The Language of Gender Violence

You could have heard a pin drop in Mead Chapel on Monday night as guest speaker Jackson Katz showed an audience of about 400 people—students, community members, faculty, and staff—how common language is perpetuating gender violence today.

Problems of gender violence, which include sexual violence, domestic violence, sexual abuse of children, and sexual harassment, are viewed by society as “women’s issues that some good men help out with,” rather than seen as men’s issues.

Men and masculinity “have been rendered invisible in much of the discourse” around gender violence, Katz said. This is not surprising since “dominant groups often go unchallenged in society, and their power and privilege goes unexamined.”

“[Gender violence issues] affect women at every level, but I am here to say that the very fact of just calling these issues ‘women’s issues’ is in itself part of the problem.”

Jackson Katz (c.) enjoyed dinner and conversation with students in Chellis House before his talk.

The guest speaker, who is an educator, author, filmmaker, and cultural theorist with a PhD from UCLA, offered powerful examples to support his argument that language reinforces social norms that place women in jeopardy today.

“The first problem with using the term ‘women’s issues’ when talking about gender violence is it gives men an excuse to not pay attention. A lot of men hear ‘women’s issues’ and they tend to tune it out and think, ‘Hey, I’m a guy,’ and they literally don’t get past the first sentence.”

Another way that people discuss gender violence is through the use of the passive voice.

“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 teenage girls in the state of 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!”

Next, Katz used a whiteboard on the platform at Mead Chapel (giving credit to author Julia Penelope for the exercise that followed) and wrote:

The first sentence, Katz explained, “is a good English sentence: a subject, a verb, and an object.” The second sentence is the first sentence written in the passive voice, and according to Katz “a whole lot has happened. The focus has shifted from John to Mary. John is now at the end of the sentence, which means that John is very close to dropping off the map of our psychic plane. So it’s not just bad writing to use the passive voice, it’s also political. And the political effect has been to shift the focus from John to Mary.”

In the third sentence John is gone. In the fourth, the term “battered” is substituted for “beaten,” and in the final sentence of the sequence “you can see that Mary has a new identity. She is now a battered woman and John is no longer part of the conversation.”

How language holds victims accountable, rather than their perpetrators, is demonstrated by the way the word “accuser” has supplanted the term “alleged victim.”

“This,” Katz stated, “is a very big shift in the conversation about sexual violence. People who come forward to allege that they have been sexually assaulted are now referred to routinely as ‘accusers.’ There’s a lot going on here with the use of this word. The public is generally positioned to identify sympathetically with the victims of sexual assault or other forms of abuse. So when you hear about a sexual assault you think, ‘That’s horrible. That’s too bad. Or that could have been me or someone I care about.’”

But using the term ‘accuser’ reverses the process, because it turns the victim into an accuser. “So we as a public are now positioned to identify sympathetically with him as the victim of her accusation, rather than with her as the victim of his alleged perpetration. This is subtle but deep, isn’t it? It’s another instance where victims are being told to sit down, shut up, and don’t come forward because if you come forward you are going to be an accuser, and then people are going to be questioning your motives…it’s just another way that we in society keep people from coming forward.”

The intensity of Katz’s one-hour presentation—one “aha moment” after another about society’s skewed language for the treatment of women—had his audience exhausted but inspired. But the creator of the Mentors in Violence Program, a gender-violence prevention system implemented by professional sports teams, NASCAR, and the U.S. Marine Corps, wasn’t finished yet.

Katz took four or five questions from the audience, answered each one thoroughly, and then screened a clip from his film “Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity,” and a segment from Byron Hurt’s documentary “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.” Katz spoke pointedly about the obligation men have to model the respectful treatment of women. And he closed with a quote from Frederick Douglass, the 19th century orator and activist, who said, “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.”

Postscript: In addition to his talk in Mead Chapel, Jackson Katz also conducted a day-long workshop for members of the community. His appearances at Middlebury were sponsored by the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Office of the Dean of the College, Athletics Department, Parton Health and Counseling Center, Academic Enrichment Fund, WomenSafe, and the Addison Council Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

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  1. Amazing! Amazing! Amazing! Thank you for organizing this and for having a write-up for us folk no longer at Midd. If you have a video, please post it.

  2. So was the entire talk about how men are always the perpetrators and women always the victims? Or was there any acknowledgement that sometimes the opposite can also be true?

  3. Jackson Katz’s lecture focused solely on men as perpetrators and women as victims. He acknowledged that women can and do commit crimes of gender violence, but he added that “99% of rape is perpetrated by men.”

  4. It seems like a well-done & interesting presentation! Was there any mention of same-sex domestic/sexual violence, and how it frequently goes unreported?

  5. I always show Jackson Katz’s films to my high school seniors! Making progress!!

  6. I have no special connection with Middlebury so I can only be grateful to my Unitarian minister for sharing this on fb. I’m blown away by its importance. Seems to me that this extends beyond the crucial topic of gender violence to apply to other discourse about victims and perpetrators. To apply it to my own area of focus, consider the difference between “students of color are disciplined more harshly in schools” and “teachers discipline students of color more harshly.” The former makes us think in rather abstract ways about the mismatch between some students’ behavior and the school culture, focusing on them as actors, and using terms like “institutionalized racism” to refer to what is acting upon them. The

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    latter forces us to ask questions such as: Which teachers? How many? Where? Why are they doing this? How can we get them to change their practices? What is being done about their actions now, by whom, with what results? And especially, how does this apply to ME as a teacher? Not one abstract generality about the system, and not one thought about how the kids might contribute to the problem. Active voice makes me focus on the actors. Thanks for making me think deeply about the language I use, Middlebury folks!

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  7. I take complete exception to the gendering of the language in this article, not once is it admitted or even conceived that the woman may be the battering party.

