(Re)theorising laddish masculinities in higher education, by @alisonphipps

Cross-posted from: genders, bodies, politic

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(Re)theorising laddish masculinities in higher education

Abstract: In the context of renewed debates and interest in this area, this paper reframes the theoretical agenda around laddish masculinities in UK higher education, and similar masculinities overseas. These can be contextualised within consumerist neoliberal rationalities, the neoconservative backlash against feminism and other social justice movements, and the postfeminist belief that women are winning the ‘battle of the sexes’. Contemporary discussions of ‘lad culture’ have rightly centred sexism and men’s violence against women: however, we need a more intersectional analysis. In the UK a key intersecting category is social class, and there is evidence that while working-class articulations of laddism proceed from being dominated within alienating education systems, middle-class and elite versions are a reaction to feeling dominated due to a loss of gender, class and race privilege. These are important differences, and we need to know more about the conditions which shape and produce particular performances of laddism, in interaction with masculinities articulated by other social groups. It is perhaps unhelpful, therefore, to collapse these social positions and identities under the banner of ‘lad culture’, as has been done in the past.
Read more (Re)theorising laddish masculinities in higher education, by @alisonphipps

The American Election – by women

White women sold out the sisterhood and the world by voting for Trump.  via @doublexmag

According to CNN, 53 percent of white female voters voted for Donald Trump. Fifty-three percent. More than half of white women voted for the man who bragged about committing sexual assault on tape, who said he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, who has promised to undo legislation that has afforded health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans, whose parental leave plan is a joke, who has spent his campaign dehumanizing nonwhite people, who has spent 30-plus years in the public eye reducing women to their sexual attributes. More than half of white women looked at the first viable female candidate for the presidency, a wildly competent and overqualified career public servant, and said, “Trump that bitch.”

What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman? Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue. …


Read more The American Election – by women

Louis Theroux, Jimmy Savile and the failure to recognise the obvious: misogyny

Cross-posted from: Young Crone
Originally published: 05.10.16

On Sunday night, I watched the Louis Theroux documentary ‘Savile’, which investigated why he (and by extension, others) hadn’t realised who and what the thankfully deceased serial rapist and abuser Jimmy Savile was, back when he interviewed him in 2000. In it, Theroux recognises and acknowledges that he missed certain signs, etc., as did so many others, but at the end, when he finally concludes that we will probably never truly know how Savile got away with so much for so long, he is completely mistaken. Because it’s totally obvious why he did – misogyny. And Theroux, for all his soul-searching, for all his sense of guilt and shame, for all his willingness to research the topic and hear difficult things from victims, including insulting things about his own past involvement with Savile, never stops to analyse the most obvious reason for why he also failed to spot the truth – his own misogyny. As a liberal, lefty guy, he probably doesn’t think he’s sexist at all, and I imagine that if you met him, he probably would come across as very nice and less sexist than a lot of men. Like so many men, because he’s not an out-and-out leering chauvinist pig who thinks women should only exist to attract and service him, he thinks he’s not sexist. BUT. BUT. His misogyny and male entitlement and participation in patriarchy are glaringly obvious in the documentary.
Read more Louis Theroux, Jimmy Savile and the failure to recognise the obvious: misogyny

Rape as Genocide: Understanding Sexual Vulnerability, Abuse, and Rape in the Holocaust by @LK_Pennington

This is a conference paper I wrote in 2006. Since I wrote this paper, more research into rape and the sexual exploitation and violence perpetrated against women and children has been undertaken. Women Under Siege is an excellent source of information as is the book Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. My own research in feminist theory has changed my understanding of sexual violence and genocide.

