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Tracy, Betsy — Has “Feminism” Become a Bad Word?

Tracy, Betsy. “Has Feminism Become a Bad Word?”  02 Oct. 2014. Web.  02 Mar. 2015.

The word “feminism” became a hot topic in the year 2014, especially after actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, gave a HeForShe speech on gender equality in September. Utah multimedia journalist Betsy Tracy took to to give her insight on the topic. She explains the word feminism “means different things to different people. While some celebrities embrace it, others are careful not to. Some in Hollywood don’t have any reservations when it comes to answering a touchy question about a loaded question — Are you a feminist?” The author goes on to give several examples of celebrities who have spoken out on their status as a feminist.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt appeared on the “Ellen Show,” commenting about the subject. “I do call myself a feminist. Absolutely.” Others are a little more careful. “I wouldn’t say feminist, that’s too strong,” said “American Idol” singer Kelly Clarkson. “I think when people hear ‘feminist,’ it’s just like, ‘Get out of my way, I don’t need anyone.’” Amy Poehler and Miley Cyrus said yes, while Carrie Underwood said no. Katy Perry has evolved and Lily Allen hates the word. The varied answers show how loaded the word has become.

Tracy went on to interview a local professor, Susan Madsen, on her beliefs about the word feminism. Madsen said she believes “there’s this whole scope of feminism from those that really give it somewhat of a bad impression. If you believe women should have a voice, if you believe women and men should be equal in terms of pay, in terms of opportunities to run for office, in terms of all those things, then technically you are a feminist.”

Tracy pairs Madsen’s comment with statements from actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt on his similar beliefs on the meaning of feminism: “To me, it just means that your gender doesn’t have to define who you are, that you can be whatever you want to be, whoever you want to be regardless of your gender.” She also takes quotes from Emma Watson’s aforementioned speech: “Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.” Betsy Tracy ends the article with another quote from Watson: “And if you still hate the word,” Watson said, “it is not the word that’s important. It’s the idea and the ambition behind it.”

Recently there has been a lot of debate about the words feminist and feminism. When celebrities speak out about the issue, it generates even more conversation. In this article, Tracy does a good job of comparing the different reactions of famous people to the word feminist. Using Joseph Gordon-Levitt as one of the main feminists in the article effectively subverts the common idea that feminists are “women who hate men,” which is what I assume Kelly Clarkson was thinking when she stated the word feminist was “too strong.” Since celebrities are accessible and constantly in the public eye, they serve as role models for many people. If a celebrity says feminism is bad, then many of their fans are going to be inclined to blindly agree with them if they’ve never thought about the issue for themselves. When celebrities broadcast their opinions some people take those opinions to heart and register them as “true.” It is violent when masses blindly agree with their celebrity idol’s decisive opinions because it creates a bias and limits a person’s ability to think freely for themselves. This, in turn, can limit a movement as a whole. 

Because the word feminist has become aversive, many women forget what the word actually means in an effort to not be associated with the popular idea that feminists are sexist and hateful towards men. This idea stops women from working together to face the real issues of creating a world where women are equal when it comes to pay and opportunities to advance in society regardless of gender. People need each other to make change happen, and women should bond together instead of creating controversy and debate that halts the progress of any movement. By alienating “feminists” based on their own perception of what the word means, people regress instead of going forward towards equity and their potential to work together to create a better society. It is violence to hold people back from that better, more equal society. Instead of having celebrities and people debate over identifying with a word which has gained a loaded, controversial connotation, people should be taking in the message of the movement and working to make a change in society. As Emma Watson stated in her speech, “[It] is not the word that’s important. It’s the idea and ambition behind it.” It is nothing but violent to distract people from that idea and ambition and pit them against one another over a petty argument as to whether the word “feminist” is a “bad word” or not. 

–Ashley Stant

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Ryan, Kathryn M., and Jeanne Kanjorski — The Enjoyment of Sexist Humor, Rape Attitudes, and Relationship Aggression in College Students

Ryan, Kathryn M., and Jeanne Kanjorski. “The Enjoyment of Sexist Humor, Rape Attitudes, and Relationship Aggression in College Students.” Sex Roles 38.9-10 (1998): 743-756. Web. 12 Feb. 2015.