    I grew up with an disordered and emotionally abusive, occasionally violent mother; married a violent emotional abusive woman (because I though it was normal), and now have an unhinged woman living next to me with a long record of abusing her husband and children, which is terrifying.

    There are violent, dare I say nasty women all around me, but to point this out makes me an accuser and threatens what “we all know” about familial violence.

  8. very very well said and a very astute point. thank you

  9. John F’s comment (#2) is one of the reasons people use passive voice: look how he’s come swinging in with accusations, trying to shut down the conversation about accountability by trying to erase the picture of men raping. (John F: you’re a bad person for doing that. Shame on you.)

    I find it’s very unusual to find men who don’t reflexively relate any statement like “Last year, 30000 men raped women” to themselves. It doesn’t matter that nobody’s said, “Last year, you raped a woman.” You get not-all-menned anyway, and the guy derails the conversation, and the possibility of talking about rape at all is lost. So maybe let’s also talk about *who is making it so hard to use the

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    active voice and why*, who’s blocking the assigning of responsibility.

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  10. There’s no mention of women battering men because that’s not what this conversation was about. This conversation, and presentation was focused at examining the ways we use language to minimize the role of men in assualting women. There’s no reason to suddenly start spouting off about “Sometimes women beat men”, because that’s not what anybody was talking about. That subject would be “How abuse happens between all genders”
    If you were having a discussion about how dogs chase cats, and how to address that, you wouldn’t suddenly start talking about how cats sometimes bully dogs, because that’s not the subject material.
    It seems to me that you want to make this be about “Men vs women”, but that’s something YOU

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    are projecting on the conversation at hand, which is, again “How our society uses language that minimizes the role of men in abusing women”.

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  11. Does the point about the LANGUAGE change of the sentences are ‘Mary beat John’ and ‘John is a battered man’? Or ‘John beat Steve’? Or ‘Mary beat Joan?’

    If not, then talking about the gender is in this case a distraction from the point. It is true some women are abusive, and true we need better support for male victims or LGBT victims of any gender, but it is in this case different from the issue of how the perpetrator is erased from the common language.

  12. Very very politely , this is silly.
    The speaker is confusing language and law.
    A badly beaten Mary shows up at a police station and says “John beat me”.
    That she is a beaten battered woman is an obvious “fact”. so the officer writes
    Mary is a battered woman.
    But “John beat me” is a CLAIM
    it is not an obvious fact.
    So “Mary claims John beat her” is a proper factual statement of the CLAIM
    without more it is only a claim i.e. an accusation.
    The speaker seems upset with the idea that an accusation is not ipso facto Proof. But it isn’t.

  13. I don’t think that John F. meant his comment in a way that discredits anything. As a survivor, and as someone who knew (before he passed away) a man who was sexually and physically abused by a woman, he has a point.
    However, I do understand where others are coming from in questioning his comment. As women, we are commonly put in a place of disbelief. We can’t do that, we are women… Well what was she wearing? Did she drink? Did she have a previous relationship with ‘the accused’. We as women get hit with it all. Whether it be day to day things, or, as this presentation focused on, abuse of any kind. Our societal rape culture automatically

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    puts all women who steps forward, on s pedestal of disbelief or accusations. We shouldn’t have been there, drank that, wore that, smiled…. Our histories and backgrounds get torn apart. It’s not assault if we don’t say no… We get hit with it all.
    So while I see why John F asked, and agree, we should not forget that men in the same situation are placed into boxes that might/do attempt to discredit their masculinity, we also seriously do need to evaluate and change how we treat women in general. Especially when it comes to physical and sexual violence. For me, my first step was to stop seeing myself a victim of sexual and physical abuse, and instead see myself as a survivor. Those of us, make or female, who have lived through this, have survived trauma. Survived being the pivotal word here. We are not accusers, victims, we are survivors.

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  14. Not all rapists are men. I know children of both sexes who have been severely sexually assaulted by women and female about to be women 10+ years older who were not themselves assaulted. Rather they wanted to experience sexual acts without damaging their good girl reputation through more appropriate peer age exploration. or they had a kink for the very young with unknown origins and zero traceable abuse in their own history. Sexual assault comes in all colors, shapes, sizes and motivations.

  15. I’ve worked off and on with violence against women since 1972. In 1976 an article by Shirley Endicott Small was published “Why Husband Beating is a Red Herring Issue”, currently available through Google Books. It was published in 1982 by Education Wife Assault. It is still valid. Yes, women physically assault men. The proportion of times this happens to men assaulting women is much smaller. The IMPACT of the assault is also much less: women may slap men, an ‘assault’, but the frequency of the severity of the violence by men to women is significantly more – kicking pregnant women in the belly to force a miscarriage, for example. Women ‘raping’ men

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    is an extremely small number – just think of the physical improbability of it. Women sexually harassing or assaulting men happens, but again, the proportion is small.
    This awareness of the move to ‘passive voice’ to naming who is responsible is helpful, and good to have it brought back into the public discussion. The men who are assaulted are usually assaulted BY MEN. Responsibility, accountability begins by naming who is responsible.

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  16. It is amazing to me that there are 3 of 7 comments that have nothing to do with the article’s points, but instead complain that “but men get raped too!” glossing over the fact that it’s the “get raped” part of the sentence that is the problem here.

    The active voice should be used, and the offending party should always be part of the sentence. “One woman raped a man for every nine men who raped a woman.”

    There, all better, now?

  17. NOTE TO MODERATOR: Please nix the previous comment. I submitted by accident before it was finished. This one is the real comment. Thanks!


    This is something my wife and I talk about often. It’s something both of us care deeply about. For me, I see a complex challenge here in the United States: We are a white patriarchal society with a violent past, a perpetually violent history, and anewly “weaponized” culture of violence toward ALL people who are not white.