 

In the light of the stories of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape that are a part of the larger narratives of genocide in Darfur, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, it is almost becoming a truism to suggest that sexual violence is an intrinsic feature of genocide. In the realms of Holocaust history and studies, however, it is still a subject that has not attracted a great deal of attention. Certainly, scholars who are working on the ambit of female experience, such as Myrna Goldenberg and Joan Ringelheim, have always acknowledged the existence of these stories in Holocaust testimonies, but they have focused on the specific sexual vulnerability of women due to pregnancy, motherhood, and amenorrhea and so mention only small numbers of testimonies of women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted or raped, or even having witnessed these. Furthermore, they have also tended not to look at male testimonies concerning the sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape of female prisoners and even fewer have looked at stories of male sexual vulnerability, abuse or rape.[1]

My own (feminist) readings of the testimonies of witnesses Lucille Eichengreen, Sarah Magyar Isaacson, Thaddeus Stabholz, Weislaw Kieler and Fania Fénelon[2], however, led me to believe that there were more stories of sexual violence than have been acknowledged. Furthermore, if one accepts that sexual violence is not only a common part of genocide but can also be a genocidal act, then it is one that needs to be explored within the context of the Holocaust and the murder of Soviet POWs, the Sinti and the Roma, the mentally ill and differently-abled, and the exploitation of ‘Slavic’ slave-labour during the course of Nazi Germany. This includes not only the sexual violence perpetrated by the German SS, the Wehrmacht, and other Aryan administrators, but also that of the Soviet mass rapes of women at the end of the war and during liberation, as well as the sexual violence by all other militaries, Allied or Axis, and that perpetrated by ‘victims’ of Nazism against other victims of Nazism.

In fact, stories of sexual violence are more common than early feminist Holocaust scholarship has previously acknowledged, which is not to say that it was widespread, although this is likely, but simply that there are more stories than first recognized. There has also been an expansion in the number of stories of sexual violence in testimonies, partly due to new feminist research into rape, pornography, prostitution, and sexual trafficking,[3] which casts some testimonies in a new light, partly also due to the fact that the number of Holocaust testimonies published has increased exponentially since the genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. These new testimonies include more stories of sexual violence and interpret more events as having a sexual component rather than simply an act of violence of humiliation.

But while the increase in the numbers of stories of sexual violence is partly simply because witnesses now understand and write about specific events in this manner it is also because current feminist reading of testimonies includes a greater knowledge and awareness of sexual violence and reading my/contemporary definitions of sexual assault against the definitions given by witnesses is also essential to my thesis. Furthermore, it is the tension between my reading and what is written/not written that makes this a fascinating area of exploration. It also acknowledges, as Anna Hardman has previously noted, “the difficult interpretative questions as to the relationship between actuality and representation.”[4]

I believe, therefore, that the most significant reason for the expansion in the number of stories are the evolving definitions of the terms rape, sexual abuse, prostitution, humiliation, and choice by scholars, witnesses, and readers of these stories. There are numerous stories now interpreted as sexual violence. These include but are not limited to forced sterilizations of Mischlinge Jews, the Roma and the Sinti and the ‘asocials’, (that is the undesirable elements of society); forced abortions due to race; refused abortions due to race; forced pregnancies; viewing the abuse of others; forced stripping and performance; forced ‘prostitution’; brothels in the concentration camps; and the fear of rape. As a feminist, I feel that these stories needed to be placed in the centre of Holocaust studies along with the stories of abuse, humiliation, torture, starvation, deportation, murder and mass murder, ghettos and gas chambers.

What I consider to be the one of the more common forms of sexual violence during the Holocaust is what Myrna Goldenberg has termed ‘sex for survival.’[5]That is to say, stories of women, men, and children being exploited sexually in exchange for food, clothing, accommodation, work permits in the ghettos, or ‘good’ jobs in the slave-labour and concentration camps. Stories of ‘sex for survival’ exist in diaries written during the war and post-war biographies and oral testimonies.[6]

One such story may be found in one of the most well-known Holocaust testimonies: Fania Fénelon’s published testimony Playing for Time, also published as The Musicians of Auschwitz. Fénelon’s text is one of the most [in]famous memoirs of women written about Auschwitz-Birkenau and, more specifically, about the women’s orchestra in that camp. Fénelon was arrested as a member of the French resistance but was also half-Jewish. She spent nine months in the transit camp of Drancy, where she was tortured, before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1944. She remained in Birkenau until November 1944 when the Jewish members of the orchestra were deported to Bergen-Belsen, where they were eventually liberated in April 1945. Upon arrival in Birkenau, a member of the orchestra recognized Fénelon as a cabaret singer and her ability to sing Madame Butterfly placed her in the privileged orchestra protecting Fénelon from the severe abuse and torture of the ‘normal jobs’ in the main camp.

