Reclaiming “Cunt” Part 2: Words for a movement
In reflecting on the power and process of reclaiming words in an oppressive system, it only seems fitting to spend some time talking about movement-specific words and the choice to use them or avoid them. There are two important words I’d like to consider today: victim and survivor.*
For as long as I have been involved with anti-violence work, I have heard about the lack of consensus on using the term “victim” or the term “survivor.” Many advocates I know prefer “survivor” because it speaks to the resiliency and strength needed to carry on after such a traumatic experience. At the same time, I’ve learned that many movement foremothers embrace the term “victim” because they can remember a time when they had to advocate, HARD, for sexual victimization to be recognized with the criminal legal system.
The position that most resonates with me involves scrapping both terms in favor of person first language (originating in activism by people with disabilities). An amazing mentor from my college activism days explained that she needed to use person first language. It was the only way to acknowledge that people are at different places and spaces in their journeys, and should have the autonomy to identify who and what they are for themselves. She made a special emphasis on using person first language to describe a person who commits sexual violence as well. If you were going to believe that people should not be defined by the violence they experience, you also had to believe that people can’t be defined by the violence they commit.
What terms do you use? How do you keep your practice person-centered through your word choice? Great questions for a growing, learning, and changing movement!
*Please note: I acknowledge that victim and survivor are not the only terms. "Thriver" is another important, (re)claimed iteration and descriptor. I am sure that there are many, many more!