“Only Words” is what I called this introductory collage of words, letters, and a lamp, which could represent light—though I can’t say I intended that particularly.
I didn’t make the collage for any Big Idea reason.
I’m just nuts about words. So when I saw the study lamp in my junk mail travels, I suppose it made me think of study, reading, and so, words in print. That sent me off to the kitchen, to the old defunct dumbwaiter now become storage for catalogs, throw-out magazines, newspapers, and books. (Treasure trove for a collager, huh?) There, in the piles, I’d permanently stashed some old dictionaries. Out of one I ripped a couple pages, and proceeded from there. Words clipped from magazines and typewriter-letter stickers finished off the composition.
And that was that. Until…
…I learned that right now is the key week in National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October). …I mentioned it in this post, then got a comment quoting from a Jackson Katz speech on “violence against women.”
Wanting to know who this man was, I searched, and found him giving this TED talk—and indeed, it included the same quote, but went further—and it really made me think about how poorly we use words, and sentence structure, when speaking about “violence against women.”
Himself quoting linguist Julia Penelope, he started with the basic, simple sentence,
“John beat Mary.” Subject-verb-object. Very simple, direct, active. (I emphasized the subject, like we used to do in school…)
Then he showed what happens to that basic fact in our culture.
That sentence quickly becomes…
“Mary was beaten by John.” (Active verb changed to passive; Mary becomes the subject of the sentence, on whom the attention falls. John, meanwhile nearly falls off the side of the paper.)
This morphs quickly into…
“Mary was beaten.”
which soon tends to become
“Mary was battered.”
which in turn changes to
“Mary is a battered woman.” Now this has become her identity!
And what happened to John? He’s been out of sight for some time now!
Jackson Katz’s campaign is to get through to men that violence against women is not a women’s but a men’s issue that they need to take responsibility for, especially male leaders in our culture—particularly to change the prevalent passive mindset.
Applause for him!
But I’m a woman, and I’ve been focusing on what I, and other women, can do about it.
One thing I’ve already explored is the need for us to 1) get better acquainted with abuse tactics and how they’re used [which needs lots of further discussion], and 2) train our ears, and hearts, to stop and listen if someone starts to confide about abuse she’s had happen to her… Er, rather… about the abuse some other certain individual perpetrates against her.
See how I/we’ve been conditioned to word this situation? It’s true: that’s the kind of thing we say. But realizing this helps us see what else we can do that could really help turn the tide: Quit phrasing these things this way. Rephrase into active simple sentences; no passives; no Mary as the subject with an invisible “problem,” like a hidden, inexplicable disease: Someone hit my friend! Her husband abused her!
Just words. But how we use them can either obscure or acknowledge the truth about perpetrators being perpetrators! It may be just a beginning. But it is a beginning.
[Another good thing that is happening is the push for bystander intervention to prevent violence before it happens. There’s really more that we can do as bystanders, without jeopardizing our own safety, than we realized. And sometimes that can be just “a word fitly spoken,” too.]
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