Reflecting on #YesAllWomen

I know it’s been a few weeks, but bear with me.  I was in Israel, and then moving, and in that time, I’ve had a chance to think about the #YesAllWomen twitter campaign and the subsequent #AllMenCan campaign, and what these tell us about women and feminism today.

I think that, for anyone reading the posts under #YesAllWomen, it should be incredibly obvious that women today still face problems, both in the United States and around the world.  I know that I saw a couple about how great women have it in the United States, and it is absolutely true that we have certain advantages that women in other parts of the world lack.  We don’t live under religious laws that restrict our activity or relegate us to second-class citizenship.  We can’t be hurt by court order as a means of punishing our male relatives.  Women in the United States can legally attend school, access healthcare, drive cars, and vote, and the same just cannot be said for every country in the world.

That said, I think it should also be clear that there are problems that women in the United States still face.  They aren’t necessarily legal barriers, and they aren’t necessarily explicit forms of discrimination, but rather, acts of everyday sexism and misogyny that can make life significantly harder.  Many of the posts that were filed under #YesAllWomen noted that many women were afraid of men they interacted with, that many women had experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, and that women were frustrated with society’s lack of recognition of the problems they faced.  As more stories have come pouring out, people reading them have started to take note, and started to worry about what this means for the current generation of women, and the generation to follow us.  When is it going to end?  When will we start to confront rape culture, take street harassment seriously, address discrimination in the workplace?

When are we going to accept that the way we teach our sons to be men is the exact reason we are scared when our daughters walk home alone at night?

For many people, #YesAllWomen was eye-opening.  But for many women, it was a chance to recognize that these experiences with which we have struggled are not unique to us-~-that many of us have experienced the same acts of misogyny and the same instances of fear, and that we are all fed up.

There are cities in the United States where 100% of women surveyed have reported experiencing street harassment.  A study in 2000 noted that almost 90% of women considered changing their routines in order to avoid street harassment (across the US).  An estimated 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the US have survived a completed or attempted rape, and approximately 1 in 4 women in the US will experience domestic violence of the course of their lives-~-to say nothing of dating violence.  Those are the scary statistics.  That’s not even touching less scary issues, like the lack of female representation in government, the persistent pay gap between men and women, and the fact that women are often less likely to receive raises or promotions.

Personally, I think it was time for #YesAllWomen.  Maybe even past time.  There have been too many instances of men derailing discussions of women’s rights or feminism to declare “Not all men are like that!” (the very phrase the hashtag meant to respond to).  There have been too many cases of gender based violence, too many victims attacked while the country stood by and watched, too many conversations with male friends and colleagues where we have been told we should be grateful for being catcalled or whistled at, while they fail to realize that too often it becomes stalking or groping.  The dam finally broke, and women across the United States and around the world flooded Twitter with their grievances.  And finally, I hope, people are ready to start listening.

I also wanted to acknowledge #AllMenCan, because it’s also a great response to this issue.  I think it is completely possible for men to be feminists, for men to check their privilege and acknowledge the situation and join the fight to make things better.  And I think that if we want this to work, we will need men who are willing to do just that: we need men who will vote for female candidates, who will help empower their female colleagues, who will teach their sons to respect women and teach their daughters to demand respect.  I think that it’s important to recognize that men can help empower women, and that men can play a role in changing our society.

I’ll just end by talking about the real issue at the heart of #YesAllWomen, because I saw this several times on Twitter: Not all men will hurt women, but enough do that all women worry that they will be hurt.  It may not even be a majority of men, but the reality is that when you grow up female just about anywhere in the world, you’re taught to be just a little bit wary.  You count yourself lucky if you haven’t been hurt, but even if you haven’t, odds are that you know someone who has.  If that sounds like a difficult reality to accept, it should.  If we want progress, then that core truth is the one we need to address.  It’s not about women defending themselves, it’s not about better manners at bars, it’s not about getting women to report violence when it is done against them.  It’s about critically examining the way that we define and teach masculinity so that it stops hurting both women and men in our society.

 

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~ by Randi Saunders on June 13, 2014.

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