Linguist Julia Penelope studied how passive language shapes oppression. In general, oppression often involves scapegoating and other tactics that shift focus from the oppressor. Consider the following sentences:
- John beat Mary.
- Mary was beaten by John. (Passive voice; shift of focus to Mary)
- Mary was beaten. (We remove John from the conversation altogether)
- Mary was battered. (Using a synonym to replace “beaten”)
- Mary is a battered woman. (Mary is the focus and her identity is now as a “battered woman”)
Also, consider the phrase “violence against women” versus the more efficient “men’s violence”.
Source: Jackson Katz (I highly recommend The Macho Paradox for those unfamiliar with his work.)