#YesAllWomen: Why we need to pay attention. Why we need to learn.
Recently, we learned about Elliot Rodger and his nightmarish shooting spree, as well as his terrifying manifesto. His thoughts were mostly composed of hatred towards the women who rejected him, whom he felt hated him, or were repulsed by him. He was a young man who believed the world, and the women of the world, owed him something. Importantly, he noted that he planned to “punish you all for it”, ‘all’ referring to all women.
Soon after, the hashtag #YesAllWomen was created on Twitter, with women all over the globe using it to share their stories of abuse, harm, insecurity, frustration, anger, and disappointment towards a culture(s) that created Rodgers. His mind was molded and twisted with a wide range of incorrect assumptions on what women supposedly owed him. Those thoughts weren’t spontaneously generated. They originated from a culture that fed Rodgers the ideas that he detailed in his manifesto.
Did our society and culture at large tell him to do harm to women and take the lives of so many individuals? No. But did our culture teach him that women are objects? That they exist for the pleasure and enjoyment of others? That they’re not autonomous beings with their own individual preferences and desires? It certainly did, that much is clear.
As I learned from following the hashtag for the better part of the day, there is literally no shortage of women who have stories of violence. Of sexual assault. Of being told that their bodies are shameful, or gross, or imperfect, or broken. Stories of women who were informed by the culture that their worth was in being partnered with a man. Stories of those who were forced to leave school to change into something “less distracting”.
In all honestly, up until this point I considered myself a somewhat aware person. I was under the mistaken impression that I had some handle of the idea that life was difficult for women in a myriad of ways. #YesAllWomen taught me that I hadn’t the slightest idea what so many women have to face on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. I came to the understanding that my daily reality looks so unlike a woman’s reality.
I have never been harassed on the sidewalk.
I have never been shouted at or catcalled by someone driving past me.
I have never felt the need to hold my keys in between my fingers for protection.
I have never had to worry about going for a run late at night by myself.
I have never been told to cover any part of my body for any reason, ever.
I’ve never worried if my date was going to assault me. Or slip something in my drink.
I’ve never been called something derogatory because I declined to converse with a stranger.
I have never worried about being alone with a stranger of the opposite sex, for fear that I may be assaulted.
I have never been afraid of being called a slut based on the amount of my sexual partners.
I have never been told that my worth is directly tied to how physically attractive I am.
I have never been afraid that my partner won’t respect my “no”.
I have never worried about being raped. Ever.
Simply because of my gender.
This should seem so obvious, but its not. Simply because I’m a man, I have never been concerned about any of the above. This is a deeply, wholly, profoundly unjust culture that we live in. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence. Often these forms are intertwined. The women know this. They live this nightmare. But there is more that needs to be done.
Brothers, if we weren’t already awake, we need to rouse ourselves and pay attention. There is a world full of women who experience these traumas. Their value to us should not lie in the fact that they are our mothers, our sisters, our aunts, our wives. They are immensely valuable in their personhood in and of itself. They are not merely valuable in relation to a man. What must it be like to always have this fear hanging over you? To feel powerless? Scared? And worst of all, alone? We cannot tolerate this anymore. We cannot allow these injustices to continue.
But men, it starts with us. We must respect all “no”s. We must always, always, always honor consent. We must hold ourselves to a higher level of conduct. We must listen when women share their concerns. We must be silent when there is a topic that we know nothing about, so that we may internalize the message, learn from it, and help to solve the problem.
This culture helps to shape men such as Elliot Rodger. We can change that culture, together. We have to.