This study explored the relationship between rape supportive attitudes and the enjoyment of sexist humor, sexually coercive behavior, and dating violence in college age men and women (743). Researchers focused on certain attitudes that can be predictors of sexual aggression in men, including Rape Myth Acceptance, Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence, Adversarial Sexual Beliefs, and Hostility toward Women. Rape Myth Acceptance includes beliefs about who gets raped, whether women lie about being raped, whether women deserved to be raped, and who are possible rape victims (748). Adversarial Sexual Beliefs focus on the idea of women as deceitful and manipulative. Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence, in this study, refers to sexual acts that are targeted against women and the acceptance of such acts. Hostility toward Women includes acts of physical and sexual aggression. Combinations of these attitudes are correlated with college men admitting their own likelihood of forcing sex and self-reported sexual aggression. Amy Richlin, a distinguished scholar, is quoted in her own study for saying, “cultures where rape is a joke are cultures that foster rape.” Researchers based their study off Richlin’s idea and Freudian theories to determine whether a man’s enjoyment of sexist humor can lead to rape-supportive attitudes. Freud described two types of humor. Non-tendentious humor “includes ‘innocent’ jokes that involve word play, substitution, absurdity, and the like” (744). Tendentious humor has a sexual or hostile aim and can be used on potential sex partners to express desires or can be used in a hostile way to attack an individual or a group. Humor can also be used to express dominance in a group or to enforce norms. Sexual jokes and comments are the most common form of sexual harassment. It has been found that men prefer hostile forms of humor that target women, especially if the man shows aggressive tendencies. However, men and women are equally likely to tell sexual and aggressive jokes with the target of the joke being women or gay men (745). It is suggested that men bond through sexist humor because it is seen as erotic and not aggressive. Women tend to laugh at sexist jokes but it may not be because the jokes are actually funny. Not laughing at a sexist joke could imply that the woman lacks a sense of humor and is being defensive (746).

The researchers held two hypotheses: “Men will rate the sexist jokes as funnier, more acceptable, and less offensive than women; however, they will not be significantly more likely to tell the jokes” and “Men will show a positive correlation between the enjoyment of sexist humor and Rape Myth Acceptance, Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence, Adversarial Sexual Beliefs, the self-reported likelihood of forcing sex, and sexual and physical aggression against their dating partners” (746). Around 400 college students rated a list of ten jokes on how funny they were, how acceptable it was to tell the jokes, how offensive they were, and how likely they were to tell the jokes. On example of a joke used in the study was, “Why did the woman cross the road? —Hey!! What’s she doing out of the kitchen?” Another example is “What’s the difference between a woman and a light bulb? – You can unscrew the light bulb” (747). Results of this study confirmed the first hypothesis because women enjoyed the sexist jokes significantly less than men, but they were not less likely to tell the joke. Women also showed less likelihood of forcing sex on their partner and less sexual aggression but more physical and psychological aggression (750). The second hypothesis was also confirmed and the enjoyment of sexist humor was associated with the jokes’ acceptability, inoffensiveness, and the likelihood that the person would tell the jokes. This study concludes that sexist jokes are usually enjoyed by men who are hostile toward women and aggressive with their partners (752). Also, “women may be more attuned than men to the hostile nature of the jokes and the effect this hostility may have on an intended audience” (753) so they are less likely to tell sexist jokes. These researchers proposed a way to reduce sexual and physical relationship violence by reducing tolerance for sexist humor and rape-supportive ideals.

Richlin’s assertion — “cultures where rape is a joke are cultures that foster rape” – represents the basis of my research and it emphasizes the need for reducing the tolerance of sexist humor. This is difficult to do but it is the ultimate goal of this type of research. It was found in this study that women are still likely to tell sexist jokes but I think this is because they will be judged as prude or boring if they do not laugh along. College students have conformed to their peer groups in order to fit in so they are deeply influenced by others’ behaviors. This could be due to the immaturity of students and the likeliness to follow the pack just so they are well liked or considered popular. I found it not so surprising that men and women were equally likely to tell sexist jokes because women are conditioned to think that these jokes are acceptable, funny, and are what people like to hear. When girls tell these jokes to each other they are accepting the vulgarity and violent words used against them, making it seem as if they do not mind being degraded. I ultimately think that sexist jokes intensify the hostility and aggression already found in men and these feelings are directed toward women. In my own personal experience, I have heard male students talk about women in degrading ways, especially when a woman rejects their sexual advances. A girl is called a bitch and is snubbed by a boy when she is uninterested or says no, causing the male to get angry and going back to tell his friends about the interaction in his favor.

This article also makes me wonder whether sexist thoughts really start taking hold in college or if they start younger and if they continue on even after college. Would the reactions of college women after hearing a sexist joke be different than that of middle aged women? Are older men less accepting of these types of jokes? From a sociological standpoint, I think gender roles are socialized during youth and affirmed throughout life. To stand up for rape and sexual violence victims without blaming them goes against the socialized notion that women are inferior and sexual acts are a right to be demanded.

–Lacey Kondos

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Eisikovits, Zvi, and Eli Buchbinder — Talking Violent: A Phenomenological Study of Metaphors Battering Men Use

Eisikovits, Zvi, and Eli Buchbinder. “Talking Violent: A Phenomenological Study of Metaphors Battering Men Use.” Violence Against Women 3.5 (1997): 482-98.  Web.

