Words hurt: how changing language can help end domestic violence

Kinderling News & Features

There are many, many phrases used in the English language that connect an action or personality trait with gender. ‘He throws like a girl’, ‘She’s a bossy boots’ and ‘He’s a mummy’s boy’ are all things that we’ve said and heard frequently.

But have you ever thought that all these sayings do is put someone down? And aren’t necessary whatsoever?

White Ribbon Day is this Saturday 25 November, and ambassador and former principal Dale Palmer believes that in order to break the cycle of domestic violence, we need to raise our kids without the gendered language that is everywhere.

How can we make a difference in something so culturally entrenched, and still raise our families to embrace all genders truly equally?

Make a change

One of the hardest things Dale says that we have to do is to teach good people, who don’t commit domestic violence, that parts of their everyday language are not helpful at all: That more often than not these phrases are insidisous and harmful.

“If we keep condoning a society where we’re using language that is disrespectful towards women, it’s misogynistic, we’re condoning a society that, at the end of the line, is condoning domestic violence. The simple message is that it’s better if you don’t say that stuff,” Dale says.

Listen to Dale on Kinderling Conversation:

“What you’re doing is reinforcing messages of gender inequality, victim blaming, male privilege, and it’s very subtle. And I get when someone says, ‘we’re so politically correct, we can’t say this, I can’t say that’. Bottom line is, we don’t need to be saying those things.”

Look to the future

Phrases that belittle women teaches boys that they’re better, and it makes girls feel useless. Using such language doesn’t teach anything productive.

“Even as young as primary school young boys are looking through a gendered lens, because we don’t live in an equal society. As much as people want to say it, we don’t because [if we did] we wouldn’t have up to two women a week dying from domestic violence.”

The other thing to remember is that “it’s not about you,” Dale explains. “It’s about them and how they’re going to grow up. And they need your guidance. You’re not surrendering to political correctness… it’s just about giving your kids better language to use. You don’t need to put people down when you’re making a point.”

So much of this is habit. Change your speech, so your child follows your example in their life.

Start talking

“As kids get older, I think it’s really important that we start to unpick the everyday language that we have,” Dale says. “The most important place we can teach it is the dining room table.”

For young boys, we need to teach them respectful language towards girls. “We’re asking young men now not to stand around. To be active bystanders, to call it out,” Dale adds.

Talking about emotions is also a big part of this, let boys know that it’s okay to have feelings, show emotion and to cry.

For girls, talk about knowing where their line is, and knowing when to speak up. Make girls feel strong and empower them to stand up for themselves by saying, ‘I don’t like it when you say that.’

We need to build leadership into our young kids in this area. Empower them, give them the language to stand up, speak out and call it.

Dale emphasises that it’s never too late to start. How about today?