    The big shock for me during the election was how many women voted for Trump. I didn’t get it at first. Then I asked a lot of women about it. No answers. Not a single one. I asked a lot of male

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    Trump supporters. I got death threats.

    And yet, male and female Trump supporters support each other REGARDLESS of anything else that has come up.

    I’m not saying that this makes the entire situation hopeless. What I”m saying is that things will not change much, if at all, regardless of how many men do their part (and I’m more than willing to do mine) as long as half the country—including many women—support gender violence by supporting MEN who support gender violence.

    This aspect of our nation’s heritage did not erupt in one election cycle. It has been here for 400+ years. So this is something buried deep in the American psyche of both genders. How women can support Trump or Freedom Caucus Republicans is only something I’m beginning to understand. But it’s very real and I think, while it’s not the cause of our troubles with gender violence, it’s yet another aspect of the complexity of the issue.

    This is not to say that this is a “women’s issue” or that “some women are to blame”. I’m trying to say, however ham-handedly, that this is an American issue—an issue of broader pan-gendered America.

    While we can’t put much faith in anecdotal experiences, I had one recently that shocked me. A 7-year old boy assaulted a kindergarten girl by “grabbing her by the pussy’. The boy was expelled. Two weeks later, the principal has the mom in for a private talk before the boy can come back to school. Mom is furious that her son was punished at all. Wants to sue the school district. Her reason: “If the President can do it, my son can do it, too.” The principal says the boy cannot come back to school because he poses a threat to others. Mom goes to district administration. They say the boy can come back to school. The principal is now looking for a new job. She wasn’t fired. But she was told, by her boss, woman to woman, that things would not go well for her if she (the principal) kept up with “these kinds of behaviors and attitudes toward boys.”

    I’m not saying that this kind of thinking has to stop before we can improve anything else. I’m saying that this kind of thinking exists—and is now weaponized—in the hearts and minds of millions of women nationwide. We must figure out a way to address this, too, because it represents an aspect of permission given to men by women to commit acts of violence against women.

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  18. I see this a lot with police violence as well: “The suspect was shot” or “John Doe was injured by Policeman Smith’s weapon.” It totally removes culpability from the police.

  19. Very good analysis and it is called “newspeak” I believe in the novel 1984!

  20. Interesting juxtaposition of two different subjects – absence of men from the public conversations about male violence by focusing on the victims instead, and the frightening and real existence of terribly violent women. The former is a huge issue by the numbers, and I deeply appreciate Jackson Katz’s reframing language to keep the discussion direct and thus on the path to possible solutions and responsibilities of the perpetrators. The latter is a different category of violence and deserves its own conversation. I grew up in a violent home – both parents – with Mother as the instigator. When no longer physically able to threaten or harm, her language and bullying continued. But the very real danger she presented was not

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    at all in the same category as sexual violence as experienced by more than one quarter of America’s women and girls. John F expressed a clear and deep concern about an issue that needs to be addressed, but that was not the subject of Dr. Katz’s lecture.

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  21. Yes, there are women who are abusers, and nobody is disputing this. But the majority of abusers are men, and the substance of this article has been demonstrated in the comments.

  22. Wow, instead of acknowledging the pervasive trends in language surrounding gender and sexual violence, we already have people pouring into the comments to whine that men are ignored.

    Guys, nobody is saying that men are never victims. Nobody is saying that women are never violent. However, Dr. Katz is discussing the overwhelming majority of domestic/sexual violence and how it’s reshaped in the media. STOP DERAILING THIS. There are other times and places for that discussion. Write your own article if you must. Get your PhD in sociology or psychology and do your own research. Stop this garbage where every honest discussion about the problem of men attacking women is derailed by “not all men!” and “we’re victims too!” You’re missing

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    the entire point.

    Dang, fellow males, you’re making us all look bad.

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  23. When “John” is the subject its easier to focus on what wrong with John that he did such a thing.
    When “Mary” is the subject. The next logical step is what is wrong with Mary that she became a victim.

  24. Great article. Words matter. This will be no surprise to POC, either. I’m glad that this sort of consciousness is coming up, thanks to people like Mr. Katz.

  25. Is it possible that we use passive voice because we have more accurate figures for victims? If x number of victims have been raped, then that does not equal the same number of perpetrators. Also, not all perpetrators are identified. Of the ones that are identified, some may have more than one victim.
    Also, if “99 %” of perpetrators are men, that still doesn’t mean all of them are acting against women, especially if we include are talking about abuse of children. As long as we are talking about language, it is worth pointing out that we leave males out of the language of victimisation. We talk about violence against women (Which occurs in scandalous numbers and must

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    be fought against,) and we talk about abuse of children. It is as if boys/men are not victims. Because victims are not identified as male, then if you are victimised, you are not masculine; the language of advocacy ends up echoing the messages of those who victimise boys and men. I agree that none of these counts as “women’s issues”, but I didn’t even know we used that term. (really?!) The speaker laments the term “violence against women” because it makes women passive. I have heard many suggest we should end “male violence”, but it was women’s groups who resisted because, when we look at male violence, we realise how many men die at the hands of men and it changes the conversation.

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  26. To Anonymous: I’m sorry to hear that you had a rough home environment, and that it continues to impact you. I too have struggled to make the shift from passive language to active language as I had learned all too well how to be the victim of my circumstances, and that it was not ok to call people out on how their behavior impacts me. I couldn’t help but notice that when you were talking about your mother and wife and neighbor you were the object in each of those thoughts. It took me a long time to be able to say that my mother is very self centred and as a result I learned that

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    it was not ok to ask for what I need, and my husband does not care about the way his actions impact me every day. I would suggest re-writing your above sentence with your mom, your spouse, and your neighbor as the object. My guess is that it will be very difficult to do, as if you are like me, it took a long time to own that I wasn’t the problem.