This article researched how battering men justify their violent behavior using metaphors to describe their life and relationships. The authors begin by discussing the medium of language and how we use it to create a symbolic reality by ascribing meanings to objects and situations (482). Our social reality is created and revealed through our use of language. Our language is constructed through two structures: deep and surface. On one hand, “surface structure is a description of the sum of words as they are spoken, whereas deep structure relates to additional interpretive constructs, meanings, and emotional and attitudinal implications of what has been said.” Metaphors lie in the deep structure and create links between meanings of words and the hidden context. According to Eisikovits and Buchbinder, metaphors are seen as “mental constructs emerging in the mind of the constructor(s) to introduce and frame experiences.” When a violent man uses a metaphor to rationalize his actions, we can analyze the structure of it and the hidden meaning he is thus giving to intimate violence. By analyzing such metaphors, these researchers found that battering men minimized the frequency and severity of violence, minimized the consequences it had on women, and also denied responsibility and intent of violence. These men also tended to blame the victim for provoking violence or blamed environmental factors such as intoxication or unemployment (483). The authors define three types of images that explain how men account for their violence. One image is that violent men are “impulsive, nonreflective, uncontrolled, and even nonthinking.” Another is that they are consciously acting, controlled, and have clear awareness of the consequences of their acts. In the last image, men are seen as both willful and impulsive, conscious of their control yet experiencing a frightening loss of control, too (484).

A qualitative study was conducted from 1986 to 1989 in Northern Israel using 60 couples that had at least one reported incident of violence in the past year. Thirty-five of these couples were interviewed for two hours, answering questions that involved how conflicts emerge, are negotiated, what arguments result from conflicts, and the development/aftermath of a violent event (486). Three types of metaphors were distinguished from the study: “conflict and violence constructed and expressed in war metaphors, metaphors presenting the self as a dangerous space and as a locus of inner struggles, and metaphors of de-escalation and balancing” (487). For instance, a man who sees himself as helpless and threatened when faced with violence needs to defend himself from the “attacker.” An example of this war type metaphor would be “Everyone is digging in. Each in his own position. No one is willing to give in. There is no way out.” Another man said, “This is a war. Everyone is trying to fight his own battles” (487), which presents a mindset of having no victims or perpetrators—everyone is equal in the wrongdoing. A batterer who saw himself as explosive and uncontrollable thought that dissociating himself from his feelings by acting out with force was the way to handle an escalating situation. The use of metaphors like the following — “When I saw she discovered my weakness, I was forced to defend myself. I had to be strong so as to defend myself. So I went at her” (488) — can be taken as a sign of internal struggle. The last set of metaphors was that of balancing and de-escalation. Violence is a result of imbalance between partners: “I told her. You want to stop the fights? I mind my hands and you mind your mouth” (491). The man saw the mouth and hands as equal weapons so there is a shared responsibility in the violent conflict. The framework of analyzing metaphors “provides a logic to the way the men perceive the end of the violence and a rationale for making such choices in a seemingly chaotic world” (494).

This article points hard at the relationships between language and violence. Metaphors, especially, tell us how our hidden feelings and thoughts are brought to light in everyday conversation. Living on a college campus allows me to hear a plethora of offensive comments and jokes, including “That test raped me,” telling people to “go f*** themselves,” “let’s get f***ed up” when referring to alcohol consumption, “don’t be a little bitch,” etc. These metaphors represent violent ways to conceive of relationships, causing people to think that force is normal. The authors suggest that intervention in our uses of language and metaphors could lead to less violent thoughts and help us to rationalize actions in a more effective way. It was interesting to see how violent men justified their actions and put blame on the victim, saying that the violence could have been prevented if she had cooperated or just stopped talking. These types of metaphors can be found in media and music, especially with 50 Shades of Grey packaging and popularizing sadomasochism and bondage for mass consumption. Mainstream media has been promoting themes that are damaging and contributing to a rape-prone culture, like rape being humorous when it happens to men, sex as an uncontrollable urge for men, boys will be boys, and girls who are too drunk to consent are ideal for men. Victim blaming has also been an epidemic in the media and it is something I would like to focus more on. Assuming that girls like to be raped and blaming the victim for an incident if drinking was involved are damaging assumptions that make it harder for a victim to report the abuse. More work needs to be done to uncover a batterer’s mental processes and how he or she got socialized into thinking that violence is the answer.

— Lacey Kondos

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Angelone, D.J., Richard Hirschman, Sarah Suniga, Michael Armey, and Aaron Armelie — The Influence of Peer Interactions on Sexually Oriented Joke Telling

Angelone, D.J., Richard Hirschman, Sarah Suniga, Michael Armey, and Aaron Armelie. “The Influence of Peer Interactions on Sexually Oriented Joke Telling.” Sex Roles 52.3-4 (2005): 187-99. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.

