The Befuddling Case of the Frat Guy’s T-shirt

I was at the gym a while back when I spotted a guy wearing a fraternity T-shirt commemorating a nonprofit event his house had sponsored. It was a fundraiser for a battered-women’s shelter, and the tagline read Joining the fight against domestic abuse. I immediately thought the pairing of fight and domestic abuse was silly and unfortunate, which is to say that I laughed to myself. 

But since then I’ve come to doubt my initial reaction. Was that tag line indeed a case of tone-deaf writing? Would it have been more thoughtful and sensitive to select a milder verb than fight (effort or resistance, perhaps)? Or am I thinking too much? I wonder if anyone else had a response similar to mine, or if I sometimes get too lost in my own word universe.

So, then: thoughts? What say y’all?

10 Responses to “The Befuddling Case of the Frat Guy’s T-shirt”
  1. mike says:

    fight fire with fire. i don’t mind this usage. something like “let’s beat domestic abuse” is actually less aggressive but also less appropriate. fight seems ok, like it’s two parties squaring off. like two opponents…the victims are no longer helpless.

    effort? seriously.

  2. Pat says:

    I had the same initial reaction, Craig.

    I also see Mike’s point, fighting fire with fire and whatnot.

    Given the prevailing view of fraternity culture as it relates to women’s issues, I think I’d have erred on the side of oversensitivity and gone with something that had no possible violent undertones.

  3. beenthere says:

    Craig, you are spot on…and as a fraternity alumnus I say (or write) so with regret. Good effort by this guy’s chapter but typical–little if any thought given to the details and nuances. And, as noted by Pat, we have come to expect the worst from fraternity t-shirts especially as those relate to women. I hope that someone brings this to the attention of the men before the next event. We like the cause but work on the concept.

  4. Erik says:

    I agree with your initial reaction for two reasons.
    First off, I think “fight” is often misused. You might fight cancer (by trying to destroy cancer cells), but you don’t fight domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is something you prevent or ameliorate. You don’t put it in a headlock and tell it, “If I ever see you ‘round these parts again, I’m gonna kill your ass.” I realize that’s a very literal interpretation, but in an era of “war of drugs” and “war on terror”, I think we need to chill out on the figurative battlegrounds.
    Of course , the other aspect is just like you say: why link violence with domestic abuse? Where’s the love gone, people?

  5. livermoron says:

    I disagree with most here. Sounds like too much PC thinking getting in the way of good writing; the ‘fighting’ on the T-shirt is a good and justifiable use of irony.
    Erik’s interpretation of ‘fight’ not applying to domestic abuse is contrived. How does domestic abuse differ from terrorism, semantically speaking?

    • cbgaines says:

      Great question about “fighting terrorism” vs. “fighting domestic violence.” (Although I think it’s a bit strong to call Erik’s interpretation “contrived.”)

      Here’s my thinking: “fighting” has different connotations. When we pair “fighting” with “terrorism,” it brings to mind an organized, necessary, institutional effort against a dangerous evil. But when we use “fighting” in relation to “domestic violence,” we’re using two phrases with connotations that are uncomfortably close. In that case, “fighting” can bring to mind physical confrontation—exactly what any domestic violence effort would want to end.

      Words’ tone and imagery change depending on the phrases and sentences we use them in. It’s like cooking: ingredients take on different qualities in different recipes.

    • Erik says:

      Fair enough. Maybe it boils down to a matter of preference.
      However, I wouldn’t call “Join the fight against domestic abuse” “good writing”. I’d call it bad writing. And if PC thinking gets in the way of bad writing, who cares?
      Then again, maybe that’s a matter of preference.

      • livermoron says:

        So, is the phrase ‘fight fire with fire’ poor writing or good writing utilizing the tool of ‘irony’.

      • cbgaines says:

        Mmm, I would call it a neutral cliche. And there again we don’t have that unfortunate mashing of connotations. No one would object to fighting a fire with a ferocity that equals the blaze. Lots of folks would object to a situation in which domestic violence is countered with more physical violence.

  6. livermoron says:

    And lots of folks would applaud using physical measures to stop domestic abuse. That doesn’t seem germane to the issue of good writing and trods perilously close to the PC line.
    Would Erik’s suggestion “Ameliorate domestic abuse.” pack the same punch? Oops.
    Fear to offend leads to vapid prose.

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