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  27. I have read the comments and was more discouraged by the comments than the article. Women were used as the victims and the men as the perpetrators. If the article would have been read without bias, it would apply to anyone’s comments regarding woman being the perpetrator the men the victims, or same sex-sex domestic/sexual violence. No one is immune to that sort of violence. The point with gender language violence is to use your words carefully as to not negate the issue as there was a victim and a perpetrator and the perpetrator should be held accountable. Using some of the sentences used regarding the whiteboard presentation of how we use are sentences if

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    a demonstration of excusing the perpetrator and putting the responsibility on the victim regardless of gender or sexual preference. As a survivor, it is not an easy thing to come forward, especially when you are not believed. I can empathize with the men and same-sex people because it is harder for them. That comes from preconceived gender roles that we place on each other as a society. No one deserves it period. That is what we need to focus on.

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  28. Thank you for saying this! It is more important having come from a male. But I have thought this a LONG time. you put it into words

  29. In my family of origin, my mother was the abuser, and my father the passive one, primarily. He wasn’t innocent of being fuel for the fire, however.

  30. Wow….huge stuff! As an educator, I’ve often thought there should be a mandatory class for boys starting in junior high speaking to this issue. Boys/men aren’t educated correctly in my estimation. Do their parents teach them how not to rape or abuse?? I doubt it. Some know instinctively but some must be told. Love how you are addressing this issue!!

  31. My stepmother and father’s mother were the abusers, so as a woman, I am aware that women also must be careful to stop the circle of violence. This background led my two sisters and me into relationships with abusive men whom we have escaped, and we have studied why. This article shows how language allows perpetrators to escape blame. Males or females in today’s society must learn to take responsibility, regardless of the topic, and not hide behind language. That said, face it, men abuse women much more frequently than women abuse men. However, we women or men can take our responsibility to stop making abused children, stop getting into violent relationships, study and get counseling about why we thought

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    that was normal, and stop people from abusing us or others in the future. We do not have to be victims of people or language. We can speak out or walk out, all of us.

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  32. Ouch. These discussions are tough. It seems one of the premises of this talk was / is: ALL MEN are GUILTY of these acts. Trying to be a better human is non-sexist. Despite the serious setbacks occurring NOW in Washington, DC, we ARE learning, as MEN, to love better, to be nicer to not be abusive. These are ugly times and our president gives the word MAN a bad name with his actions and his history. How do we expect to make strides in domestic violence when our president is such a perpetrator?

  33. I feel the article raises some great points, but as others have pointed out it also has it’s own language issues.

  34. @Amy, exactly. And also notice how many of the comments are some version of “but women do it too!!!!”

    So any accountability is immediately blocked.

  35. Yes, exactly Amy! I truly have complete sympathy for men who are battered by females. I have the same sympathy for the 1% of men who are raped by females. But throughout history and even today in our supposedly evolved modern civilization, the males are the ones who are 99% of the time raping others. So to derail that conversation by demanding that we be inclusive in all discussions of the 1% is petty and pitiful. But I will commit to remembering to include that 1%, say every 100 conversations or so… In the mean time, the men who rape the 99% are the ones that we need to be calling out!

  36. Very powerful. Language affects everything in our lives. We need so much more of this kind of education. I began learning about how language affects our thinking and our attitudes many years ago as an English Major taking linguistic classes. Most people are completely unaware of this. When I have tried to talk to people about this subject most times I get shut down.

  37. What a brilliant, brilliant must read and be read article. The sort of thing I as a survivor, and educator and a psychologist have been saying for the last 50 years…along with terms like “girl” women ar demeaned and diminished via our use of language constantly.

  38. Steve P. (comment #17)
    Such a great description about the complexity of the issue of gender violence in America. “What I”m saying is that things will not change much, if at all, regardless of how many men do their part (and I’m more than willing to do mine) as long as half the country—including many women—support gender violence by supporting MEN who support gender violence.”

    The issues of how we culturally view masculinity, femininity, power, ownership, consent, sexuality, equality, and gender identity are all at the heart of this conversation. If women can’t agree that rape regardless of drinking or clothing choices, pussy grabbing, etc. are bad, then how can we also agree that men can be victims

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    and women perpetrators? Both challenge male dominated cultural norms, and go hand in hand.

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  39. Any time the subject is of creating better conditions for one of society’s disenfranchised groups, you can be GUARANTEED, without doubt our fail, to have a member of one of society’s privileged groups attempt to make the situation about them and their instances of victimization (both actual and perceived). It’s just a given that equity to the privileged feels like oppression.

    That being said, I found some interesting points brought up by both this article and the training it was about. A lot of it I had never thought about before.

  40. This is the most profound and precise article about this spectrum of subjects that I have ever read. As a survivor and advocate I wish this could be required reading in every middle school in the country. I would specially like it to be distributed to every governmental body as well.

  41. Yes, I agree in part with what you are saying. But you only mention female victims, what about all the men that are victims of abuse? Violent, sexual abuse … that they are too embarrased to talk about and that haunts them for the rest of their lives. The issues you discuss effect both males and females and there should be sensitivity to all victims regardless of gender. The terms “domestic violence” and “sexual abuse” do not refer to the gender of the victims and that is why they are used in countries like Australia, where I live ….

  42. Very interesting. EXCEPT — we can’t count the number of men who rape, beat and/or impregnate because one man can rape, beat and/or more than one woman or girl. If they were one-to-one, the criminals would be easy to count. I wonder if rapists, for example, would step up and claim more notches on their individual belts.