The article starts off defining peer sexual harassment behaviors to include sexual joke telling, sexually offensive comments, teasing, sexual looks, sexual innuendoes, obscenities, and unwanted touching or kissing (187). According to numerous self-report surveys, sexual harassment is rampant on university campuses among college students. Few laboratory studies have been conducted with college populations that involve controlled variables, however, so these researchers are focusing on what behaviors lead to peer sexual harassment in a lab setting. They then explain the concept of organizational culture, which refers to symbols and norms within a group that determine behaviors in a certain context. Further, “the particular environmental norms established within the organizational culture influence the organizational members’ interpretations of acceptable and unacceptable sexually oriented behaviors.” The college environment is sexually charged and sexual behaviors are often encouraged through parties, clubs, and organizations. Perpetrators are more likely to engage in sexually harassing behaviors, like sexual joke telling, “because of the ambiguity regarding appropriate behavior in a particular organizational culture” (188), especially that of a college campus. The authors summarize four possible model explanations of sexual harassment behaviors: natural sexual attraction and sex drive; sexual harassment as a result of characteristics created by an organization; inherent status difference between men and women; and sexual harassment as a result of individual personalities (189).

Researchers conducted two laboratory experiments, the first designed to examine the effects of peer interactions on sexually oriented joke telling and whether or not a peer engaging in sexually impositional behavior influenced an observing peer. In it, male college students “are given the opportunity to tell sexually oriented jokes to a female student confederate under the guise of a project on humor” (190). The number of sexually oriented jokes was recorded, as well as the females’ reactions to the jokes. As a result, males who were exposed to male peers who partook in sexually harassing behavior were more likely to tell sexual jokes to females than males who were exposed to peers that did not show sexually harassing behavior (187). In Experiment 2, male participants were asked to watch a video clip of a stand-up comedian and had to rate a list of jokes from most funny to least funny. Male participants were paired up with another control male who was in on the experiment and was either sexist or nonsexist. Then the male participant had to choose to tell certain jokes to female participants, however many they wanted to. The results suggest that male students “who were exposed to a male peer who was seemingly sexist in his interaction with them, subsequently told significantly more sexually oriented jokes to an unknown female peer than did male students exposed to a male peer who was seemingly nonsexist in his interactions with them” (187). These experiments tell us that peer interaction has a big influence on behaviors, especially when there is exposure to sexist tendencies.

This study is exceptional in that it was done in a controlled environment and variables could be manipulated. The findings are useful for my research and confirm that people are undeniably influenced by their peers and will do almost anything to be accepted by the group. There can be multiple ways to explain sexual harassment behaviors and what leads to them and I think these researchers have a firm understanding of them, but they also do realize that there are limitations to this study. Girls might not have been offended by some of the raunchy jokes because they may hear them all the time on a college campus—they are acclimated to the humor of college age students. This shows how rape jokes are normalized in today’s youth culture and how getting rid of the sexual harassment culture will be a group effort that begins with one person positively influencing another. Participants may have felt pressured to respond in a way that they thought the researchers would want them to, thus skewing results. Personality also needs to be taken into account and spontaneous actions that occur in real life may distort results as well. Exposure to sexually harassing behavior can be violent for the participants as well because it influenced their behaviors in a negative way and could possibly have an effect on future actions too. However, this scenario could also happen in real life and the male participants would have reacted to their peers in a similar way. There are always ethical risks involved with experiments and the risk of violent language exposure could limit a person’s potential and influence them to be more violent unintentionally. This is a great baseline study but I would like to move more towards observations on real life situations and overall trends found in peer influence and sexual harassment. I may also want to narrow my focus to college campuses, as they are becoming a hotspot for sexually impositional behavior.

–Lacey Kondos

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Menke, Christopher — Law and Violence

Menke, Christopher.  “Law and Violence.”  Law and Literature 22.1 (2010): 1-17.

The law presents itself as a beneficial action in which certain codes of conduct are created in order to generate peaceful outcomes.  Menke, however, contends that the law is actually categorically violent in nature.  He writes that “There is no law […] without violence.” Law may end the violence that systems like revenge and the “state of nature” tend to promote, he notes, but the law “continues it in a different way” (2). Menke argues that the law, in many cases, commits the same violence as revenge “in practice” by threatening individuals with its method of judging, through its promotion of “self-destructive self-condemnation” (6). The law causes individuals to evaluate the choices that they have made, in coherence with the laws that have been established, and to hold themselves accountable (judge themselves) under the tyranny of the written law.  Menke states “law de-subjectivizes precisely because it demands that the perpetrator judge himself.” “One stays imprisoned forever,” he notes, “by the self-sentencing to which one is cursed by law; precisely because it has been one’s own deed, nothing can pardon it” (7). Menke cites Walter Benjamin — who maintains that “Lawmaking is power making, and, to that extent, an immediate manifestation of violence” — to suggest that political leaders and legislatures create laws to keep citizens restrained by legal judgments and accusations (10).  The law is a categorical system of violence: the “fateful violence of law consists in the acts of legal judgment and punishment being transparent for no other purpose than the sheer preservation of law’s power to judge and punish” (11).  The law is a perpetual system in which the common public continues to judge themselves and make themselves susceptible to the threats that the law provides should they break the law. In sum, Menke writes, “the law must take sides, must sentence and punish” (12).

