Don’t do it for your daughters, do it for your sons
12/11/2017 5:14:07 PM
|written By : Sabyn Javeri|
#MeToo has flooded our social media feeds. In support of women’s issues, it is supposed to give us an idea of the magnitude of sexual harassment women face – except, sexual harassment is not a women’s problem. I don’t say this because men and transgender people also face harassment, I say this because language has power. The way we communicate, shapes our perceptions. And one of the things that I, as a Liberal Arts professor try to teach, is a different way of looking at things. The act of re-visioning, as feminist poet Adrienne Rich would say, is crucial to bringing about social change.
The use of the passive voice in the way we address problems often leads to the way these problems become suppressed. We often ask of a woman who stays in an abusive marriage or continues to work in a sexist environment, ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ instead of saying, ‘So-and-so beats his wife or is sexist in the workplace, why doesn’t he get fired or be jailed or given treatment?’ Until we shift our focus and change the questions, the answers are going to be the same. Domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment will continue. People will be allowed to get away, not by the silence of the sufferers, but by the silence of those around them.
It isn’t just women’s but also men’s silence that needs to be broken – and not for the sake of our daughters as the media has been highlighting of late, but for our sons. For where does this culture of hyper-masculinity come from? Men are perhaps the worst victims of patriarchy for they are taught not to emote, not to feel, to dominate and control. A lot of sexual harassment is about control rather than sex. Non-consensual sex or rape has been used for centuries to dominate women as a show of power and the fact that more rape cases have taken place during wars, and the 1971 war is a horrific example of this, shows that rape is a tool of dominance to degrade and humiliate. And here too language comes into play.
When rape takes place, the headline often reads ‘Woman raped in Vehari’ (or any other place). Not only does the passive voice paint the woman as a victim, it lays the burden of the horrendous crime on her. Why don’t we say, a man raped a woman, instead of, a woman got raped? Jackson Katz, who writes on gender, says, ‘We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys harassed girls. We talk about how many teenager girls in Vermont got pregnant last year, rather than how many men and boys impregnated teenage girls.’ So you can see how the use of the passive voice has a political effect. It shifts the focus off of men and boys and onto girls and women. Even the term ‘violence against women’ is problematic. It’s a passive construction; there’s no active agent in the sentence. It’s a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term ‘violence against women’, nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them. Men aren’t even a part of it. And in doing so, we absolve men of all responsibility.