  43. I want to eradicate violence against women, but, based on this article, I think Katz is totally missing the point. What this kind of discussion produces is a hierarchy of enlightenment based on language: people who use out-of-date language are deemed insincere or part of the problem, while people who use the latest politically correct phrasing gain prominence. You can argue that “accuser” has a negative connotation, but some survivors don’t like to be called “victim”, so the shift in language is not necessarily a conspiracy. The same thing with “violence against women.” Some women’s groups have owned that phrase, so to now claim it is problematic and society’s disempowerment of women is disingenuous. The shifting

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    of “John beat Mary” from active to passive is really stretching a point. I would hazard that, when speaking about couples we now, most people would, indeed, keep it active. (“Did you know John was abusing Mary?” or “Did you know John has been charged?”) I’ll be honest, as a male, I have never been tempted to assault a women. I do not catcall. I don’t even tell dirty jokes. I’m well aware that many people are doing all of these things, though, and that it is a huge problem. I suspect that men who know I am not like that will not brag about it around me. What I resent, though, is this claim that even if I advocate for women, I am still part of the problem unless my vocabulary suits the trend of the day. Such rhetoric does more to promote the careers of authors than to protect women.

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  44. I find it interesting that the article was about how the language we use colors our perception of the material and, in so doing, shuts down an important part of the discussion. This is followed by people commenting that the language used completely ignores part of the overall problem by excluding male victims and female perpetrators from the discussion. This is then followed by people trying to shut down the “but sometimes women…” comments claiming that those comments are trying to shut down the discussion about the language or criticizing the commentors for not realizing that the discussion applies equally regardless of the gender of the victim or perpetrator and they should just see that.

    It seems to me,

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    that if the speaker is going to be pointing out that the speech patters we use are oftentimes a means (even unconsciously) to limit the discussion, that he should probably attempt to avoid limiting the discussion by the speech patterns he uses.

    Part of the point of the speech, as relayed by the article, was that this is derived from a male dominated society. As such, pointing out that it applies equally to male victims would undermine that point to some degree.

    The language used *is* important and I truly appreciated both the comments that male victims and female perpetrators shouldn’t have been excluded from the discussion as well as the comments that the presentation could (and should) be extrapolated to the overarching issue of rape in general.

    Thank you all for the wonderful insights.

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  45. A few years back Jackson opened my eyes and my mind wider when he said let’s use the term men’s violence against women instead of assuming the men part. I’ve used it and thought it ever since but noticed that in the field the man part is often forgotten. As a man I would say that men’s violence against women is first of all a men’s issue.

  46. Many of the comments sound defensive and completely miss the point. The speaker is demonstrating how violence is minimized in the way it is represented in language. It’s not a legal arguement and it’s focused on women because they are the most frequent and likely target of violence, men are the most frequent perpetrators. That is not to minimize that men can also be targets. The point is the way we use language to minimize and deny. If that offends us as men, then step up and make a difference instead of getting defensive or, even more ridiculous, trying to make a legal argument of it! I have a 48 year career as a health care professional, so I

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    have seen the issue first hand. If you have not spent time working in a hospital ER or a women’s shelter or treating the post traumatic aftermath of domestic violence and homicide, you simply do not have a grasp of this issue, you have a personal opinion, which is your right, but don’t confuse that with the actual scope of this problem.

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  47. So many overly defensive men in this thread trying to change the topic of conversation. Yes, we know there are violent women, but there aren’t nearly as many as there are, violent men. Also, wading in to state that fact repeatedly… seriously? That wasn’t the focus of this particular talk. Can we keep to topic?

    As for the language issues: language and perception of language is constantly evolving. We need to evolve with it.

  48. Please read the title of the article. Of course there are abusive women out there. However, and a gender, this is an issue. If you (men) don’t own this, it won’t change. By AGAIN pointing your finger that SOME women are abusive— you, AGAIN, refuse to own what is common to your gender.

    And surely there is that narcissistic twist of “if I needle and push, I will anger her enough that she will become violent, and I can cry victim”.

  49. Thank you for the summary of the presentation. The article was great; the comments are…expected. If your first reaction is to say that men are also victims of domestic/sexual assault or that women are also perpetrators, you’re missing the point.

  50. The powerful thing about using the active voice is that it places the accountability on the actor, whether male or female. It tells us more in fewer words. John beat Mary. Elizabeth sexually assaulted Peter. Bill raped Joan. Karen beats her wife and children.
    Equally, Joan accused Bill of raping her. Yes, there is skepticism in that. There SHOULD be room for doubt until the jury convicts Bill because, fortunately, people in the US are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
    As to the issue of counting perpetators instead of victims, to get a complete picture yoy need to count both. If 15 rapists rape 15 victims, that’s one picture. But if 15 rapists rape 27

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    victims; 2 of those rapists were responsible for 9 of the victims; and 1 victim was raped by 3 of the 15, that’s a picture that shows at least part of the complexity. The truth is that it is hard to get accurate counts on either abusers or victims but the effort gives us, society, the chance to formulate strategies with some hope of working.

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  51. The point of this talk was how we minimalize abuse against women through language. Another proof of how we minimalize it is that every time there is a discussion about it men bring up how they too are abused. Guys, is it all about you, or is it just you? And yes, women also abuse children. And society judges them very harshly. Not necessarily men. Sometimes when men beat children, women are blamed for not removing them from harms way. Everyone knows the guy is a jerk, so it’s her fault.

  52. I was abused by my 1st husband. I agree whole heartedly that the language should be changed. Thank you for your words. Hearing them has brought new hope to my soul. Thank You very much…the word definitely need to be directed
    at the abusers.

  53. Very knowledgeable and interesting. I’ve never thought about the use of language VI’s-a-VI’s gender violence

  54. Wow! Amazing how language can change perspective without us being even aware! Thank you for making us aware!

  55. Such an insightful article.
    I’ll add another verbal habit that blames women: “single mothers”. How about “women who were abandoned by the father of their child, and who are doing their best to raise the child to be a contributing member of society while the father shirks his responsibilities.”