Menke’s argument raises numerous questions.  If the law serves as a curse for those it applies to, is there any way to break this curse? If the law serves to govern the people, but only through threats and self-destructive and self-inflicted blame, can we truly call this “governing”? Or is this more of a system of degradation in an effort to continue a comfortable political order that will maintain the power established by the legislatures and law makers?  The law is normally recognized as establishing boundaries and regulations in order to keep the common public safe. However, if the law works primarily through violence, it is hard to see it as primarily beneficial. The law works because citizens are fearful of the consequences should they get caught breaking a law.  Is there a method with which laws might be created and worded that might be less violent, that would result in a system that does rely on self-destructive self-condemnation to maintain order?

–Tyler Brown



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Goodin, Robert E. — Terrorizing Democracy

Goodin, Robert E.  “Terrorizing Democracy” and “Conclusions.”  What’s Wrong with Terrorism?  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006.  156-186.  Print.

One of the most influential and contemporary ideas associated with violence is that of terrorism.  The author, Robert Goodin, explores the implications of what exactly “terrorism” is and what it seeks to gain. Goodin defines terrorism as acting with the intention of frightening people for a political advantage (156).  This definition is then applied to our political leaders to show how they, too, use this method of fear to manipulate the public in an effort to meet their political agendas.  Goodin contends that “the wrongness of terrorism would have to be couched in terms of the wrongness of the inventions of the person creating these mental states in us.” Furthermore, he asserts, that politicians frequently take “political advantage of people’s fears” and manipulate “people’s fears in ways that rebound to [their] political advantage” (157).  This tactic has shown to be an incredibly effective political tool in that it causes rational people to make decisions that they normally would not make.  As Goodin puts it, “People who are terrified do not reason clearly.” Terrorism, he notes, thus has “the effect of undermining people’s capacity for autonomous self-government, both individually and collectively” (158). Given Galtung’s definition of violence as anything that limits or prevents people from reaching their full human potential, the use of fear to gain political advantage is easily understood, then, as a form of violence since it limits or prevents their capacity for autonomous self-government.

The rhetorical violence that Goodin is illuminating is often hidden or construed as building morale, as matters of “reassuring people,” attempting to convince them that “that matters are in hand” (161), and promoting the idea the government has the situation under control (169).  This nonetheless causes the public to become fearful of an alternative force that could threaten the stability of the state. Goodin states his case quite clearly: in his post 9/11 speeches, “President Bush was clearly himself acting with the intention of instilling fear of terrorism to advance his own political agenda,” which “would count as an act of terrorism in itself” (170).

Goodin expands his analysis to matters of written law, contending that the fear of punishment can be used as a political tool and thus be classified as terrorism. Laws induce fear in the public, just as terrorism does, by “threatening people with criminal sanctions.” As Goodin notes, “even in decent liberal states of the ordinary sort, people comply with the law in part out of ‘fear of punishment’” (175).

In sum, political leaders’ uses of language can be forms of violence comparable to that of terrorism. “Terrorists who plant bombs,” Goodin says, are comparable to “democratic politicians who stoke peoples’ fears for their own political advantage (p. 159).

Political leaders have been placed (or place themselves in certain circumstances) into positions of power that allow them to be the most influential people on the planet, both by their actions and their language. If, as the sources of the law, they are not above systemic kinds of violence, is it possible for the law to not be violent? If the manner by which support for laws and legislation is gained involves violent practices and language, does this make the law, too, inherently violent?  

When one considers the term “terrorism,” one generally cannot help but associate it with physically violent and sporadic attacks that result in death and physical harm.  When the word “terrorism” is used to describe political language, though, as Goodin does, it powerfully illuminates the violent means politicians use to manipulate and worry the public into supporting the legislation and laws that they promote.  This shows that before a law even becomes a law, violence is used in order to make the law come into fruition.

How, then, might a politician gain support for a policy without the use of violence? Is this terrorism and violence simply a necessary characteristic of the process?

–Tyler Brown


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Walzer, Michael — Moral Reality of War

Walzer, Michael. “Moral Reality of War.” Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. New York: Basic Books, 2006. Print.

This first section of Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars includes two prefaces written years apart.  Through these, Walzer notes a disheartening lack of evolution in the state of aggression.  “The world is no less violent,” since he first wrote his book in 1977.  Since then, the “language of just war theory” has developed through its manipulation by “legitimate and illegitimate rulers alike.”

In the first part of Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer describes the way anger and violence are shaped by the words made available by previous generations of men and women and, while it would be ideal that we have no need for this vocabulary, we must appreciate that we have it at our disposal.  “Without this vocabulary,” he writes, “we could not have thought about the Vietnam War as we did, let alone have communicated our thoughts to other people.”