Before discussing in depth the stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s testimony one must acknowledge the controversy surrounding it and the subsequent Arthur Miller play and film adaptations based on the text, particularly in relation to the issue of lesbianism and Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and her testimony Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen.[7] The debate is worth mentioning because of its discussion of identity, the use of survivor interpretations of the behaviours of others, the labels they attribute to other inmates, and the differences in the types of witness testimony, (literary texts, memoirs, poems). Succinctly, the debate concerns Fénelon’s description of the other members of the female orchestra in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the boundary between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’, particularly of the characters ‘Marta’ and ‘Clara’. Fénelon devotes a section of the text to the relationships between the other prisoners in the privileged orchestra which includes a reference to a lesbian relationship. One of the women involved in the lesbian relationship was a cello player. Lasker-Wallfisch has been very clear that she was the only cello player in the orchestra and that she was not involved in any lesbian relationship and that Fénelon was well aware of this.[8]

There are a number of stories of ‘sex for survival’ in Fénelon’s text but the ones I want to discuss centre around Fénelon’s relationship with the character ‘Clara’ who she meets on the train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am engaged in a ‘literal’ reading of the text here in order to demonstrate some of the difficulties inherent in [re]-reading and [re]-writing representations of memory and identity. The problematic status of this particular text is does not lessen its value as a document, rather it is another instance of the problematic use of memory and representation to write a ‘history’ of  the Holocaust. The character of Clara is described as “a girl about twenty with a ravishing head set upon an enormous, deformed body”[9]; a body deformed in the transit camp by starvation, a well-brought up girl who was engaged to a boy she loved. Clara is apparently still a virgin; we do not know about Fénelon. The two young women become friends during the journey and pledge to help one another in the camps.

Fénelon and Clara’s first encounter with the concept of ‘sex for survival’ happened quite quickly after arrival in Auschwitz:

A soldier was walking next to Clara. He had a totally unremarkable face, something between animal and mineral. Suddenly he addressed her in French, in a voice as devoid of expression as he was himself: “I’ll get you coffee if you’ll let me make love to you.[10]

The two girls ignore him and the subject is not brought up again. But the soldier’s statement, so early after arrival, after several days trapped in a cattle car, is a lesson about Birkenau. As Fénelon comments:

Coffee? Either a woman wasn’t worth much around here, or else coffee was priceless. She said nothing and he let it drop.[11]

We do not know if either girl has some prior experience with this in Drancy; both were there for an extended period. It is quite likely that they did but this is assumption rather than factual knowledge. The other, more experienced, girls in the orchestra are quick to point out how cheap a woman’s body, and, by extension, a man’s and a child’s, were in the camps. Jenny, another girl is the orchestra tells them: “All you need to do is find yourself a man; here sausage replaces flowers.”[12]

We can interpret this as a story of prostitution but, while, there is a tremendous amount of feminist research into the coercive aspects of ‘prostitution’ in ‘normal’ society, exchanging sex for food in the midst of a centre for genocide changes and questions the terms we use to define the activity. Not all women who were given the option to engage in sexual activities in exchange for food ‘chose’ to do so, but, some did. Obviously, the term ‘choice’ is also questionable. The terms prostitution, sexual vulnerability, and sexual slavery are debated in feminist scholarship, but once we are within a situation where the intent to commit genocide is evident, trading sex for food, moves outside of common definitions of prostitution. Yet, the term ‘sex for survival’ also seems insufficient to describe the situations that many people found themselves during the Holocaust; indeed, the terms we use to describe these stories seem almost irrelevant in their inability to demonstrate depth of meaning.

Clara, quite quickly, makes the ‘decision’ that food is so important that sex can be traded for it. Furthermore, according to Fénelon, she hoards the food for herself and she is not particular in who the partner is. Several of the other girls have ‘lovers’ whom they sleep with for food, some even sleep with the SS but Fénelon does not describe these other women in the same manner that she describes Clara or her ‘choice’. In fact, Fénelon is extremely dismissive of it, claiming Clara was more interested in food than remaining ‘female.’ Thus it is unclear whether Fénelon is disgusted with Clara because of the sexual act, claiming Clara had lost her ‘womanly dignity’, or that she is disgusted with Clara because Clara is actually transgressing sex or gender boundaries, by refusing to engage in communal survival and share the extra food received. As Fénelon says:

Clara had changed quickly, very quickly. A month after our arrival in the music block, one evening at six o’clock, she’d said to me … I won’t share with anyone anymore.” The next day, at dinnertime, I opened her box by mistake and saw a pot of jam. Clara rushed at me. “Leave that; I told you to keep your hands off it.”

