Our Language – Why Words Count
Woman, Victim, Survivor, Her, Him
Early on we had many discussions on just what to call the women we work with. The problem with the women we work with (for you grammar nuts) is it left that pesky dangling participle, and that won’t do. In the end we chose survivor instead of victim, which takes the emphasis off her victimization and puts it on her amazing capacity to survive.
What pronoun? (S)he, he, her or him? This one was a real struggle. We want to be inclusive so that if a lesbian reads about an abuser there’s room for the abuser to be a she. The problem is that if you use non-gender specific language you water down the fact that domestic violence and sexual assault are gendered violence primarily perpetrated by men on women. In the end we chose to use she/her for survivors and he/him for perpetrators. For our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered and queer friends, please know we know you are there and whatever gender or orientation you are or your abuser is, we are here for you too.
Violent or Militaristic Language
This is an evolving process for everyone in our organization, but we strive to avoid violent or militaristic language and encourage each other to gently call us out when we slip. Why? Words count. The Rule of Thumb is an archaic reference to a time when a man could legally beat his wife with a stick as long as the stick was no wider than his thumb. Other words we avoid: target, hit, strike, and hold down the fort. This is not an exhaustive list. Once you start this effort, you will be surprised how prevalent violence is in our language.
Gendered Violence and Intersection of Oppressions
Gendered violence is violence targeted towards individuals or groups because of their gender and is accompanied by the desire to maintain power and control; women experience domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and trafficking for sexual or domestic slavery disproportionately.
When working with survivors it is imperative that we address or at least understand all the forms of oppression they experience – her gender, orientation, disability, poverty and race influence how she experiences abuse and what will actually be helpful to her. While remaining culturally humble, as an organization that is primarily of the dominant culture, we also remain responsible for continually seeking to improve our understanding of all oppressions and working to end them.[subpage_peek]