Linguistic shape-shifting is what Jackson Katz calls the nearly imperceptible practice of making men, boys, and masculinity disappear through how we use language. Katz explains that this "disappearing act" involves using gender-neutral language to obscure gender-specific events such as men's responsibility for violence. "We cannot achieve dramatic reductions in men's violence against women," Katz says, "until we can at least name the problem correctly."...
Katz explains that the way we structure language allows men to slip out of view. For instance, the sentence "Mary is a battered woman" emphasizes a woman's condition and diverts attention away from male violence. This lets men and our society collectively off the hook from taking a cold hard look at gendered violence. In his book The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women And How All Men Can Help, Katz cites linguist Julia Penelope's work in tracing the transition from male accountability to passive invisibility: 1) John beat Mary. 2) Mary was beaten by John. 3) Mary was beaten. 4) Mary was battered. 5) Mary is a battered woman. By the end not only has "John" disappeared from the equation, but "Mary's" identity is sealed by the status of her victimization.
This linguistic shape-shifting matters because the media frequently use passive descriptions when they report on male violence against women. This passive style reinforces ideas that domestic violence and sexual assault are "women's issues," and men are left out of the picture. "John left the conversation long ago, while Mary evolves into the active victim," Katz explains. "Victim-blaming is very pervasive in our society, because that is how our whole power structure is set up. We start asking why Mary put herself into a position to be beaten by John. If we really want to work on preventing sexual assault and male violence against women, we need to start asking questions about John, not Mary," Katz says. In other words, we need to shift the paradigm at the cultural level and start treating domestic violence and sexual assault as men's issues.
-- Shira Tarrant, Men and Feminism, pp. 99-100, emphases in original
Monday, July 26, 2010
Posted by Scott Neigh at Monday, July 26, 2010