  56. Great article. I am interested in comment 12, as it is so clearly an example of the problem highlighted in the article. The language is not a point of legal necessity. We do not say the alleged murder victim, or the alleged theft victim. There is an inherent sense of doubt however when it comes to rape. Yes, legally we are all innocent until proven guilty, but we are quite comfortable saying the alleged murderer, the alleged robber, etc. There are cases of people falsely reporting theft, but we are comfortable with accepting that theft has occurred until it is proven otherwise. So, to use the example in comment 12, “John allegedly beat Mary” is a legally accurate

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    statement. It is in the active voice, which as we know is the preferred grammatical construct.

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  57. For those worried that he didn’t mention violence other than male on female consider this: language works two ways.

    Mary sexually abused John.
    John was sexually abused by Mary.
    John was sexually abused.
    John is a sexually abused child.

  58. Thank you all for commenting. Men need to be fully engaged in the conversation. There is no need to silence men who have come to a he realization late in life, that women can also be very abusive. This is in fact an essential part of making it both men and womens’ issues. I believe in equality and that the metrics of equality are in our being of service to one another. Much of the discourse today focuses on power metrics, and the Abusive woman, is typically one who feels a need to have power over others. We must stop valuing power over others, money, possessions control etc. And realize that

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    our essential purpose for n life is tonserve our people. And that men and women are equal in this regard. These are really human issues. Reducing them to one gender vs another is dehumanizing and alienating. There are many men and women who are suffering as a result of systemic dehumanization. The healing begins by hearing the stories, identity gets the causes and infusing humanity into all that we do with purposefulness. We are not cats vs dogs. We are humans needing to support one another and uphold our shared dignity.

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  59. Dancing around the issue creates more language barriers and doesn’t change the issues of rape, violence, battery, domestic abuse, and/or general disrespect. As a woman it confuses me and conflates the issue, if I was in a situation where a man beat and raped me the language used to describe the act of violence is secondary to the actions taken by law enforcement, judge and jury. Obviously I’m not just a battered woman, im a mother, sister, wife, who was violently attacked and raped. It’s dumbing down the majority to think we need political correct lingo to speak about heinous acts of violence. What we need is conversations with are own children about proper, respectful, and compassionate treatment between

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    human beings, in this specific example proper, respectful and compassionate actions between men and women. We need to be role models for our youth not confuse them with more jargon and rhetoric. Not a surprise that this is coming out of a liberal college scene.

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  60. Those who would use this article to claim that “they do it too…” are totally missing the reason this conversation needs to be more commonplace. The disempowerment of women is pervasive in every segment of our society, including the way we talk and think about rape. The idea that anyone but the rapist is responsible, that somehow rape can be excused or explained as anything but a violent attack on an innocent (90% female) victim is despicable. The reluctance or even outright refusal on the part of men to take responsibility for the violence that is directed against women is reprehensible. As the old saying goes, “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem…” is

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    particularly appropriate here. The language he is addressing perpetuates the problem and although talking about rape as what it really is may not solve the problem completely, it is a damned good start. As a father, son, twin brother, friend and lover of beautiful, amazing women, many (actually most) of whom have been raped or otherwise victimized by men, this is a subject that is close to my heart. Thank you Middlebury for hosting this discussion. My only regret is that I am just now finding out about it.

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  61. Thank you for your important article. You have expressed your thoughts in a very direct manner that can be easily understood. I had a ‘Why didn’t I think of that’ moment.

    As a surviver of two childhood molestations and an emotionally abusive first husband, i sought counselling after the divorce in the hope of spotting and avoiding such men in the future. Later, i volunteered at a shelter for women who escaped from abusive relationships. The women came from all walks of life and their children were directly affected. The ripples of such abuse are ever widening. We live in a violent society and our fueling of wars compounds the problem. Your voice is important. Keep up your good work.

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  62. Many people commenting are focusing on the fact that he doesn’t talk about women as perpetrators of violence. I believe if you look near the top of the article you will understand the reason. There it says:

    “Men and masculinity “have been rendered invisible in much of the discourse” around gender violence, Katz said. This is not surprising since “dominant groups often go unchallenged in society, and their power and privilege goes unexamined.””

    In our society white males are currently the dominant group. The speaker is specifically addressing gender and dominance. Like it or not, women remain as a second class today. There are different rules and different standards that put men in the power position and tend to marginalized women. This

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    does not mean that there are not powerful women and women who abuse men, but the societal norm favors the male. If you doubt it, think about the names we use to talk about sexually active people of both genders, look at how many women are in positions of power in government, health care, Fortune 500 companies, Ivy League colleges. We have a long way to go to reach equality, and the use of language is part of that journey.

    This does not mean there are not other issues, such as bullying, violence, and harassment, in general, that are serious and that also need to be addressed, but that is not the point being discussed at the moment.

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  63. “But using the term ‘accuser’ reverses the process, because it turns the victim into an accuser.”
    This should give pause to anyone who cares about the rule of law and the rights people accused of crimes. Until investigated by the police and adjudicated by a court, there is only an accuser. They may or may not be a victim of a crime. And the accused is just that — innocent (but accused) until proven guilty.

    The author clearly believes that all criminal accusations (at least ones dealing with sexual assault) are as good as guilty verdicts, in and of themselves. I can’t imagine a mindset more at odds with the functioning of a society that values individual

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    rights and legal protections.

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  64. To Vincent Brannigan: This is not silly.
    To call someone a “battered person” is to define them solely by the state of their injury. Same holds true for other descriptors, such as descriptors of disability. To call someone a “disabled person” is to define that person by their disability, to use the phrase “a person with a disability” is to acknowledge that this is only one attribute of that person.
    This is important enough to be enshrined in academic styles such as APA (American Psychological Association)
    This language change has an effect regardless of gender.
    Put it this way: If a random man hit another random man at a bar, do we call him

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    a “battered man”? Or do we say, “Joe punched John in the face”? Do we have to say “Joe’s accuser claims that he punched him.”
    I get that any claim has to be proven in a court of law. The problem is that, even after the claim is proven, we continue to use language that focuses on the victim and defines the victim solely by her assault.

