Language Matters

Having now had time to ponder the comments made by Detroit Tigers’ Manager Brad Ausmus, I find what troubles me just as much as his statement, and maybe even more so, was the laughter that this “joke” received by those in the room. Listening to the tape, I would label some of the laughter as the rather hearty type. Apparently some in the room found the joke rather funny.

What if the reaction had been that of silence? What if no one found the joke funny? What if the very next question was to call Ausmus out on the inappropriateness? We have all been quick to jump on Ausmus, but sadly he was just playing to his crowd. We unfortunately live in a culture that condones sexism, misogyny, and violence against women. “Jokes” are still told and those of us who are offended are told to lighten up.

I am, even after all these years, still surprised, how many men will make inappropriate statements to me after they learn where I work. Frequently it is some version of….”well you better not talk to my wife, boy does she have stories to tell…ha ha” or “my wife beats me all the time, maybe you can help me…ha ha ha.” Not Funny.

Why say it?

They say it just like Ausmus did – because they can. Because our culture allows it, because it so frequently “works” with a round of laughter.

I recall a survivor in a video we did for HAVEN a number of years ago. She shared how after she had been both physically and sexually abused that she, with a broken arm, returned to class. Her classmates “jokingly” said to her, what happened did your boyfriend beat you up? Up until that point she hadn’t shared her situation with anyone but opted at that moment to state the truth, so she said yes, as a matter of fact he did. And what do you think happened? Do you think someone said ‘wow that’s awful’ or ‘how can I help you’? No. She was greeted with a hearty ‘yeah right’ and laughter.

Instead of feeling supported, instead of being able to ask for help, the laughter reinforced her need to remain silent.

Language matters. And ‘jokes’ aren’t always very funny. So instead of asking me to ‘lighten up’ it is time to strive to change the culture and to stand up to all forms of violence against women.

 

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