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking. All our boxes look alike. I certainly wouldn’t touch that nobly earned jam of yours!”

There were tears of rage in her eyes, perhaps a last glimmer of a former morality, a remnant of dignity. The donor was probably a kapo from the men’s camp. Only the kapos, the blockowas, all Poles, Slovaks, or Germans, could come to our block.

Had she been a virgin? It was possible, it wouldn’t have been a decisive factor. Besides, the risk of pregnancy for internees was virtually nonexistent.

I felt sorry for Clara when I saw her twitching her large behind, … She had been an innocent young girl who loved her boyfriend and who still nourished childlike dreams. Living in a sheltered milieu she was innocent of life, like the adorable and naïve Big Irene, who remained so, while Clara changed so quickly and so totally. She had become frighteningly selfish; she would do anything to get food. In the middle of all these painfully thin girls, her obesity was a wonder, a most effective lure for men, who paid court to her in butter and sugar.[13]

But what is ‘womanly dignity’ inside a concentration camp? Can we not interpret part of Clara’s behaviour as an attempt for semblance of human contact or even love?  It is easier to interpret it in this fashion when Clara is engaged in relations with other male prisoners in privileged positions, but it is more difficult to do so when the boyfriend is a particularly brutal (German) kapo who, apparently, voluntarily worked as an executioner for the S.S. guards in the camp, apparently for pleasure rather than requirement. Fénelon posits Clara’s relationships against her own relationships with Leon, her ‘lover’ from Drancy who volunteered for the transport to Auschwitz in order to be with Fénelon.[14] Clara’s ‘boyfriends’ gave her food in exchange for sex, Leon gave Fénelon poetry and letters for, apparently, nothing. Love exists but Clara does not know what it is and is confused.

What is particularly interesting is Fénelon’s construction of Clara’s changing identity, and the way in which she contrasts her transformation from a good virginal girl to a prostitute with her understanding of the behaviour of ‘real’ prostitutes in France. While Fénelon defends the behaviour of French prostitutes who engaged in sexual acts with German soldiers to gather information for the French Resistance in terms of heroism, Clara’s attempt to survive through sex is viewed with disgust, a contrast that is highlighted in Fénelon’s description of Clara’s outrage at her participation in cabarets where German officers were the major clientele:

“I couldn’t have heard you sing,” said Clara rather primly. “We’d stopped going out at night. We didn’t mix with the Germans, and no one went to nightclubs except Germans and collaborators.”

I fell silent, slightly ashamed; it had been very good business. How would Clara have judged the proprietress of Melody’s, who looked like a madam – indeed, perhaps she was – but who protected us? How she would have despised those tarts that hung from the necks of German officers and gave us papers, photographs, and information.[15]

But, why is Clara’s transformation into a ‘prostitute’ to save her own life so negative? Partly, it is because Clara does behave increasingly violently towards the others. Certainly, when Clara is given the job as a kapo, (an inmate barracks supervisor), Fénelon claims she behaves with ruthless and vicious violence, beating the block inmates sadistically for various rule infractions. But this did not happen until after the girls were transferred to Bergen-Belsen; Clara’s ‘prostitution’ occurred in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.[16]

This story of ‘sex for survival’ is not uncommon. What is different is the way in which it is contrasted with ‘good’ stories of using sex for resistance. But how is resistance different from survival? Obviously Clara’s brutal behaviour as a kapo in Bergen-Belsen is part of the story and can partly explain Fénelon’s construction of Clara, but we do need to separate Clara’s behaviour in Bergen-Belsen from that in Birkenau to understand how Clara’s ‘choice’ was choiceless and thus to recognise her experience as one of sexual assault. More generally I think this story reveals the complexity of sexual vulnerability, abuse and rape in the Holocaust in that at a certain point Fénelon forgets Clara’s identity as ‘victim’ and recasts her as a ‘perpetrator’ and in so doing, makes the sexual exploitation of Clara a footnote to the dehumanising effects of their situation. In order to rehumanise her (and many other victims of the Holocaust) we must therefore acknowledge and recognise the way in which sexual vulnerability is accentuated by and essential to genocide.

