Do you have any pet “hates”? I have heaps, let me tell you! The one that probably gets under my skin the most is when people talk about “abusive relationships.” Abusive relationships aren’t real. They simply do not exist.
Abusive relationships don’t exist?
Am I saying that domestic violence doesn’t happen? No, quite the opposite. What I’m saying is that perpetrators are the source of the abuse, not the relationship. A “relationship” is a social construct- like time, money, fashion, or race- it cannot be the source of violence. It’s just a label we’ve given to something that we’ve ascribed meaning to based on our shared understanding of how we perceive our social reality. In other words, it has no agency. A relationship is no more able to be abusive than is time. Ow! 5PM, that hurt!
Is it just semantics?
Not to me. If we say that a relationship is abusive then that means that the relationship is the source of the abuse. If the relationship is the source of the abuse, then it means that both partners are being abused- or at the very least is it unclear who is being abused and who is abusing.
Side note: I am a word-nerd. There is something deeply satisfying about finding the perfect word to specifically describe what you need it to, and the word we are looking for right about now, is obfuscation:
Do you see what just happened?
By saying “abusive relationship” instead of “perpetrator” or “abuser,” we have shared out responsibility for the violence to both parties. This means the victim is now somewhat responsible for the violence and the perpetrator does not have to be held fully accountable for his/her actions.
A strategy of a perpetrator is to evade responsibility. They do this by:
minimising the abuse: acting like the violence wasn’t a big deal, oris being blown out of proportion;
denying the violence: acting like it didn’t happen;
excusing the abuse: acting like they should be permitted an allowance for their mistake because it was justified; or
blaming the victim for the abuse: holding the victim responsible for the abuse, by virtue of the view that the victim deserved it in some way or brought it on themselves.
This helps them to maintain their control and continue to be abusive. Perpetrators are enabled to be abusive because society largely supports them. I’m not saying people outrightly cheer them on or anything. It’s much more ingrained and much more subtle than that.
Small actions can have profound implications
It’s little things that show the abuser the way they are behaving isn’t that bad, like asking the victim what she was wearing when she was sexually assaulted- as if that had anything to do with it. It’s the constant message women are sent that they won’t be believed; that they are not worthy; that it’s partially (or solely) their fault- that it’s the “relationship” that is violent, so they kinda deserved what they got by virtue of being in the relationship. You know, because it’s so easy to leave and all. All of these tiny little beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that we’ve been socially trained to partake in, tell perpetrators that their behaviour isn’t that bad, that they’re kinda just victims in this whole thing because they’re basically entitled to dominate women that way.
So that’s why it makes my skin crawl- because it makes us colluders with abusers. It helps mask the violence, blame the victim, and protect the perpetrator.
The way we talk about stuff matters
Seems so minuscule, but the way that we use language- the way that we talk everyday, can either perpetuate inequality and injustice; or it can interrupt the attitudes, thoughts and actions that sustain and enable violence against women. Yes- your words make a difference! We have more power to disrupt domestic violence and create social change than we realise.
What do you reckon? Hit reply (below) and let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.