The Problem With Passivity: Sexual Assault Against Women Is A Men's Issue

feminism, politics

The passive way in which we talk about sexual violence against women shifts the blame away from the perpetrators.

By now, you've probably seen your newsfeeds flooded with #MeToo stories from victims of sexual assault coming forward about their experiences.

The topic of sexual assault normally centers around women — who make up the vast majority of reported victims. But one man has singlehandedly shifted the conversation — and the onus for change — toward men.

A poignant and powerful TEDTalk quote from Jackson Katz calling out the responsibility of men to end sexual violence against women has gone viral:

"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!"

Katz makes an eye-opening point: The power of language and the passive voice has placed the responsibility of ending sexual assault on the victims — on women — instead of addressing the men who are most often the perpetrators of sexual violence against them.

To be clear, violence and rape also happen to men and boys who are less likely to report it due to stigmatization and socially constructed gender norms. The shift in language from passive to active should include them as well.

Unfortunately, blaming victims and minimizing the trauma they have suffered is much easier than holding people (especially those in power) accountable.

It is time we stop burdening survivors with the task of ending rape culture and start shifting the burden onto those who are perpetrating it.