The French Parliament is considering legislation that will outlaw “psychological violence” directed at a spouse or any cohabitating domestic partners.
Though the language of the law is gender-nonspecific, it targets the atrocious problem the Frogs are having with those old-world, misogynistic, Neanderthalian males who tear women down by, you know, calling them fat, accusing them of infidelity, deriding their terrible taste in chick-flicks and similar types of bastardatry.
For the most part, there have been two reactions: from those who think the law is bogus on the basis of the “Sticks and Stones” theory and those who refute “Sticks and Stones” because they believe that verbal abuse can be harmful.
For example, Leslie Garfield of the blog Feminist Law Professors wrote an essay called “Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones but Words Can Really Hurt You: The Case for Criminalizing Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.” Barbara Walters, on her show, The Viewgina, said words, as well as stones and sticks, can “definitely hurt you.” Indeed, on the TV, radio and all across the clogosphere are tons of people who refute the classic children's rhyme. And while I have a kettle-full of contempt for odious men who take pleasure in hurting their lovers with odious remarks, I take exception to the discrediting of “Sticks and Stones” because it is inarguably the most empowering and inspiring children's rhyme ever composed.
“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
Are you kidding?! That little ditty blows doors on the other children's rhymes. It runs circles around, “Ring around the Rosie,” flattens the “Eency Weensy Spider” and knocks the block off “Hickory Dickory's” clock. And while “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe” is a useful tool to determine who in your group must kiss Sally “Fartface” Marshal on her moldy lips, it isn't much good for anything else.
Admittedly, a reasonable argument could be made in favor of the axiom “I'm Rubber, You're Glue” based on its defensive and offensive properties (the insults bounce off you and stick to your attacker? Genius!). However, there are concerns. What if your organs become rubber also? What if you're allergic to isoprene? What if your adversary counters with the “I'm Heat, You're Rubber, and Heat Always Melts Rubber” rubber-disintegration comeback? Or worse, what if, after you've become rubber and he's become glue, he says, “You fornicate with your mother!” Then what?
With “Sticks and Stones,” you don't have to worry about any of that. It disarms offensive words before they leave the mouths of your nemeses. That's what makes it so awesome. It's a statement of resolve. It says, “Words will never hurt me,” which is an economical way to say, “From this point forward, I refuse to let others preside over my feelings,” and that, my friends, is the incontrovertible power and simplicity that is “Sticks and Stones.”
Still unconvinced that words can't hurt you? Here's proof:
Imagine two scenarios. In the first, you get into a row with your husband and he calls you a fat cow who balled all his friends and has awful taste in movies, leaving you on the couch crying your eyes out. In the second scenario, the two of you argue, but he leaves the house before hurling the insults. Instead, he marches over to the nearest watering hole, dumps his nostril fumes into a pint and tells the bartender that the floozy to whom he's married is at home on the couch with a box of bonbons on her lap watching Le Journal Intime des Bridget Jones for the fifth time.
In both scenarios, some terrible, terrible words were spoken about you. However, in the second scenario, your feelings weren't hurt because, obviously, you never heard the disparaging remarks. Your brain never had the opportunity to tell you to feel hurt. The insults were released, of course. They were uttered, and they were heard, but they harmlessly flitted away like sparks from a beachfront campfire, which is proof that words don't hurt, only our reaction to them does.
Tragically, too many people react poorly. Instead of minding their responses to hateful words, they go after the words themselves. They embark on these “Let's ban these words, and let's ban those words” crusades—as if they could ever stop anyone from finding new language with which to hurt people, as if bad-word-banning wasn't an utterly futile, if not destructive, process.
Oh, mademoiselle, I'm not trying to trivialize the damage that psychological violence can do. I fathom how complicated and painful it is for women to extract themselves from the imprisonment of an emotionally abusive prickweasel. But it doesn't change the fact that the best response to the repeated, hostile verbal abuses of a man is not to have him arrested; it is to leave. And the only response to a society teeming with demeaning jerks making demeaning comments is to remove their power to demean in the first place. These things are not easy, I know, but our responses are the only things in the universe we can control, and to understand this is to unlock our souls and allow them to soar, weightless and free, like campfire sparks on the beach. That is the immaculate message of “Sticks and Stones.” Je commande ce que me sens (“I control what I feel”). What could be more empowering than that?
Send your insulting hate mail, futile as it is, to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.edwindecker.com.