• New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (AP)
Language is part of the structural violence against women and minorities. It enables it. It feeds it. It allows it to be normalised.
Sarah Malik

16 Aug 2019 - 12:03 PM  UPDATED 16 Aug 2019 - 2:17 PM


Words matter. 

It's something women survivors of domestic violence know more than most. Many of the survivors I've interviewed say more than the physical violence, the scars that are the hardest to erase are the mental and emotional wounds. 

It's this slow grinding abuse and degradation that really wears you down, they say - the belittling comments, the gradually grounding into dust of one's self-esteem, dignity and self-worth. It is this emotional destruction that enables the other violence.

The power of incendiary words is something right wing radio 'shock' jock Alan Jones knows only too well. This is a man who's racially charged invective against Lebanese Muslims fuelled Australia's 2005 Cronulla race riots. A man who glibly used the 'n' word online, and in 2011 fantasised about Australia's first female Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard being "put in a chaff bag and thrown into the sea".

This time he's exporting his misogyny overseas, suggesting on air that PM Scott Morrison - when he meets New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern - should "shove a sock down her throat", in reference to her stance on climate change.

Powerful women are often the misogynist's worst nightmare, because they point to a world where gender equality disables their violence. It's no wonder female leaders from both sides of the political spectrum cop disproportionate hatred - from 'the squad' in US Congress being told to 'go back home' or Julie Bishop lamenting gender deafness in politics. 

Jones' bile was glibly retracted, but the damage was done.  

These women are bosses and are not unused to dealing with male hatred. But these extreme right wing figures know exactly how to test the water and push the line by keeping gross outdated racial and misogynist slurs in the mainstream public arena. The extreme pushes a new middle ground, where we become inured to daily structural violence against women and minorities, from pay parity to everyday racism and sexism.  

It's not an accident that misogyny and racism are interlinked, and those who appear to despise powerful women like Jones, also trade in racism and stirring hatred of Muslims, immigrants and other minorities. 

This is less about 'free speech' than power. This is about those with waning power desperately holding on to it through control, violence and dominating language. This about flexing and seeing how much they can get away with before someone stops them.  

An upcoming study reveals media not only emboldens but creates 'permission' for fringe extreme groups to legitimise themselves and recruit. It's not just a causal link but a direct one.

El Paso shooter Patrick Crusius reportedly directly lifted  'invasion' language used by President Trump and conservative media stars. He wrote this in a manifesto he left before targeting Latinos in a killing spree murdering 22 people in a Texas Walmart. Crusius is believed to have been directly inspired by Australian-born gunman Brenton Tarrant who slaughtered 51 Muslim worshippers at Friday prayers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand earlier this year, after criticising 'foreign invaders'. 

Words matter. This can no longer be some abstract debate about ' free speech'. When the words used by media and political figures mirror, enable and inspire rhetoric used by abusers and mass murderers, we have a problem.

This is now a debate about whose lives matter in the context of the society we live in, where one woman is killed every week by current or former partner in Australia. In a world where racially charged white supremacist language used by politicians has fuelled mass murders of people from minority communities in the west.

Language is part of the structural violence against women and minorities. It enables it. It feeds it. It allows it to be normalised. 

It's not a stretch to say, these right wing hatemongers have blood on their hands. They need to be held accountable for the bile they discharge in the shared public space we all have to live in.  


Sarah Malik is the Deputy Editor of SBS Voices. She is also a 2019 Our Watch Walkley fellow. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @sarahbmalik.

If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic violence or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au In an emergency call 000.

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