December 30, 2013

VAW as an FoE Issue

Through the course of this year, I've had a number of conversations about VAW and FoE. About being anti-VAW but pro-FoE, and about how the two might interact. ...The conversations have resulted in my becoming increasingly convinced that the two simply do not compete, although to reach that conclusion, I’ve had to define my understanding of VAW in what could be considered to be narrow terms:
    VAW includes any form of violence against one or more specific women; it does not include abuse against the idea of women. In other words, VAW includes targeted abuse but not, for example, non-targeted misogynist rants.
The reason I’ve had to separate the two forms of abuse – viz. targeted and non-targeted abuse – in my mind is simply because I see no other way to differentiate
claims that targeted abuse (such as verbal street harassment) is a form of free speech from the principle, easier (if not essential) to accept, that free speech includes the right to say what is unacceptable even if that involves proclaiming the truly nonsensical from every street corner (provided, arguably, that one’s proclamations are legal).

When it comes to free speech, I am entirely unconvinced that there is a coherent or convincing argument to be made to the effect that being abusive constitutes an exercise of the right to free speech – if there is such an argument in existence, it isn’t one I’ve come across. However, although it makes me uncomfortable, I do think that there is a free speech right to make sexist or misogynist statements although I don’t believe that right extends to making such statements without being challenged ...by others who are lucky enough to have a voice.

Having a voice is not the norm; ‘voice is a mark of privilege’, and the lack of voice not only adversely affects one’s credibility as Rebecca Solnit has pointed out but, it could reasonably be argued, also exposes one to greater abuse and discrimination. Which has led me to become increasingly convinced – even if it isn’t accepted wisdom – that VAW and free speech are inextricably linked issues with its being possible for the former to be subsumed within the latter. I’ve spoken along these lines earlier; ‘the essence of abuse, as I understand it, is to diminish the voice of another, and although the employment of different types of abuse or VAW can (and do) produce drastically different sets of consequences, the bottom line is that various forms of abuse all achieve the same end: diminishing the voice of the person(s) abused.’

Seen from this point of view, I’m not certain how VAW could, in essence, be anything other than a free speech issue.