Language detours and picking fights

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Language detours

Saturday night standing in the restaurant office at work, we’re talking, hands on coffee cups, taking a momentary break. Will is telling a story about work the other night, “And then I got raped… ” he began to say about how it got really busy and difficult, stopped, turned to me with a big “SORRY!” look on his face. “I mean… I got assaulted….” Laura and I shake our heads. He corrects again, “I got murdered…. ohh, no…” He hesitates. “How about, ‘I got slammed,'” I suggest. “Yeah, I got slammed!” And the conversation moved on. The brief detour though left me smiling and proud. He had turned to me and acknowledged that the language he was using was offensive and made an effort to adjust to vocabulary that wouldn’t minimize and trivialize violent experiences. I gave him a hug afterword. The best part is, I don’t distinctly ever remember talking to Will about language or even mentioned anything to him about using the word “rape.” I had never called him out before. He just knew from reading my Facebook (he says) that sexual violence is a serious issue that I work very hard to address and he deduced on his own that the language was inappropriate and would make me unhappy.

Briefly, an explanation of why you shouldn’t say “rape” lightly: when the word is used in every day contexts, trivially, it silences survivors; if rape is treated as a meaningless, weightless word when it is a heavy, weighty issue, it teaches society that rape is not to be taken seriously or acknowledge for what it is– a emotional, physical, and psychological abuse and crime against a person.

Two things about this fabulous language detour:

1. Sensitivity to the issues leads to change. Will’s growing sensitivity about the issues through knowing me and knowing more about how language can minimize rape allowed him to realize that he could make changes to implement that sensitivity in his every day actions and conversations. It made me joyful.

2. Speak out every day in every context. Post articles on your Facebook, call people out for violent/dangerous language, and never stop talking about the issue. Make people know you care about it and maybe they will start to question their own beliefs, attitudes, and words on their own. Like me, you may be surprised just how much impact you can have within your circle of friends — the hope is that once they care too, they will pass on the same sensitivity and knowledge about the problem to other people and other friends until the awareness spreads worldwide.

Picking Fights

However, I also experienced an example of a poorly handled situation last night. Walking out of a bar with friends, a tough Sicilian man starts to pick a fight with a Steelers fan about the Super Bowl. As the argument escalates, the Sicilian screams, “You have a rapist for a quarterback!” The Steelers fan nearly jumped the guy. The Sicilian continues calling Steelers fans and their families all rapists and as they pushed out into the street, screaming and coming to blows, I ran down the street with my friend, shouting back, “PEACE AND LOVE! PEACE AND LOVE!!” It’s my favorite line. Peace and love, yall. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger was charged with sexual assault and he is not a good person– but to use violence to incite violence is never a good plan. I’m not saying a drunk Sicilian and Steelers fan could have had a constructive conversation about the issue of sexual assault at that moment in time, I just would hope that avenging and accusing rape would not be used to start more violence.  Instead we could think about holding the perpetrators of assault accountable in constructive ways, helping the survivors of assault to feel believed and strong, and knowing that peace, love, and respect is the solution to the problem as a whole. Not accusations, not blame, and definitely not more violence.


Written by carolinashley

February 7, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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