves enough they wouldn’t have “gotten into” an abusive relationship. In fact, once my co-facilitator said, “He picked you because he could tell you had low self esteem.” Seriously? Yeah, you had a stamp on your forehead that said, “I don’t love myself. Abuse me.” Give me a break. That’s not how abuse works. That’s not what causes the behavior. No one makes someone abuse someone else. No one lures an abuser in with a low self esteem target. That might make us feel good, safer (“It won’t happen to me if…”), but it’s simply not accurate.
Oh, and by the way, does anyone ever say this about men? When’s the last time a man was told to love himself more? This is used against women as a way to blame them for whatever someone else has done to them. It’s used against people of color. It’s used against LGBTQA individuals. It’s used against anyone with a marginalized identity. This is a tool of oppression. It’s an extension of the individualistic myth that bad things only happen to those who deserve it. The myth of a just world in which we can all have good lives if we try hard enough. The myth that oppression doesn’t exist.
Come on, Kristen, people are listening to you.