Last year, in response to the horrific Steubenville, Ohio, rape tragedy, I wrote an emotional and reactionary post about what it feels like to grow up as an ordinary woman in this world. Ordinary women's everyday experiences would blow most men's minds. If you have ever thought you might understand what it means to be a woman on an average day in America, take a few minutes and peruse the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter. I'll wait... So today, as I reread those raw, unedited remarks from last year, I'm struck by how common and unremarkable my own experiences are.
The #YesAllWomen tag began after Elliot Rodger, a 22-year old man, stabbed three people in his apartment then went on a shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, ultimately murdering six people before committing suicide. In the weeks and months preceding this rampage, Rodger posted several angry, misogynistic YouTube videos and wrote a "manifesto" over 130 pages in length outlining his hatred for all women. Rodger was a member of so-called "Men's Rights" forums and has been labeled and "incel," or "involuntary celebate" - a term used by men who, though celibate, feel entitled to sex from women. He wrote that he wanted to abolish sex to rid the world of what he viewed as women's manipulations; he wanted to imprison women in concentration camps and "gleefully watch them all die." He wrote, "If I can't have them, no one will...Women represent everything that is unfair in this world, and in order to make this world a fair place, women must be eradicated.” There are others like him - message boards, men's rights organizations, Facebook fan pages that exist in support of him and his so-called agenda.
Women know that these ideas exist - that these men exist. While these MR groups may be seen as extreme, the ideas that they espouse are merely symptoms of larger problems that are NOT fringe or unusual. Women are so often taught to exist in this world in self-defense mode. This is bred in us and many, only upon reflection, truly realize that this is completely fucked behavior.
And so we began to share our experiences - the nuances that are unique to a woman's daily routine. (I say "we" even though I was embarrassed to share my own stories. These women rose above those feelings of shame.) There were stories of institutionalized harassment, abuse, socially- and culturally-reinforced fears, double standards, and more. As of today, over one million tweets were hashtagged #YesAllWomen. Among those experiences shared:
Other hashtags also trended, including #NotAllMen and #YesAllPeople - and these signified the essence of the problem: that women's experiences are not important enough to stand alone. Some people sensed that right away:
We as women often feel the need to justify sharing our responses, almost as an apology. If we want to share our experiences, we aren't necessarily calling all men rapists, harassers, misogynists, or ignorant. But, the fact that so many people are trying to talk us down or drown us out tells me that either they don't want to hear what we are saying OR they don't think those experiences are valid or representative of the average experience. Wake up call: a million tweets prove otherwise.
Men in my life, men that I love, expressed horror and shock at some of these revelations laid bare on social media. Men don't always witness acts of aggression toward women because many men curb their obnoxious and dangerous behaviors in the presence of other men - implying that they respect and/or fear men in a way that they don't respect women. For the most part, women really do love men. At the very least we like men; we want to like them. Feminists are not trying to diminish "men's rights".
But, please, PLEASE don't minimize our experiences by insisting that "not all men" marginalize women. We already know this. What we DON'T know is just which man might be a threat and so, unfortunately, we have to treat most men as though they are a threat to our safety.Don't be defensive and don't shout us down. If we know you and love you, more than likely we are accusing you of nothing. Except possibly inaction.
Do we "need" you to protect us and fight our battles for us? No, not exactly. But, if systematic change is going to occur, men are going to have to become involved parties. You can no longer passively simply care about women's safety, women's rights, or women's equality. If you see a problem or hear a conversation that you know isn't right (whether women are present or not) and you say or do nothing, you are inherently part of the problem. I'm sorry if that hurts your feelings. No. Actually...I'm not.
Please don't waste your time by telling me that not all men view women this way - that YOU don't view women this way. Show me. Listen. Validate my experiences. Don't just be sorry that it happens. If you see a woman being marginalized by a man and you say nothing, ask yourself "Why"? These are things that I need from my allies. What I don't need: Pity, sympathetic head nods, apologies. Find a path to empathy and action.
It might take a generation or more of men to help stop the marginalization, intimidation of, and violence against women. Even if you start making changes now, it will take much longer than a generation for most women to relax, feel safe, and feel respected. If you need to - ask yourself, "Is this how I want my mother/wife/daughter/friend to live?" But, eventually, rise beyond that and realize you don't really need to view this issue through your own lens. I hope that you get to the place where you realize that this isn't how you want another human being to live.
All of those feelings I felt last year when I shared my experiences with harassment - they are still at the surface, so easily accessible - because I've never had the luxury of safety. Neither has any woman you know. This isn't an issue that applies to just "hot" women or thin women or successful women or "bitchy" women. It happens to ALL women. ALL OF US. ALL OF US.
We don't know which men might be Elliot Rodger. So many of us are really, truly, just trying to survive. Sometimes it does mean life or death. I'm not being melodramatic. And I'm strong and I can take care of myself. I've had to for my entire life - more than you will ever know.
I'm not asking for your protection. I'm asking you to care.