The language we use to talk passionately of love and war, two ever-connected concepts, contains more moral meaning than maybe any other language, which Walzer believes could only have developed over centuries of argument: “Faithfulness, devotion, chastity, shame, adultery, seduction, betrayal; aggression, self-defense, appeasement, cruelty, ruthlessness, atrocity, massacre – all these words are judgments, and judging is as common a human activity as loving or fighting.”

Strategy is the other language of war: entrapment, retreat, flanking maneuver, concentration of forces.  According to Walzer, “Strategy, like morality, is a language of justification,” used by those officials who must turn these words into violent actions without which we would have no “coherent” way to discuss war.

Walzer provides examples of the language of war from completely different time periods and cultures.  Karl von Clausewitz described war as the escalation of “reciprocal action.”  Thucydides and Thomas Hobbes believe it to be “a necessity of nature.”  John Ruskin conceptualized war as “that in which the natural restlessness and love of contest are disciplined, by consent, into modes of beautiful – though it may be fatal – play.”

Walzer contends that the rules of engagement now include a rhetorically manipulated ban on war.  As an example, Walzer points out that the United Nations does not use the word “war,” only “aggression,” “self-defense,” and “international employment.”  Walzer leaves no doubt that words cause war and continuously fuel it.  He writes that “Harsh words are the immediate sanctions of the war convention, sometimes accompanied or followed by military attacks, economic blockades, reprisals […] and, finally, it is the words that are decisive – the ‘judgment of history.’”

The range of historical evidence Walzer employs to support his concept of rhetorically controlled violence solidifies its validity.  That being said, he surely has only brushed the surface, especially if his theory is that this vocabulary has developed over generations of evolution on the tongues of our ancestors. If the words we use to describe violence were made available by the generations before us, where and when did they actually originate?  In order to change these terms must we first understand more about how they originated and developed?

The words at our disposal to describe acts of violence must be analyzed and understood.  They were left by previous generations and, without them, we would have no way to communicate our thoughts to other people. But to whom must these violent concepts be communicated?  Those involved in combat already understand.  Does Walzer mean this language benefits those living in blissful ignorance of war?  How does strategic vocabulary such as “flanking maneuver” and “concentration of forces” work in this regard, for instance?

Walzer is obviously in support of changing the direction of development of the rhetoric of violene.  He believes young men face “the Grim Reaper in uniform, armed with a sword instead of a scythe.”  They are led to this point by words — words chosen to describe the violence we need to be protected from, words that encourage the same kinds of violence upon others.

– Libby Howe

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Rousculp, Tiffany — Evolving a Discursive Ecology: A Rhetoric of Respect

Rousculp, Tiffany. “Evolving a Discursive Ecology: A Rhetoric of Respect.” Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center. Urbana, IL: Conference on College Composition and Communication, National Council of Teachers of English, 2014. Print.

According to Rousculp, a rhetoric of respect, an idea she developed within the culture of her Community Writing Center (CWC) in Utah, focuses on maintaining “a solid faith in a potential partner’s own capability and their agency to determine what they needed or wanted.” In this sense, in the context of tutoring, it is essential for tutors to go into appointments with “blank” intentions, not allowing “their own opinions or backgrounds to rush into the foreground of the client’s own ideas” (27).

Rousculp then touches on the “systemic discrimination” of language and how the social order in which an individual is born within determines their “available resources, including language, material culture, social interests” (28). She discusses James Gee and his definition of literacy being not an activity in which promotes a specific skill (reading and writing) but rather an ideology. In this light, she notes the hegemony of literacy and language, which regulate “the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion,” and how this leads to discrimination through the multiple literacies within education and school systems (29). Rousculp’s Community Writing Centers thus tries to encourage a different definition of literacy, one that is flexible and depends on the person, but is also empowering and makes anyone’s writing, regardless of how “good,” valuable (29).

Rousculp then emphasizes the idea that mainstream versions of literacy fail to “recognize nonmainstream capabilities and intelligences” (33). She details the struggles within her job, understanding that her obligations were to “dialogue, to collaborate, to facilitate [the students’] work toward goals” within their own area of study, not to restrict and tell them exactly what they needed to do in order to reach those requirements (41). These tensions led Rousculp to develop the idea of a rhetoric of respect to “provide a flexible environment in which people could determine their own needs and wants for writing, a place where perhaps people could become ‘self-sponsored’ in their literacy development” (45).