 

 



[1] This is not a criticism of their research but an acknowledgment of the research required. See Myrna Goldenberg, “Different Horrors, Same Hell: Women Remembering the Holocaust”, in Roger Gottlieb (ed.), Thinking the Unthinkable: Meanings of the Holocaust, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), pp.150-166; Joan Ringelheim, “Women and the Holocaust: A Reconsideration of Research”, inSigns: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 10, no. 4, (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1984-1985), pp. 741-761. Other examples of this sort of scholarship include Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998). Renate Bridenthal et al., (eds.)When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984); Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000); Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986); Sara R. Horowitz, “Memory and Testimony of Women Survivors of Nazi Genocide” in Judith R. Baskin (ed.), Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, (Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1994), pp.258-282.

[2] Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, translated from the French by Judith Landry, (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997, 1976); Judith Magyar Isaacson,Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of a Survivor, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois  Press, 1991); Wieslaw Kielar, Anus Mundi: Five Years in Auschwitz, translated from the German by Susanne Flatauer, (London: Penguin Books, 1982 [1972]); Thaddeus Stabholz, Seven Hells, translated from the Polish by Jacques Grunblatt & Hilda R. Grunblatt, (New York: Holocaust Library, 1990)

[3] Much of this research has grown in relation to the wars in the former Yugoslavia. See: Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia (Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 1986); Alexandra Stiglmayer, Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bison Books, 1984); Anne Llewellyn Barstow, War’s Dirty Secret: Rape, Prostitution, and Other Crimes against Women (Ohio: The Cleveland Press, 2000).

[4] Anna Hardman, Women and Holocaust, (U.K: Holocaust Educational Trust Papers, 1999–2000), p. [check notes]

[5] Myrna Goldenberg, “Rape and the Holocaust”, paper presented at Legacies of the Holocaust: Women and the Holocaust Conference, (Krakow, Poland: May 2005)

[6] Mary Berg, Warsaw Ghetto: A Diary, (New York: LB Fischer, 1945); Trudi Birger with Jeffrey M. Green, A Daughter’s Gift of Love: A Holocaust Memoir, (The Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, 1992); Lucille Eichengreen with Harriet Hyman Chamberlain, From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust, (San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994); Hedi Fried, The Road to Auschwitz: Fragments of a Life, edited and translated from the Swedish by Michael Meyer, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990); Gisella Perl, I was a Doctor in Auschwitz, (New Hampshire: Ayer Co., 1992, 1948).

[7] Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Inherit the Truth 1939-1945: The Documented Experiences of a Survivor of Auschwitz and Belsen, (London: Giles de la Mare Pub., 1996)

[8] For an excellent discussion of this debate see Anna Hardman, Women and the Holocaust, (U.K.: Holocaust Educational Trust Research Papers, 1999 – 2000), pp. 20-27.

[9] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.12

[10] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[11] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.18

[12] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.66: Jenny to Clara

[13] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p.105-106

[14] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[15] Fania Fénelon with Marcelle Routier, Playing For Time, p. 15

[16] This post facto reconstruction of Clara may of course speak volumes about the nature of memory and memoir.

 

My Elegant Gathering of White Snows: a blog about male violence against women, celebrity culture and cultural femicide. [@LeStewpot] [FB: My Elegant Gathering of White Snows]

 

See also:

What about the Women? The existence of brothels in Nazi Concentration Camps  by @LeStewpot

Reframing the Conversation around Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse by @EVB_Now

Cross-Posted with permission from Ending Victimisation and Blame (Everyday Victim Blaming)

This post is a collective piece, thanks to all who have contributed. It is going to focus on men who abuse women and children. We acknowledge that there are female offenders, but this post will not be discussing them. It comes with a content note for Domestic & Sexual Violence and Abuse.

What do we mean when we say language matters? The words that we use say a great deal about our interactions with the world, about us, and about how we discuss difficult topics. The words that we choose need to have impact and power if they are going to help us change the issues around domestic and sexual violence and abuse.

