If you’ve been anywhere near the Internet in the last few days, you’ve seen the hashtag #YesAllWomen, a response to the young man who took the lives of six Santa Barbara college students on Friday night and left a misogynistic video trail on the Internet detailing his hatred for women, whom he felt rejected by and whom he felt “owed” him attention and adoration.
An all-too-common male reply to female charges of misogyny in our culture is “Yes, but not ALL men are like that. I’m not like that.” This response, though it may be well meant, is ignorant and insensitive. When someone is expressing problems you personally have never had to deal with, it’s not okay to flip the conversation around and make YOURSELF the topic of conversation. As a response to “Not all men,” one Twitter user created the hashtag #YesAllWomen. It’s true, not all men act out of misogyny, but all women have EXPERIENCED misogyny. We’ve felt disrespected (many of us have felt endangered) specifically because of our gender, and this hashtag has allowed so many women to share their experiences.
Over one million tweets have used the #YesAllWomen hashtag since Saturday. The experiences documented run the gamut from women being harassed about their physical appearance in public to women revealing that they have been the victims of sexual violence. The hashtag has become a movement, giving women a platform to share their experiences and stand together in solidarity as we all agree that we can’t let our gender be dehumanized. This has to stop and it has to stop now.
There have been male allies who have demonstrated great support for the movement. Author Neil Gaiman tweeted “The #YesAllWomen hashtag is filled with hard, true, sad, angry things. I can empathise and try to understand and know I never entirely will.” Meanwhile comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted “To the guys angry at #YesAllWomen: good. You’re angry ‘cuz you’re getting shaken up. I’m shaken up. It leads to understanding.” Authors Chuck Wendig and John Scalzi also wrote articulate blog posts on the subject. There have been so many men who have tweeted the hashtag in support of women, which I believe is a good thing. I’ve seen on Twitter that there are some women who are uncomfortable with men using the hashtag. I think as long as men are respectful and supportive while using the hashtag, not hijacking the movement and making it all about them, then it’s both genders working together to try to make the world a better place for women. I can’t help but be all for that.
Of course, where there is a movement, there’s always a backlash. There has been a very vocal segment of the male population who have retaliated on Twitter, creating defensive hashtags like #notallmen and #whyweneedmasculism, and point-missing, conversation-changing hashtags like #yesallpeople. Of course all people need to be treated with respect and decency, but globalizing this issue, taking problems that are specific to women and making vague and general statements about humanity, that’s a smoke-and-mirrors brand of conversation-changing that is both deceptive and cowardly.
Then there are the men in the middle, who either remain silent or confess they don’t know how to talk about the issues presented because they’re afraid they’ll say something hurtful or stupid, or come off as “pandering” to the cause. I heard once that in any internet debate, it’s not the other side you’re trying to sway, but rather the silent majority listening to those speaking up.
Here’s what I would say to the men trying to figure their way around the issues that #YesAllWomen brings up. You don’t have to have all the answers right now. You don’t have to have your thoughts perfectly composed and articulated today. What you do have to do is listen. You do have to empathize and try to understand as much as possible what the women in your life (and all the women you have never met) have gone through. Don’t make someone else’s movement about you. Don’t change the conversation. Support the conversation. Listen until you understand. Then stand up and be an ally.