“Men are afraid women will laugh at them; women are afraid men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood
Misogyny and sexual violence against women are omnipresent forces in society today. I am constantly confronted with reminders of these forces, whether it’s turning on the radio and hearing reports of 19 year old Sinoxolo Mafevuka‘s murder as an act of revenge for her alleged infidelity, or driving past the dead flowers that were laid out after the rape and murder of 16 year old Franziska Blöchlicher. The #YesAllWomen hashtag is a response to the ever-predictable “not all men” argument. No, not all men do harass women; but all women have, at some point, been harassed by men and feared misogyny. Essentially, the Twitter hashtag and social media campaign has provided a platform for users to share examples or stories of misogyny and violence against women.
The movement was born after Elliot Rodger, a 22 year old man, went on a shooting spree in Isla Vista, California, which claimed the lives of six people and injured several more. Two women were killed outside a sorority house, but Rodger’s series of YouTube videos and 137 page “manifesto” reveal that he had planned to “slaughter” many more. His reasons for this rampage? General hatred of women and sexual rejection that he claims he had been dealt by women his entire life. In his “manifesto”, Rodgers expresses his desire to lock all women away in concentration camps. “I would have an enormous tower built just for myself, where I can oversee the entire concentration camp and gleefully watch them all die,” he wrote. “If I can’t have them, no one will, I imagine thinking to myself as I oversee this. Women represent everything that is unfair in this world, and in order to make this world a fair place, women must be eradicated.”
So where does #YesAllWomen come in to play? Supporters of the hashtag would argue that Rodger’s intense hate of women grew out of attitudes that surround us in everyday life. The sense of sexual entitlement that many men seem to feel is evident throughout his “manifesto”, where he wrote, “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.” Under the umbrella of one hashtag, women found that they were able to share their stories and experiences of this male sexual entitlement. According to president of the National Organisation for Women, Terry O’Neill, #YesAllWomen is simply a means of “connecting the dots” and subverting “the acceptance of everyday misogyny.”
For UCT Law student and self-professed feminist, Lauren de Bruyn (21), it was the unifying strength of the collective voice of women that came out of the the hashtag that truly resonated with her. “#YesAllWomen has given me the strength to put my hand up in a male dominated lecture, tutorial or any space, really, and voice my opinion,” she says. “The movement tells me ‘my thoughts matter.'”
However, the online movement did receive its fair share of criticism. For some, it was the large generalisation factor and the fact that the movement claimed to speak for all women that was particularly offensive. Others felt that it disparaged men completely unfairly (not unlike the “not all men” response). In this regard, Christopher Cantwell (who defines himself in three words: “anarchist, atheist, realist”) saw the movement as complete nonsense, arguing that “men are your benefactors, your protectors, and your providers, we are quite literally dying to please you. So the next time you trend a hashtag about us, maybe you say ‘thank you’ instead.”
But perhaps the most powerful criticism of the movement was that some saw it as a mockery of the “real” problems that many women face throughout the world. While the hype of #YesAllWomen was spreading, a woman was stoned by her family in Pakistan for marrying someone of her choice as opposed to someone of their arrangement. And while the #YesAllWomen movement highlighted everyday misogynistic experiences (like being whistled at on the street), more than 200 Nigerian girls remained in slavery to Islamist extremist rebels. This argument asked that those involved in the #YesAllWomen movement look at their problems with a little bit of “perspective”. But surely derailing one group of women’s struggles for the plight of another’s is a completely unhelpful and useless tactic?
#YesAllWomen goes beyond the boundaries of lightweight slacktivism. The hashtag is an entirely organic product of rage, shared experience and human empathy. It acts as a call for attention; a call for society to wake up and pay attention to what is happening all around us. #YesAllWomen is a call to begin to work on and change that narrative.
The keyword here is all.