We’re going to start with problematic terms that we’ve been sent by our site contributors, and include some alternatives. These alternatives help to reframe the debate – using terms that some may find upsetting needs to be balanced with a decision that we make a conscious choice to use terms that reflect what we are actually talking about. This avoids us talking around the topic.

Some of the terms may feel unpalatable. Talking about ‘indecent images of children’ or ‘images of child sexual abuse’ may feel difficult when compared to the ubiquitous term ‘child pornography’, for example. But why does it matter? Discussions on twitter about this from those who suggest that the term ‘child’ negates any consent inferred from the word ‘pornography’ miss the point – sex offenders use the phrase as their preferred term. They are aroused by these images – so indeed, to a sex offender, they are considered ‘pornography’. If we use the term pornography to denote indecent images of children, we are using the term preferred by the men who use images of child sexual abuse to get aroused. Not so comfortable now, is it?

Alongside this term, we have other terms used about child abusers. ‘Sex tourist‘ – the men who travel to other countries to sexually abuse children. ‘Child sex’ is another phrase where the presence of the word ‘child’ does not negate the consent implied by using the word ‘sex’. What we really mean when we say this, is ‘child rape’. The child has been raped, by a man who had power and control over them. Using the term ‘child sex’ adds to his power. He probably didn’t think he did anything wrong. He probably thought the child ‘wanted it’. Maybe they were ‘provocative’. Maybe they gave him the ‘come on’. He wants to detract from his rape of a child, and describe it as sex, as it is more comfortable for him. How does that feel for you, aiding a child rapist to feel more comfortable?

Another questionable term used about children is ‘child prostitute’. The term ‘prostitute’ is debatable in itself; women prefer the term ‘sex worker’ (for those who believe it to be work, same as any other form of work), or ‘prostituted woman’, for those women who have their choices taken away from them and are prostituted by others who financially gain from the purchase of sexual activity. The term ‘child prostitute’ suggests consent – that the child made an active, conscious choice to engage in sexual activity where payment is received for said activity. Again, the argument against this is that the term ‘child’ negates that. No, it doesn’t. Name it – a ‘prostituted child’ a ‘child raped by men who pay for this service’. Let us not collude with the rape of children.

Kiddy fiddling‘. This is one of the worst phrases that we have ever heard. We’re pretty sure that we can leave that one there, with no need for further explanation.

‘Under age sex’. What does this term say? To us, it suggests that a young person is having sex under the age of consent (16 years, in the UK). We have worked extensively with children and young people, and know that they do, of course, have ‘under age sex’. However, the sex they have is usually with young people of a similar age and circumstance – using the term ‘under age sex’ to describe sexual activity after grooming, exploitation or coercion by an older and more powerful man is not under age sex. It is a crime, often prosecuted as ‘sexual activity with a child’. Using this term suggests consent and therefore takes responsibility away from the sex offender.

Paedophile is another term that came up when we asked for suggestions. It means ‘lover of children’. Do people who love children sexually abuse them? This is another term preferred by perpetrators, as they describe their sexual activity with children as part of their sexuality. This piece is not going to discuss that further, but there is research around this topic that can be found easily via Google. Using the language preferred by perpetrators helps them excuse, minimise and deny the abuse, and we’d not want any part of that. Lets call them what they are – child sexual abusers, instead.

Moving away from abuse of children to abuse of women. We found so many problematic terms, we are going to divide this section into Domestic Violence & Abuse (including rape and sexual abuses by partners/ex partners); Domestic Homicide/Murder and Sexual Violence & Abuse.

Domestic Violence & Abuse:

Tempestuous / Volatile / Acrimonious / Stormy / Tumultuous Relationship. Crime of Passion. Altercation. Lovers Tiff.  What do those words say to you? To us, they suggest that both parties are involved in the abuse. They suggest that the ‘volatility’ in the relationship is two-way, where both parties suffer physical and emotional harm from the other partner. It shares the blame with the victim without the perpetrator having to do anything. Nice work, huh? Using these terms aids that. Call a domestically violent and abusive relationship ‘volatile’? Your sympathy is with the perpetrator. You’re aiding him excusing his behaviour. In fact, you’re not aiding it – you’ve done it for him. How does that feel?