As Rousculp indicates, the promotion of a single autonomous literacy as a means of control is a violent act because it limits the potential of those who are not born into the social order associated with that literacy. Even though our education system seems to promote (to a degree) a sense of individuality, the very ways in which we try to express ourselves (speech, writing, reading) are regulated to meet certain criteria of a specific, more “powerful” literacy. I immediately think of Whorfian linguistic determinism, and how those who learn English as a Second Language are stifled when they cannot completely express themselves in the “proper literacy of the global world.” In regard to language and nonviolence, is a universal language or literacy a worthy goal? Although I do understand the need for empathy, and that language can be a bridge to understanding another’s trials and interpreting their experiences through our own, it seems as if the idea of promoting a global language is ultimately a move of imperialism and superiority, not necessarily a move of peace. In fact, a majority of conflicts throughout the world seem to be created either through something lost in translation or through the imposition of the ideals of one group onto another. Promoting the use of English in less developed countries is a very ethnocentric act.  

Rousculp’s discursive ecology, known as a rhetoric of respect, is a strong way to promote the fuller potential in others, for it seems to seek creating harmony through promoting multiple interpretations. It is also an idea that could promote the possibility of writing and language to promote nonviolence and conflict resolution, rather than aggression and intolerance. The oppressive acts built into the system have created the potential for rhetoric of respect to grow: so what other positive outcomes, I wonder, could these violent acts towards individual expression promote?

–Madiera Dennison

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Papuvac, Vanessa — Righting Babel: Translation as Cultural Transfusion or Cultural Violence

Papuvac, Vanessa. “Righting Babel: Translation as Cultural Transfusion or Cultural Violence.” Language Rights: From Free Speech to Linguistic Governance. Nottingham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 99-119. Print.

In Vanessa Papuvac’s chapter titled “Righting Babel? Translation as Cultural Transfusion or Cultural Violence,” the author investigates the tensions of translation studies through the conflicting goals of language advocacy and language governance. According to Papuvac, language advocates want to “enforce global language identity rights to protect languages against globalization and Global English,” while governance “implies increased cross-language communication.” She references the discussion of the biblical Babel in Genesis, which envisions a world of one language and its possible value to the harmony of humanity: “If as one people speaking the same language, they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” (99). The biblical myth is discussed frequently in this debate and Papuvac uses its correlation to investigate the validity of both theoretical arguments: is translation a means of establishing global harmony, or a means of “destabilizing cultural and linguistic identities” (100).

Papuvac first discusses the early theoretical belief of translation as a harmonious act, for it allows not only the interpretation of an idea in multiple languages, but also the possibility of communicating thoughts into words. In this regard, translation is therefore a common ordinary occurrence, and that “it is merely more obvious in the translation across languages” (101). Papuvac further argues that the all who communicate must have a level of trust in one’s translation of a thought, even if interpretations of an idea will differ from person to person (103).  In this case, multiple translations of a meaning will actually increase correspondence and common ground amongst those in society.  This idea grows from the belief of humans having a universality of spirit, and that spirit is the means by which we understand one another, not words or language. For example, since poetry embodies the human spirit, meaning it can be understood by anyone as an expression of the trials of humanity, multiple translations merely improve the essence of its meaning (107).

However, this idea of translation merely expressing universal ideas is fading due to its disregard for the cultural contexts of those ideals. Although translation might promote the universality of ideas to be understood by any individual, regardless of their cultural paradigm, it is still deemed oppressive since the structure of a language affects and reflects the ways in which its respective speakers conceptualize their world, making theorists concerned over “the cultural and linguistic defilement” created by translation (109). These ideas support the Whorfian theory of linguistic determinism, and, in regards to language advocacy, promote supporting minority languages in developing their own lexicons rather than simply adapting to English (110). Cultural exchange should be promoted rather than translation. Further, current thinking understands “the pursuit of knowledge as imperialism,” making translating no longer a means of creating harmony, but instead one of “creating cultural and linguistic harm” (113).  Still, while many want to preserve languages of minorities to allow their connection to nature and man-to-man, there are many who work within the field of governance as translators in conflict zones to promote peace (119).

The idea of translation being a violent process is something I find extremely interesting, especially when looking towards cultural exchange and its importance in promoting conflict resolution and peace, rather than aggression and oppression. I see validity in both theoretical positions: while translation can be a means of bridging a gap of understanding with others, it can also disregard the context of the language or writing within its cultural sphere. For instance, while we promote programs that support learning minority languages in order to preserve those cultures, we also promote the study of English in the majority of less-developed countries in order for them to become active members in the globalized economy and culture. But on both sides, what are the costs? There must be a means in which translation can both ameliorate communication between different cultures, while also preserving the autonomy of an individual to choose to learn and use a particular language.

Several questions come to mind: Can empathy be achieved in translation? Can it be created by translation? Does the violence of translation depend on the person or institution that decides to wield it? Also, even though the idea of universality of language due to translation seems to be waning in popularity, might advances in neuroscience and nonviolent communication give it a new basis and emphasis? Could translation be a vehicle of nonviolence, empowerment, and empathy?  And can there ever be actual common ground between language advocacy and language governance, or will they always be so contradictory?

