The wonderful thing about the English language is its malleability, its capacity to grow and evolve, to expand in its use and definitions. As Joseph Conrad, a native Polish speaker, explained when asked why he wrote in a foreign tongue, “English is so plastic—if you haven’t got a word you need you can make it.”
Or, as Conrad might have added had he been around to celebrate Rosie Batty’s ordination as Australian of the Year, our language’s capacity to stretch definitions beyond what fusty traditionalists might regard as its breaking point.
At Ms Batty’s website — “keynote speaking enquiries, click here” — what might be called the New Violence is laid out in the full breadth of its male barbarity:
- physical or sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
- financial abuse such as withholding money
- threats or coercion
- isolating you from family and friends
- controlling or dominating you, causing you to fear for your safety or the wellbeing of another person
- causing your child to hear, witness, or otherwise be exposed to the effects of violence
- using male privilege
- harm to things that you love – pets, personal belongings
- verbal abuse
- neglect in a relationship of dependence
- restricting spiritual or cultural participation
With domestic violence very much the issue on many politicians’ lips — not least in Victoria, where the new Labor government immediately convened a royal commission, it would be good to grasp all these many ways the great curse of having born with both an X and Y chromosome might lead to charges, legal fees and restricted access to children.
And remember, chaps, while you might have not the foggiest notion what “using male privilege” means and entails, think twice before asking for an explanation. That request for a hard-and-fast definition might very well inspire the further accusation of “verbal abuse”, depending on the subjective stretching of our language’s very useful “plasticity”.