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Tuesday, December 1st, 2009 - 5 comments

Violence: It starts with language

Violence against women, as with everything else, begins with how we communicate. Through our language, we have created a culture in which women are seen as weaker, quieter, more submissive, and the lesser of the sexes.

Society has bred young men to believe that if they don’t see women that way, then they are weak and submissive. By targeting women, we have thereby targeted men – we have set them up to be angry and confused with our expectations that they be aggressive, competitive, or in control. We have told them that if they don’t subscribe to these beliefs and the corresponding behaviors, they will not fit into our society. Men commit most of the violence against women.

The words we use create an umbrella under which all further interactions will be shaded. That is, they lay out a context; they are the background, the foundation onto which everything else is built. It’s like providing the world with rose-colored glasses, except the color is much less pleasant.

Youth and social norms

In childhood, there is no greater insult to a young man than to tell him that he acts “like a girl.” Parents coach their boys that they need to be strong and impenetrable, never to cry. They are inundated with blue walls and clothes and toys, and never pink. Little girls are discouraged from being too aggressive, too interested in contact sports, too opinionated, or even from having their hair cut short.

Unfortunately, these verbal lessons follow us for the rest of our lives.  In teenage years, a young woman with many suitors is a “slut,” and a young man pursuing many girls, a “stud.” Among adults, the word “bitch” is thrown around with not a second thought, sometimes not even maliciously.  In marriage, a woman is expected to take the name of her male spouse, and is the subject of ridicule or suspicious speculation if she doesn’t. Observers think that they know something about her: she’s difficult; she’s “independent;” she’s “one of those.”

Prejudice and language

This language lends to the overall perception of what “ought to be.” When men commit domestic violence, for example, they do not think about their place in society or how they were taught to be strong and aggressive. They operate from a much deeper place– a place so deep that they don’t even know that it is there. This culture instills in them that they should be strong and aggressive when they’re young; they never think about WHY they do what they do.

Racial prejudice often operates the same way. If when you were young, your parents told you that certain groups of people were “dirty,” it would take a lot of work on your part as an adult to undo what your parents had taught you. Even then, you might have a hard time not thinking that those people were dirty, even if you knew it would be wrong in society to say it out loud. It would take even more to believe that those people were in fact, not dirty.

Gender roles and language

There is awareness to the inequality of men and women; we are not in the world of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique any longer. When she released that revolutionary text about a women’s place in 1950s America, this was all newly articulated. Now, the state of gender roles is well covered. There is concern about the mixed messages we give boys, the double standards we have for single men and women, and the disparate wage gap. However, boys still don’t want to be “girly,” women can’t be too “dolled up,” and the wage gap is huge.

Only in a world where only “men” are created equal can there be violence against women. We must first unravel the social fabric that allows this inequality, and re-craft it into a space where everyone is actually equal. And we can do that by first changing the way we speak.

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The views expressed in this blog-post are solely those of the author.

Comments (5)

Wednesday 2nd December, 2009, 5:01am

Yes, I'm all for equality. Thats why your post is unsettling to me.

1) Please stop quoting that half-truth of a wage gap. It has nothing to do with opression or discrimination.

2) This might sound unbelievable to you but men can also be victims of domestic violence by women. And they're not few in number as you might expect.

3) Putting all violent crimes together, men far outnumber women as victims. Life for men is much more dangerous.

4) Nearly all the dangerous and hated jobs are virtually exclusive to men. Nearly all job related deaths are male. Everybody's complaining about the supposed 'glass ceiling' but ignoring the obvious 'glass floor'.

5) Male suicide is 200% higher than female!!!!! Why doesn't anybody care about that? Its a disgrace to us all.

6) You say little girls are discouraged from cutting their hair short. Meanwhile boys are being FORCED to cut their hair short. Which is worse?

7) In EXACTLY the same circumstances, women are every bit as violent as men. So we must look at the rotten circumstances most of these men must experience that make them violent. Remember, violence is the language of the helpless.

But I agree entirely with you approach. We must change the language we use in order to set the standard for true equality. Here are some areas we need to adjust in order to achieve equality:

1) Men are humans too. Their suffering and dying is as bad as women's (repeat that sentence 1000 times).

2) Today, men are the weaker sex in all areas that matter. That means we have to take better care of them.

3) Men are biologically programmed to seek women's favor. If women want men to change, all they have to do is favor those who fit their needs. As long as women mostly go for 'bad boys' , that's what we'll keep breeding. So if that bothers you, then address the women who are responsible for it.

4) Economic and political power are only a small part of the game of life. Social and sexual power usually go a lot deeper. We must take all forms of power into consideration before we can tell how it is distributed.

Nicole Caputo
Wednesday 2nd December, 2009, 2:54pm

Thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment on it so
thoroughly. I'm happy to have your response.

In my defense, this is an introductory piece. Please do not misread my
narrowed topic here as the whole of my views. It does a disservice to
me and to you.

Unfortunately, in this small space, I have not been able to express
the entirety of my views, because the topic is violence against
"women" (and not "men" or any of the other genders). I prefer the word
"humanist" to "feminist," and would do away with it if it weren't the
umbrella term assigned our movement of equality so long ago. It is the
context under which people speak about gender inequalities.

I agree with most of what you have said in your comments. It is not
unbelievable to me that men are victims of violence, ( I have seen it
firsthand) and that's why I suggest what I do regarding language.

I do speak about the expectations of boys to be violent and
aggressive, and not "weak." There is a great gender poster you've
probably heard of that starts with the words: "For every girl tired of
acting weak when she is strong, there is a boy tired of being strong
when he feels vulnerable. . ." Betty Friedan, in the 1997 edition of
The Feminine Mystique talks about how our boys are now the ones in
"trouble," and even Esquire ran "The Problem with Boys" in 2006,
discussing how "women's empowerment" has had a negative affect on the
male youth of today. I address the "mixed messages we send boys" with
these pieces of journalism in mind.

I thank you again for your response. It's very important to me that I
am perceived as I actually am, and your comments will be on my mind in
the composition of any further pieces. As a journalist, it is my very
last intention to misrepresent what I consider to be the truth, or to
turn off peers to the greater mission of equality.

We are fighting the same fight, Stan. Thank you for your input.

Thursday 10th December, 2009, 4:27am

comments expresed by Mr. Stan might have some relevence to the country he/she belongs to, but globlly it not what pic he paits,

Sunday 7th February, 2010, 12:35pm

Hey Nichole, I fully agree to your view that violence against women need not always be physical,it could also be in the form of subjecting the GIRL CHILD since childhood into a mental and social conditioning that would ensure that she remains prim and proper throughout her live offering her services but asking nothing for herself. In India this type of mental conditioning is ingrained into the very fabric of the Indian society.We women are taught to be the "Khandan ki Izzat" that is the prestige of the family and doing anything that is against the set norm of the Indian society by the women of the family is sure to bring bad name for the family.But all sins are forgiven for the men of the family coz they are the "Khandan ka Chirag
that is the upholder of the family name.

Penny Shikulo
Monday 2nd August, 2010, 8:18pm

I do agree that domestic violence has deep seated traditional roots in the culture, whereby the society has bred young men to believe that if they dont see women as weaker,powerless ,more submissive etc then thay are weak and coward. meaning to fight agaist domestic violence one need to target first the culture as the main cause of the problem then the effect.we need also to educate the public about their rights specially women .

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Guest Editor

Nicole Caputo



Nicole Caputo is a reproductive rights and education activist and she does this through her work in freelance journalism. She is the Assistant Editor of the women's magazine hangPROUD. Nicole lives in New York.

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