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  65. So many of these remarks are not about the subject which is how language affects how we perceive something. The author is saying do not make the conversation about the battered person but to name the perpetrator. Say John beat Mary or Mary beat John. Do not frame the conversation as Mary is a battered woman or John is a battered man. Even the first part of the article can relate to framing the statements in this way putting the onus on the person who is in the wrong.

  66. Actually John F is quite right — but he missed the point. A MAN being beaten by his wife, is never called a ‘woman’s issue’. I have never even heard it called a “man’s issue”.
    The point is that it is a social issue. And that the aggressor/abuser is the problem.
    Basically it is a domestic violence issue — which absolutely covers men being beaten by their wives elderly parents being beaten/abused by their children, and children being abused by their parents or older/(younger?) siblings.

  67. It’s interesting how whenever (yet another article) comes out about domestic violence, painting men as perpetrators, we get accused of “deflecting or derailing” the discussion when we point out that women are just as likely to be the abuser. According to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence: “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.” Domestic violence is a serious problem, and men need to acknowledge their role in stopping it, but women do as well.

    And, Jessica, who are you referring to when you say, “you can be GUARANTEED, without doubt our fail, to have a member of one of society’s privileged

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    groups attempt to make the situation about them and their instances of victimization?” I suggest taking a hard look at how men are affected by domestic violence, parental rights, military and workplace fatalities, suicide, and drop out rates, and ask yourself why our culture feels compelled to shout down these issues at every turn.

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  68. Reasons for addressing men’s violence against women rather than the reverse first include the facts that it is ingrained in society, tacitly or openly accepted by religions and frequently results in lasting physical damage as well as death. I don’t know any reasonably healthy man who couldn’t stop a woman from knocking his teeth out; I know several respected, degreed, professional women who have had some or all of their teeth knocked out, bones broken, surgeries, head injuries, lost pregnancy, and damage to unborn child. Violence from male family members or acquaintances is one of the main causes of death among women. The conversation needs to start with men who injure and kill women.

  69. You’re constructing a narrative in which the grievance is always about a man who is always a sex attacker who is always guilty, and the aggrieved is always a female victim who is always truthful and justified in her complaining.

    You need some practice eradicating your own very deep cultural bias which you intend to spread before you write about manipulating perception.

  70. So according to Katz, women are permanent victims, and completely helpless, so it’s up to men because women are too weak and stupid to do anything.

    Yeah, that’s a great narrative to be pushing. So forward thinking Mr. Katz, arrogant prick.

  71. This makes a very good point and I hope that we can change the way we talk about rape. I was raped by my ex-husband and it is almost impossible to find help because I am also a man. We have to change the language so that we don’t speak passively about rape, but it also needs to be acknowledged that it is almost impossible to find help as a male victim of domestic violence and spousal rape.

  72. As someone who has been a victim of domestic violence i find it hard that every single time this topic is brought up some men throw at us victims that we have so much help etc , no one ever helps male aware this happens and the victims need help but why abuse those who have already suffered and intimidate them from speaking me it takes away from the abused..please go after the abuser

  73. Thank you for this thought provoking and through explanation. My mother Anna was beaten by my father Frank. Frank was beaten by his father Henry. My cousin Will was bullied by his father Alfred. Alia was sexually abused by Frank. And so it goes. Very clear and concise usage of language and it’s political power.

  74. What’s interesting to me is how the discussion goes to whether women are also perpetrators, and whether men are also victims, and of course notallmen, and how many actual victims versus perps there are.
    Yes. They are. I don’t think that these facts are actually in dispute.
    However, these comments are presented as if the existence of female perpetrators or male victims disproved the fact that it’s mostly men who are the perpetrators of all this violence. And that this is a problem. And that we aren’t talking about it as if this was the problem.
    Why not? Why the discomfort with saying men are the perpetrators of most of the

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    violence in the world?

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  75. Well, here you go: a male who is not going to deflect from the real issue of violence, both sexual and domestic, or deny the preponderance of women as victims and men as perpetrators. Yes, some women are abusive but that isn’t the main problem is it? I will address the thrust of the article, which is that somehow by changing our language we will change the way these things happen or are treated. Sorry. I don’t believe it carries weight and I am weary of adjusting my vocabulary every few months to accomodate the latest trendy theory put forward by someone who is both virtue-signalling and likely has a financial benefit if this idea gets traction (speaking engagements, books

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    etc). Violence is perpetrated by someone who isn’t thinking about terminology. Sexual assault is primarily a violent act that doesn’t occur because our language is too soft on schoolboys or men who would never commit those types of crimes. Much of the language we currently use to describe these situations was originated by victim’s groups or women’s groups who wanted to emphasize who the victims of these crimes primarily are. Not a bad motive. In Canada we currently have an inquiry into “Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women”. It seems grossly inappropriate (to me at least) to give equal billing to the perpetrators. Do your REALLY want to take the focus off the victim when for so long these horrendous situations went under-reported or minimized? Think about it before your give full throated support to this. In the chart he used the middle expression “Mary was beaten” is often the only information available at the time. Again in Canada we recently had male radio celebrity charged with sexual assault. While salacious details abounded in the press it was he who was the focus of coverage. How long will it be, if we follow this idea, that victims will be asking “what about me”?

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  76. Reading this, I could easily apply this passive language example to race, religion, disability of persons who are tangled in the manipulative application of words. Brilliant, wish I could have attended the presentation. Thanks for the article here. ~ t.