He is a ‘batterer’. She’s a ‘battered woman’. When we hear that term, the first image that comes into our head is of the local fish & chip shop! It completely ignores the emotional, psychological and financial abuse suffered by women. It dehumanises her and should be used with extreme caution. In our experience, it is rare to find a woman who suffers only physical abuse at the hands of their abusive partner. The other strands of abuse link closely in order for the man to gain, and retain, control over his partner.

Generally, when these terms are used, they mean domestic & sexual violence and abuse, perpetrated by men, against women. Why is it so hard to say that? What does it tell an abuser who physically assaults his wife, who then fights back by scratching his face? It tells him that it’s ok. It tells him that he has no need to provide excuses or explanations; we will do that work for him. It tells him that she is just as bad as him, and his behaviour is justified, without him having to acknowledge what he’s done. It tells him we understand. Life is difficult. Their relationship is ‘volatile’. We understand. It’s ok.

Actually, it’s not ok. Using those terms completely ignores the issue of power. He is likely to be more powerful than her – not just physically, but emotionally, too. After all, he doesn’t live in fear. He isn’t worried about disclosing to someone and finding an under-trained social worker on the doorstep talking about ‘leaving’ and ‘protecting the children’. He isn’t in fear that he may receive a text message that triggers an all-night assault because she’s “obviously having an affair”. He isn’t in fear that he may be killed, if he says the ‘wrong’ thing at the ‘wrong’ time. Lets not use language that gives him more power – after all, this contributes to his ongoing abuse of her, and we aren’t going to collude with that, are we?

Or are we? We also ask ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ Or ‘why does she put up with it?’. These questions are asked from a position of ignorance. How about we reframe the question? ‘Why doesn’t he stop abusing her?’. That question lays the blame in the appropriate place, with the responsibility on the perpetrator. Let us not make survivors and victims any more responsible than they already feel.

How about the term ‘gendered violence‘? Using this term acknowledges that DVA is a gendered issue, but it’s not specific enough. The problem is violence and abuse against women, perpetrated by men. Women are at much greater risk, and often they are abused because they are women. Using the term ‘gendered’ is a misnomer. If we are going to talk about gender, lets talk about it properly.

‘Interpersonal violence’. We understand interpersonal to describe relations between people, but this completely detracts from the closeness of the relationship. Domestic abusers don’t usually berate or assault their co-workers, friends, or other people they come into contact with – they abuse their intimate partners, ex-partners, mothers, sisters, children. Women they have power and control over. Interpersonal doesn’t cover the root causes and we suggest it is avoided unless you are discussing men who abuse most of those they come into contact with, not just those they are, or have been, emotionally connected to.

Domestic Homicide/Murder:

A ‘tragic, isolated incident’. Where to start with this one? It is indeed, tragic, when a man kills his partner or ex partner, and the children. It is certainly not an ‘isolated incident’. Abusive men do not kill their partners and children in a vacuum. There will have been an ongoing, systematic, campaign of abuse against the partner (and children, they are affected even if they don’t directly witness the abuse), over a number of months or years. There may have been reports to the police, possibly criminal charges or convictions in relation to DVA. Maybe she never reported him to the police and so her murder came ‘out of the blue’ or ‘couldn’t have been predicted’. Maybe the neighbours didn’t think it was any of their business. Maybe the police labelled it as a ‘domestic’ and didn’t offer the right support. Maybe there were ‘extenuating circumstances’. Maybe she ‘provoked’ him; perhaps she was leaving, or had left the relationship. Maybe it happened ‘behind closed doors’. Maybe it was considered ‘private’ or a ‘family matter’. Not so private now though, is it? Now, the woman and possibly her children are dead because we used terms that help us ignore the ongoing abuse which culminated in him killing them.

A ‘murder/suicide’. A ‘suicide pact’. Again, these terms are used to describe a family annihilator. We can say with certainty that the woman didn’t sign a ‘pact’ that resulted in the death of her and her children at the hands of a man who will have claimed to love them.

