Language and Violence Against Women and Girls: Patriarchal Control Over Language and Sexual Terrorism

Christine M. Plumeri, SUNY Brockport

This paper grew out of a literature review I conducted for a presentation I gave for "Stamp Out Sexism Day" on the campus at which I currently teach criminal justice. Using Sheffield's (1987) work on "sexual terrorism" as my theoretical foundation in radical feminism, I focus on examples and available data to examine whether patriarchal control over language is related to male violence against women and girls. For example, words like "bitch" and "whore" are gender-specific, acceptable language in our society used to negatively describe females who are assertive and/or who are sexually experienced. Males are expected to be assertive and sexually experienced, thus there are no blatantly negative gender-specific terms to describe them as such. Futher, an expression such as "who wears the pants in the family?" implies that males (i.e., the traditional wearer of "pants") are to be the "heads of households" and/or "king of their castles". Females who exert power within the nuclear family structure often face this question (as do their husbands/partners) in the form of a criticism, insult and/or, in some cases, violence.

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Updated 05/20/2006