  77. This article is excellent. It focuses on the use of language and communication, which is the basis of our modern world’s “civilized” societies. Numbers and statistics speak more, that personal experiences. However, the more we aknowledge and talk about gender violence, the more we will improve our understanding and behavior. Best sentence “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men”.

  78. There are two problems with this. The first is what you’re seeing in the comments from a number of men: as soon as we bring them into the conversation, they start talking about how they’re victims too, because everybody wants to be seen as a victim today.

    The other problem is simple logistics. We don’t actually know how many rapists there are out there. You can say “eight women were raped last week” but can you necessarily say how many men were involved? It could be one man or it could be eight men or anywhere in between. this makes it a little difficult to say how many rapists there are.

  79. Thank you for this excellant revelation of how language usage influences perceptions regarding gender abuse and violence. I would love to see an examination of language usage in the political arena and also by the news media, as I feel there is much psychological manipulation at play via language usage. I was however, disappointed to see how many readers missed your entire point, only to emotionally personalize something that was meant to educate, enlighten and open our eyes to how language usage can greatly influence perceptions. To me, we are all aware and can agree that male abuse, child abuse, elder abuse and even animal abuse exists far too commonly in our society, but I completely

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    agree with your observation that female abuse is and has been verbally manipulated in the social conversation.

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  80. Also how can we take issue with “battered person” but worship the term “survivor of abuse” don’t they both set up the subject as victim defined by the negative? Especially for terms like “survivor of online violence” or something. I do agree about the term battered woman I HATE it. Unless a victim wants to self identify that way we have no business calling them that. But on the other hand I haven’t heard that term used for years. Does anyone still say it?

  81. I will send this on to my writing workshop participants, who would tell you that the thing I harp on most is the epidemic of passive verb constructions.

  82. Why do so many fools — mostly insecure straight guys — even bring up female abusers and battered men? Don’t deflect the issue; apart from its rarity in comparison to men abusing women, that is not what this article is addressing. It is defensive for a man to bring that up, and reveals his underlying misogyny.

  83. Thank you for this powerful message that women as well as men need to learn. Our culture is steeped in sexism/misogyny that most seem unable to see or acknowledge. The last presidential election was the latest example. No one else could have lost this election to Donald Trump, than a woman (though she was the most experienced person possible). If we don’t recognize our deeply rooted sexism we can’t help change it.

  84. At last!
    Finally the conversation topic is where it should have been on the abusers. Victims are the result of the abusers choices and behaviors, maybe this will stop the victim blaming.

  85. I agree with all of this up to the “accuser”/”alleged victim” discussion. I feel that calling a woman an “alleged victim” is like saying “so-called victim” . . . as if there is a tremendous amount of doubt about her really having been hurt at all. The word “accuser” immediately brings to mind a pointing finger—away from the accuser and toward the criminal. It seems to me that “accuser” puts a criminal (although as-yet unidentified, which is still a problem) into the picture. That said, I’m very grateful that this discussion is coming forward into our awareness. Thank you for this.

  86. People are concerned katz is erasing violence outside of the realm of men’s violence against women. That is not what’s happening. Dr. Katz’ research focuses on the subject of language as it concerns men’s violence against women. Can Dr. Katz say that women’s violence against men uses the passive voice? Or make that claim in situations where men or women abuse same sex partners does? Those claims are outside of his scope of research. So, no. Dr. Katz can’t. To say so is to ignore or not be aware of the context of Dr. Katz’ research. Even the title exists within that context. Could the title be be improved for those who are not aware that Dr. Katz only researches

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    men’s violence against women (and often through the framework of only cisgender men)? Yes. Or at least some introduction of this fact towards the beginning of the article. As someone familiar with Dr. Katz’ work, I didn’t need those things. But, for people who aren’t, it might (no guarantee) keep people from derailing a discussion supposed to be about how society is not holding men responsible for their violent against women. Even so Dr. Katz cannot make the claims people are wanting.

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  87. *deep breath*

    To those getting defensive about the exclusive focus here on male violence against women (and not vice versa):
    The speaker in no way was saying (or even implying) that abuse doesn’t matter if the abuser is a woman, or that it never happens that way. In the same way that saying “black lives matter” does not mean white people’s lives do not matter. In the same way that advocating for, say, breast cancer research and treatment does not mean one think all other cancers are dumb and not worth talking about.

    Reactions like this (“but what about men who are abused?!”) do nothing to further the discussion. Rather than get defensive and post comments about it, maybe just try

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    paying attention to the language you use when talking about male violence against women. Because that’s all this speaker was trying to do: Raise awareness in the hopes the rest of us might do something about it.

    Also, every single point this speaker made could be applied to any other situation, including when a woman abuses a man. See? I just did it.

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  88. I wish I could say I was shocked that it only took two comments for men to entirely dismiss male violence directed at women, but I’m not. This is the world women live in.’s.lives. Yes, all women.

    Many of these comments justify the need of this topic- which obviously many need reminding of was: How men commit acts of violence towards women and how the language of addressing that violence largely ignores men as the perpetrators of said violence and blames women.- “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!”

    So for people

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    who don’t understand why bringing up males/men as victims too is problematic and part of the problem (yes even Clark #43- your resentment doesn’t protect women) I recommend reading up on Male Fragility, Toxic Masculinity, and the Myth of Reverse Sexism. Additionally if you’re concerned how women contribute I would recommend reading up on Internalized Sexism. Educate yourself on these issues first, and really examine how your questions are doing exactly what Katz was saying needed to be remedied. “It’s another instance where victims are being told to sit down, shut up, and don’t come forward because if you come forward you are going to be an accuser, and then people are going to be questioning your motives…it’s just another way that we in society keep people from coming forward.” What you’re (hopefully intentionally) doing protects the oppressors, doesn’t recognize the source of oppression, and sidesteps the harms of oppression in all its forms.

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