A recent news headline made me wonder about the place assigned to violated women in language: “Melton Mowbray policeman kills his wife and child after losing job: Older daughter raises alarm as Tobias Day kills himself after attacking his partner and three children at family home” (Guardian 2011). While the man, and perpetrator, is given a location: Melton Mowbray, profession: policeman and name: Tobias Day, his ‘wife’, in comparison, comes from: nowhere, does: nothing and is: no-one. All she seems to be is: ‘his wife’, ‘his partner’ and therefore his private linguistic property.
A different headline might have read: ‘Melton Mowbray nursery teacher is killed by her husband’ or ‘Samantha Day and her children are attacked by her partner’, giving Samantha her own linguistic identity. However, as the headline shows, when it comes to a woman being assaulted by a man, she is not (represented as) a human being in her own right but merely his victim, his partner, his wife, a linguistic non-entity.
But do possessive pronouns not help to justify the violation? What is in his possession is also his to kill, rape, take away? To give women, of whom more than two will die at the hands of a male partner each week (Women’s Aid 2011), linguistic justice at least, it seems we need to fundamentally rethink our use of language. We, as women, are not just wives, partners and victims but human beings with our own, autonomous identity.
We need to finally stop treating women as private property in language to counteract (the dominant view of) the inevitability of their everyday reality. After all, not only men have a place, a job, a name. Not only men have human agency. And while men would not want to be equated with perpetrators, women should not be denied their own place, their own voice, their own, separate space within humanity. Giving them access to their own place in language seems a crucial start.