Madiera Dennison

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Young, Iris Marion — The Ideal of Impartiality and the Civic Public

Young, Iris Marion. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University, 1990. Print.

In this annotation, I focus on one chapter from Young’s book: “The Ideal of Impartiality and the Civic Public.” In this chapter, Young draws from Adorno and Derrida in her deconstruction of the “logic of identity,” which she defines as “an urge to think things together, to reduce them to unity” (98). The “logic of identity” is problematic because it “denies or represses difference,” “turns the merely different into the absolute other,” and “generates dichotomy instead of unity” (98). She explores a false dichotomy which pertains to morality: universal (impartial)/ particular (partial) in which universal or impartial morals are privileged. Young deconstructs the ideal of moral impartiality, which she contends “generates a dichotomy between universal and particular, public and private, reason and passion” (97). She argues that the notion of universal, impartial morals is a utopian impossibility: “[i]t is impossible to adopt an unsituated moral point of view, and if a point of view is situated, then it cannot be universal, it cannot stand apart from and understand all points of view” (104).  In fact, this touted practice of impartiality actually “masks the ways in which the particular perspectives of dominant groups claim universality, and helps justify hierarchical decisionmaking structures” (99).

Young refers to this notion of impartiality/ objectivity as “the view from nowhere,” which is a dangerous concept.  While this dominant view gazes at and controls subjects, it is free from anyone’s gaze and has, in essence, unrestricted power.  It purports universality, but it practices a very partial, oppressive viewpoint.  Characterizing this view from nowhere, Young asserts that “[m]oral reason that seeks impartiality tries to reduce the plurality of moral subjects and situations to a unity by demanding that moral judgment be detached, dispassionate, and universal” (102).  The real danger of the ideal of impartiality is that it “serves ideological functions. It masks the ways in which the particular perspectives of dominant groups claim universality, and helps justify hierarchical decisionmaking structures” and, thus, is in opposition to participatory democracy (97).

In this chapter, Young also approaches the public/ private binary, as it refers to traditional gender roles. She contends that the public sphere—the privileged sphere—has historically (and contemporarily) been associated with men, work, and reason; while, the private, domestic sphere has been associated with women, domesticity, and bodily desire. Young points out that this binary becomes particularly problematic when those of the private sphere, i.e. women, are secluded from public parity and, thus, public decisions. She contends that these dichotomies were created purposefully, explaining that “[m]odern political theorists and politicians proclaimed the impartiality and generality of the public and at the same time quite consciously found it fitting that some persons namely women, nonwhites and sometimes those without property should be excluded from participation in that public” (109). Young, does envision a well-working society which privileges multiple, partial perspectives and does not attempt to universalize differences. She asserts that “[i]nstead of a fictional contract, we require real participatory structures in which actual people, with their geographical, ethnic, gender, and occupational differences, assert their perspectives on social issues within institutions that encourage the representation of their distinct voices” (116).

A quote from this chapter that is particularly intriguing for me is: “the ideal of impartiality serves ideological functions. It masks the ways in which the particular perspectives of dominant groups claim universality, and helps justify hierarchical decisionmaking structures” and, thus, is in opposition to participatory democracy (97). Young’s conception of impartiality can be applied to educational literacy standards. In the US, literacy standards operate under the assumption that “standard” written English is impartial, moral, and unbiased. However, the assumption of impartiality, as Young asserts, represents the partiality of—and helps justify—“hierarchical decisionmaking structures.” Language is perhaps the most prominent marker of race and class; thus, embedded in these ostensibly impartial standards are assumptions about race, class, and gender. So, students who grow up submerged in the dominant linguistic code enter the classroom “prepared,” while the rest of the students are not. The worst part is that those othered students, as well as their parents, are then blamed for their seeming lack of preparedness. They are marked as lacking necessary skills to survive in a competitive educational atmosphere, and they must be fixed, i.e. their difference must be “denied or repressed” (Young 98).       

Young’s argument can also be applied to accountability standards, which force students to demonstrate mastery over the aforementioned literacy standards through standardized testing. In their chapter of the book Defending Public Schools, David Hursh and Camille Martina contend that “[a]ccountability […] is about authority—who has it, who does not, and how it is exercised. […] The hegemony of accountability derives from the use of standardization to promote the interests of corporate-political elites, although often under the guise of the public good” (100). Impartiality is about power. The “corporate-political elites” are far from working for “the public good”; they are instead working in their own interests. As Young says, impartiality serves ideological functions.  In his essay, “Ideological State Apparatuses,” Louis Althusser explains how ideology functions in education: he contends that in a capitalist society the educational Ideological State Apparatus (ISA)—the dominant ISA—enforces rules which create a “reproduction of labour power” but also “a reproduction of  [the working class’s] submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers” (132). Thus, the notion of impartiality, as Young describes it, enacts linguistic violence on these students whose language marks them as “other” to the dominant standards.   

–Katie Garahan

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