Words (not just) deeds.

Recently, my inbox/ twitter feed/ Facebook has been full of various NGOs and charities plugging their ‘gift cards’ or special Christmas gifts like microfinance loans to women in third world countries, or sponsoring a girl to go to school. I feel guilty that I can’t afford to buy them all; they’re definitely an appealing alternative to traipsing up and down the high street.

Yesterday I heard about The DoNation, a brilliant social enterprise that encourages physical actions, rather than financial pledges, to contribute to environmental sustainability. You can pledge to cycle to work for two months, rather than sending off a £5 donation to a climate change campaigns organisation. It removes the middle man and actively involves the donor.

This model can ostensibly be extended to the End Violence Against Women movement. This afternoon I’ve been reading about state responsibility and strategy for ending domestic violence, the root of which comes from equal distribution of economic, social and cultural resources to both genders; from shifting understanding of societal ‘roles’ that women must fulfil or be punished. Essentially, not encouraging men to act and feel more powerful than women (as too many cultural norms and laws currently do).

Alongside the financial contributions to organisations working to empower and support women exiting abusive relationships and situations, there needs to be greater cultural contributions to this movement as a whole; to prevent these abusive situations from arising in the first place.

My fiscal resources are limited, but thanks to freedom of speech, my verbal contribution to society is not. My mouth enables me to shape our cultural landscape; it allows me to call out sexist comments in public, to not use derogatory terms for women and girls in prostitution, to not blame women for violent acts committed against them, to not use the word ‘rape’ as a metaphor for something else. My tongue empowers me with strategic silence when everyone else is laughing at a rape joke or jeering and gawping at a female public figure on TV – solely for her clothes and her body shape, not what she’s saying.

Any lawyer will tell you that words are powerful. In the drafting or interpreting of legislation, words are pored over and clauses picked apart so they cannot be manipulated to work against what they are trying to protect. In day-to-day life,  the normalisation of derogatory terms such as “slut”, “slag”, “whore” and “bitch” have led to the normalisation of sexism, inextricable from violence against women.

Behaviour and attitudes expressed both in public and private shape our gender relations: leering at a woman, physically groping a stranger or friend, not listening to a woman when she says “no” or laughing at her if she confronts disrespectful behaviour, failing to see that women who are too drunk to stand are not consenting to sex, passively watching when a woman is publically harassed or derided, without supporting her. All of these actions (and much worse) are experienced on a daily basis by half of the world’s population, and perpetuate gender inequality and violence against women.

Cultural attitudes towards and treatment of women would drastically shift tomorrow if everyone took a lifelong pledge to change their vocabulary and behaviour and started respecting and empathising with women, instead of punishing, humiliating and subordinating them.

Feminists, what would be on your linguistic christmas list? My first thing would be for my male friends to stop laughing at rape jokes. The second would be for my female friends to stop slut-shaming other women.

Words cost nothing. Everyone can afford to give to the global battle to end violence against women. I’ve taken a lifelong pledge. Would you? Give with your mouth and I promise the return on investment will be astronomical.

Disclaimer: An end to violence against women is for life, not just for Christmas.