Feminists want to control your language; feminists want to tell you how to talk. – George Carlin
I used to proudly identify as a feminist. But that was back when I still believed that feminism was about women empowering themselves as a category of individuals, and women supporting women. In recent years, I have become somewhat disillusioned. In recent weeks, I’ve had my disillusionment validated in a variety of ways. The most recent, and perhaps final blow came when I read this post and subsequent comments at Feministe.
The discussion is about asking why victims of domestic violence stay – a question which many people seem to think of as victim-blaming/shaming. And to some people, intent, context and/or tone are completely irrelevant. If you say the words, you are blaming the victim and enabling abusers. End of story. Get your language right.
That’s not the worst of it: once you get the language wrong, there is no turning back. No explanation or apology is sufficient, and anyone who attempts to reach out to you in an attempt to create an atmosphere of safety and understanding is quickly bullied into silence with implicit threats of also being branded as an abuser-enabling victim-blamer. And who is willing to pay the eternal price for that?
Well, I guess I am. As a survivor of domestic violence myself, I’m here to say, without apology, that asking why victims of domestic violence stay is not an inherently harmful question. Context, tone and intent are completely relevant, and that doesn’t change just because feminists say so.
A few people have suggested rephrasing the question. I say let those people rephrase it. There’s nothing wrong with that, if it’s what they need to do for themselves. But if they can rephrase my question in a way that they find more appropriate or acceptable, without actually changing the question, then apparently they understood my intent to begin with.
So why all the semantics? As you probably guessed, I have a few thoughts on that as well.
Modern feminists strike me as people who (seem to) have an answer for everything. If everyone would just do as they say, we’d all be better off and the world would be a better place. Welcome to the grand illusion!
My perspective, is that feminists typically blacklist questions that they don’t have answers to. Why do victims of domestic violence stay? There isn’t a nice, neat, blanket response to that. Domestic violence crosses every border imaginable. It is not restricted to race, age, economic status, social status, level of education, (dis)ability, religion, sexual orientation, gender, genetics, blood type, name, rank or serial number. Domestic violence is an equal opportunity social problem. This being the case, how can we possibly answer the question of why? There doesn’t seem to be an answer at the moment.
Feminists can’t fix it, and so they quell the question.
Language control is directly related to thought control. If feminists (or anyone else) can control our language, they can control how our thoughts are perceived by others. This also allows them to control the dialogue which, in turn, helps create the illusion that they have all the answers, simply by eliminating some of the questions. They stifle the flow of discussion and exchange of ideas, under the guise of supporting women and minorities, and more specifically to this topic, victims of domestic violence.
But how do they get otherwise intelligent, inquisitive people to go along with this?
Shame and fear of exclusion:
You will say what I tell you to say and how I tell you to say it, and if you screw it up, you are no longer worthy of my attention, support, affection or whatever I may have been offering in exchange for your unquestioned compliance to my demands. And once you’ve said it wrong (screwed it up), you can never be fully redeemed. You cannot make amends. It is over for you. You are no longer one of us. You will spend the rest of your life groveling or begone.
I wonder how many victims and survivors of domestic abuse can tell you where they’ve heard that kind of shit before?
Under the above linked post, one person comments:
Some of the “explanations” on this thread for why people are asking victim-blaming questions about why a woman stays, no matter your intentions, are not helping. We don’t allow these questions when talking about rape or other forms of abuse, so why do we fall into that trap when talking about DV?
This is circular reasoning which presupposes that asking why victims of domestic violence stay is the same thing as asking why they let it happen or what they did to cause it – more redefining of language.
The same person goes on to say that, rather than asking why victims of domestic violence stay, we should be asking, “What makes people treat others in this way?” I see no reason that we can’t ask both.
She closes with this:
I can’t remove myself from my experiences but I won’t apologize for being “too sensitive” when abuse has been my reality and is a part of my past. I really don’t care what your intentions are in trying to be helpful when asking questions about what I could have done to not get myself into an abusive situation…it’s still victim-blaming.
No-one has to apologize for their feelings. I can’t help wondering, though, how much these particular feelings might be a direct result of being told over and over again that any variation of the question, why did she stay?, is really an accusation of somehow being responsible for the abuse.
Part of the danger of redefining and restricting language in this context is that it has the potential to convince victims and survivors that they’re being blamed for their own abuse even when they’re not. As I’ve already stated, intent is completely relevant in determining whether or not someone is being blamed or accused of something.
I was in an abusive relationship with an extremely jealous man. Any time he asked me where I had been or what I had done that day, the question was a poorly disguised accusation that I had done something wrong. Does that make the question inherently accusatory? Of course it doesn’t. It can also be a question of genuine interest or curiosity. Intent is what makes it one or the other. Intent matters, whether people accept it or not.
But again, the above quoted comment presupposed that the intent is always one of accusation; one of blame.
The unbending determination to perceive things in this way, creates a perpetual state of self-victimization, in my opinion. I spent more than three decades as a victim of abuse. I will not spend the rest of my life as a victim of language, or as a hostage to those who would like to control it for everyone else.
All this said, I know that victim-blaming is a very real phenomenon that further victimizes the abused. Victim-blamers exist, no doubt about it. But that does not mean that there is one hiding behind every bush and I, for one, will not fall into the trap of looking over my shoulder and taking immediate offense to every perceived slight. As I said in another post, PTSD definitely affects my world view, but I refuse to let it become my world view.
Language cannot be, in and of itself, abusive. Only malicious intent can make it so.
Modern feminism seems more about discussing (in language dictated by the various feminist factions) theory and ideology that claims to empower and support women, and less about actually doing so. It has come to resemble far too closely the same kind of controlling, oppressive behavior that feminists claim to fight against.
I realize that speaking so openly about this will most likely result in my exile from Feministe and possibly other online feminist communities as well. I accept that. This needed to be said. The irony is that in shunning me, they will simultaneously validate every word I have said. But either way, language wins. And I am not a victim.