Rape and Sexual Abuse:

‘Date rape’. Because that’s not as bad as ‘stranger rape’, is it? She knew him, maybe she invited him in, maybe they’d had sex before and so he assumed that he could have sex with her again. Maybe she was drunk, had been flirting, leading him on…. The excuses are endless. Rape is rape, no matter what the relationship is between the perpetrator and the victim. Sexual contact needs informed and enthusiastic consent. No consent? No sex, or you’re a rapist.

‘Sex crime’ ‘having sex’ ‘sex case’ ‘sex scandal’ ‘sex controversy’. It’s hard to know where to start with these terms. If an allegation of rape, or sexual assault has been made, this is not about sex. Reframing the conversation means calling it what it is. Rape is not about sex, arousal or desire. It is about power and the need to control. Men do not rape women because they ‘cannot help it’. If they could stop if the police, or a man held a gun to their head, or the children walked into the room, they can stop if a woman doesn’t say yes. The only people who think all men are rapists, are other rapists. Let us not call them ‘sex crimes’ or any of the other tabloid-esque terms listed above. Let us call them what they are – rapists, sex offenders, men who sexually assault women.

There are terms that cover all of the above areas. They may crop up in family court proceedings; they may be used by professional organisations. They talk of ‘alleged abuse or violence’, even when there has been police contact and even prosecutions against the men, or where there is evidence of the individual act of abuse being part of a wider campaign against the woman. The perpetrator is described as being the woman’s ‘lover’, rather than partner or girlfriend. Why is this problematic? The term ‘lover’ suggests promiscuity. It suggests that there may be other ‘lovers’. Those promiscuous women invite violence, with their provocative and flirtatious behaviour. Violence against them isn’t as bad as it would be against a woman who fits the patriarchal-ideal of how a ‘decent’ (read: heteronormative) woman should behave.

This links closely with the need to ‘other’ crimes of domestic & sexual violence and abuse. We use cultural differences as a cover for the fact that they are not ‘like us’. ‘Our’ men don’t gang rape women on buses who later die from their injuries, so severe was the attack. ‘Our’ men don’t sexually exploit children who are being ‘cared for’ by the Local Authority. They do.  We just choose to emphasise the cultural differences, not the similarities in relation to abuse.  It suits the narrative to other the abuse of women and girls, by describing sex offenders and rapists asmonsters.

We talk about ‘domestic violence’ in a way that detracts from other forms of ‘violence’. It’s only a ‘domestic’.

We’re not ‘prostitutes’ who are murdered – we’re different. We haven’t put ourselves at risk, or done an activity that is used to replace the word ‘woman’. ‘A prostitute was murdered‘ (read: not someone like you, don’t worry). We don’t say ‘a bank clerk was murdered’, do we? No. We say ‘woman’, as we should do.

We talk about ‘troubled families’ and the government throws millions of pounds to provide interventions based on flawed research.

We talk about harassment instead of stalking. We don’t link stalking to DSVA and so we can’t join the dots.

We talk about ‘sexual assault’ when what we mean is oral, vaginal or anal rape.

We talk about ‘innocent victims‘, as if somehow some victims are more deserving of our support than others

Othering violence and abuse against women is almost insidious. It seeps into all the reporting, the media coverage and day to day discussions. In some ways, it allows us to manage the fear that comes from being a girl or woman, and the constant risk assessing that is second nature to us.

So what terms should we use? We’ve used Domestic & Sexual Violence and Abuse as a catch-all, but we’re not sure it’s ideal.

We will not change the risk to all women unless we are using correct terms. The problem is men’s violence against women and children. Let us use the language of survivors and victims, not the language of perpetrators. When the UK Prime Minister uses the term ‘child pornography’, we know we have a lot of work to do.

Let us not waste the power that our words can have.

You can find out more about our campaign here.

Ending Victimisation and Blame [Everyday Victim Blaming]: This campaign is about changing the culture and language around violence against women and children.  We aim to challenge the view that men cannot help being violent and abusive towards women and children.  We want to challenge the view that women should attempt to ‘avoid’ abuse in order to not become a victim of it.  We challenge media reports of cases of violence against women and children where there is an almost wilful avoidance of the actual reasons for these acts.  Power, control, women and children being considered ‘possessions’ of men, and avoidance of personal responsibility all contribute to a societal structure that colludes with abusers and facilitates a safe space in which they can operate. This is what we are campaigning to change.