We no longer use racial slurs, which were used to debase and promote violence against ethnic groups in years past. For the same reason, I'm encouraging everyone to stop using the word "whore" and two other words that promote violence against women.
I hope you'll take a moment to highlight and debate this important subject in your community, particularly on Nov. 25, 2014, which is the International Day to End Violence Against Women.
3 Words That Promote Violence Against Women
And here's why we should avoid using these words...
1. Whore.When we classify women by their sexual habits -- or the rumors of what those habits are -- we are promoting verbal violence, which is very often the spark that sexual and physical violence need to erupt into flame. In some cultures, women are still stoned for having sex outside of marriage, or married off to their rapist to save the family's "honor." While stoning isn't part of our culture, there are religions here in the United States who condemn women to hell and promote verbal and emotional violence against women by ostracizing and labeling them in society. Women are still condemned when they should be comforted and counseled; violence is promoted, escalated and rarely prosecuted when these condemnations occur.
2. Slut. For the same reasons that the word whore is a problem. Just as there were dozens of ways to put down ethnic groups in the past, there remain countless words that debase women. How many words can you think of that debase men for their sexuality?
3. Bitch. We don't often think of this insult as violence against women, but in the context of work, it is an effective weapon for sidelining talented, ambitious women. Does this rise to the level of violence? Perhaps not as often as whore and slut do. However, any word that you can imagine coming out of someone's mouth as a curse word, which is the way that bitch is often used, is emotional violence -- which can easily escalate into physical violence and other types of abuse.
Why is this subject so important to me?
As a 12-year-old virgin, I was raped by a malicious predator (who had raped many other young girls). I was pronounced a whore, and then disfellowshipped from my church for committing the sin of adultery, which was next to murder, according to the bishop. No one asked me to even describe my rapist. No effort at all was made to stop this man from committing rape against other women, or to prosecute him for raping a 12-year-old girl. Sadly, the label of whore, and how that affected my psyche in the years to come, was far more damaging than the rape itself. This kind of judgment, name-calling and ostracism has no place in our world and must be eliminated in order to end violence against women.
Why would I choose to let the world know of this shameful past? Certainly not because I enjoy reliving it. I can tell you that.
There is something that Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams said that resonates with me. "The thing that started the peace movement in Ireland was anger -- my anger. It wasn't anger, it was fury."
Anger is a fantastic fuel. It is the dis-ease and fire I often use to create lasting, positive change in my life. I think, "This SUCKS!! I HATE THIS!!!" and that sparks my thrust out of what is wrong for me, into that which is more right. I could choose to hide and ignore the injustice that was done to me years ago. Or I can drag this ugliness into the light, ask all of us to look at it, to kick it about in our conversations and to, perhaps, come to the conclusion that I've come to. The words whore, slut and bitch debase women and promote violence, and should be avoided, if not eliminated, in our speech.
This is why I told my personal story of rape and disfellowship in greater detail in my new book, The Gratitude Game. It happened to me, and it is still happening to other young women today. Not far away in the Middle East, in some extreme religion. Right here, in mainstream religions, under our noses.
It's time to break the cycle of violence, which is often codified in church doctrines, even here, even now. And part of breaking that cycle of violence, particularly this week, on November 25, 2014 on International End the Violence Against Women Day, is to accept the challenge to eliminate violence against women from our speech.