"Wives, Daughters, Mothers"

Longtime readers will undoubtedly recall that I loathe the "wives, daughters, mothers" construction. So much so that I started a White House petition asking President Obama to stop using it. Really.

And, as much as I hate it within the general political framework of appealing to men to care about equal pay or whatever, because they benefit when "their women" succeed, I hate it even more when it's used in an anti-abuse context.

"What if it was your wife who was sexually harassed? Your mother? What if it was your daughter who was a victim of sexual assault? Your sister?"

I hate it because a woman shouldn't have to be a relative of a man for him to give a shit about her being harmed.

I hate it because of the dehumanizing tacit suggestion that men should care about harm to women in the same way they care about damage to their property.

I hate it because it implies that all men definitely care when their female relatives are harmed.

(Which is not true. And frankly every time I hear this rhetorical flourish used in this context, it makes me recall painful familial indifference. I suspect I'm not alone in that.)

I hate it because it implies that husbands, sons, fathers, brothers don't themselves ever harm their wives, mothers, daughters, sisters.

And that is a very dangerous implication. It's not neutral. It actively works to disappear interfamilial abuse, while exhorting men to treat all women the way they treat women in their families.

The "wives, daughters, mothers" construction is a dodge to avoid speaking to men directly about not harming women themselves. It creates a hierarchy of women worth caring about. It is potentially triggering to female survivors, whose male relatives were their victimizers or who caused secondary trauma via disbelief or indifference or shaming. It elides the prevalence of interfamilial violence.

This is not just an insufficient framework. It's an actively problematic one.

It's also a very revealing one. Note that even people determined to use a relational argument for how men should treat women at work never, ever, use this construction: Treat your female coworker like she's your boss.

There are limitations to that construction, too, as female bosses are frequently sexually harassed and/or assaulted by male underlings. But it's a more obvious framework for a workplace guideline. Still, it's not used.

Which is further evidence that there's a sinister purpose to invoke "wives, daughters, mothers," even in the context of a workplace: Because it subtly empowers the narrative of womanhood as something that gallant men protect, gross men exploit, and no man regards at all without agenda.

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