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#YesAllWomen: A Call to Action Against Misogyny

I spent all day Saturday participating in the #YesAllWomen tag, which was created in response to the Isla Vista shooting blamed on Elliot Rodgers. I woke up the next morning to discover that my Twitter had been compromised. These may not seem correlated, but they are.

#YesAllWomen is an outcry against violence against women, it is a call to action because of misogyny. Women all over the world are telling their stories about how they have been threatened, and they are talking about what it means to be a woman in the modern world and the fears which come with our gender.

I discovered my Twitter account was compromised because suddenly I was following people whose tweets were things such as “I want to destroy your pussy” and “u’d better send me a nude pic”. This was frightening because I didn’t understand where these tweets were coming from. The experience of being afraid is universal, and the tweets being shared through this tag are not just about sharing our stories, but about educating people that yes, we have reason to be afraid. Women are speaking about sexual harassment, about being afraid to walk home after dark. Women are talking about why they give out fake phone numbers, or say they have a boyfriend after men hit on them and won’t take no for an answer. Every single story leads back to the basic issue — we are not safe.

Rodgers, who killed himself while being pursued by law enforcement officers, posted a video before the attack in which he said ““All of my suffering on this world has been at the hands of humanity, particularly women, it has made me realize just how brutal and twisted humanity is as a species.”

Rodgers, 22, attacked a sorority house, a deli, and people on the street. He killed six people, women and men, and injured 13 others. His attack was premeditated, it seems, and calculated to punish women. #YesAllWomen came in response to this. And then, in response to #YesAllWomen, came the tag #NotAllMen. Not All Men was created to assert that not all men are rapists, murderers and misogynists.

Clearly, not all men rape and murder, but trying to co-opt and drown out the voices of women after such violence is inappropriate.  In #YesAllWomen, all women are speaking about the issues they experience in the world. This is an opportunity for women to speak, and for men to listen, and to learn. Many men might discover that they do things which frighten women, things they don’t intend to hurt with. This gives men a chance to help change the culture, by listening, and then by talking to their fellow men. Men have begun telling each other to stop — we are educating you by speaking, to the men who ask questions in response to #notallwomen – if you listen, your questions will be answered.

In a society where we are taught that our bodies are not our own, where men are taught that they can expect sex, and in a world where the internet is fraught with those who would rather stop us from speaking than listen, #YesAllWomen is an important and valuable event. The shooting in Isla Vista has reminded women why we need to fight for our safety. This goes beyond feminism, this is about our human right to be safe.

The backlash against #YesAllWomen seems to be primarily about feeling sorry for the killer. Similarly to the Steubenville, Ohio, trial last year, media and other commentary speaks about how lonely this young man seems. He may have been, but he still had no right to kill people because of that loneliness.

Others are saying that they simply don’t believe the violence can be this prevalent. And the #YesAllPeople tag, ostensibly created to talk about how all people suffer through violence and through internet trolling, actually detracts from women’s voices.  Take one look through the thousands of tweets under #YesAllWomen and you’ll see that women certainly bear the brunt of violence and disrespect when it comes to sharing what they experience.

Melissa Cerise, a Facebook user (who gave permission to share this post), posted this status, and I believe it encapsulates why the tag has become so important: “might open a Twitter account just for this: Because I still feel like I can’t publicly mention the sexual assaults, harassments, and other oppressive behaviors done by some men that have plagued me over the course of my life, how that bullshit still seeps into my daily life no matter how much work I do to combat the damage, and how I am by far not the only woman who shares this experience. ‪#‎YesAllWomen‬”‬

The most important impact this tag has had is that it shows women all over the world that their experiences are not isolated. Their experiences are not invalid. We are all in this together, and we are shining a spotlight on the serious issue of gender-related violence which we face as a society. The tweets have been overwhelming in number, and they depict a heartbreaking truth about our world: women are not safe. Women do not have the luxury to own their bodies.

Nor do they have ownership of their space on the internet. Twitter user @oceanbound gave permission to share her tweet: “Telling a woman that trolls are just part of being online? Is like telling her being sexually assaulted is a part of…oh wait #YesAllWomen”

She encapsulated the experience of being a woman speaking out on the internet perfectly. Just like we are not safe on the streets, we are not safe on the internet.

For my part, #YesAllWomen with disabilities are seen as targets, and we experience sexual assault both verbally and physically, almost every day we step outside our doors. Living with a disability means that I experience being grabbed without warning, that my cane is seen as a toy, and that it is acceptable to ask me “what’s wrong” with me.

The night of the shooting, I was performing in a show, the second of a three-night run. A man asked me for my number and I turned him down. After reading about the reasons behind Elliot Rodgers’ violent attack upon a sorority house (among many locations), and the transcript of the video which he posted, the first thing I thought wasn’t “How horrible” it was “I just told a man no, and he knows where I’ll be tonight.”

Fear is palpable when women say no, we have to say it carefully, without hurting anyone’s feelings, shoving our own feelings under the rug. Going through the over 400 random misogynistic, and often sexually aggressive twitter accounts that I had suddenly been forced to follow was a reminder that I am surrounded by this hatred, and that my participation in #YesAllWomen was noted, and wasn’t appreciated. I am sure I’m not the only one to feel that speaking out has put me in the crosshairs.

This isn’t just about one kind of women, but all women. Straight women, gay women, trans* women, women of color, women with disabilities, married women, single women, polyamorous women. We are all experiencing the same violence day in and day out, and I hope that this tag helps us help each other.