There's been a seismic shift on the social radar the past week. Perhaps no media campaign has ever struck quite such a nerve, or captured the scale of a crisis as boldly as the new hashtag #YESALLWOMEN, which has already logged over 2.2 million tweets worldwide. Coming mainly from women but also male allies, it links the full scope of sexual violence, harassment, objectification, and fear which women experience daily -- each post a reaction not just to the recent massacre in Isla Vista, but also to its root cause, and the reflexive "not all men" defense that so often stalls any potent critique of male violence. In just days, spontaneous tweets began to illuminate both a network of global outrage, and the whole constellation of misogyny.
Because here's what's still glaring in 2014: whatever gains we've made, there's no geography where women's freedom from male violence has really been secured. Take a look at just a few tweets, and you'll recognize universal truths no matter where the writer lives:
"Because women are forced to monitor the way they dress, act, and exist so the male attention they receive doesn't turn violent."
"Every single woman you know has been harassed. And just as importantly, every single woman you don't know has been harassed."
Indeed, by age 12, nearly one quarter of girls worldwide experience unwanted comments, touch, or stalking in public by strangers. Which means all of us are conditioned from Day One that public realms as primarily men's spaces, and women's' own bodies are there for men to control, objectify, access, or harm.
"Because society is more comfortable with people telling jokes about rape than it is with people revealing they've been raped."
"Because 'I have a boyfriend' is more effective than 'I'm not interested' -- men respect other men more than my right to say no."
And that fundamental right to say no has always been challenged by misogynists, and used to blame victims for male aggression. 22 year-old Elliot Rodger of Santa Barbara was not unique in that regard: before killing six people and injuring 13, he uploaded a video to YouTube titled "Retribution." In it, and in a 140-page manifesto published online, he claimed he was going to prove himself the ultimate "alpha male" and take revenge on all the "sluts" who had sexually rejected him.
Beyond the guns and compounding pathology here, it's hard to miss the primary role of misogyny -- the hatred of women, the idea that women owe men -- which underlies virtually all male violence against women. And yet mainstream media routinely keeps this below the critical radar. It's vital that we ourselves connect the dots though: there are no lone misogynists. Rodger is a product of our toxic culture that starts with sexist jokes and harassment, and ends in murder and rape. And not just by some extreme outcasts.
"Because women serving in the military shouldn't fear getting raped by their colleagues more than they fear the enemy."
And from writer Margaret Atwood: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."
Men's violence radically limits and interrupts women's lives every single day. 1 in 3 women will experience rape, violence, or stalking in their lifetime. Every day, countless women in the U.S. face extreme forms of terrorism by male partners, and every day too, at least 3 of them won't make it. There's simply nothing comparable to this huge gendered divide of both risk and responsibility.
"I've spent 19 yrs teaching my daughter how not to be raped. How long have you spent teaching your son not to rape?"
Teaching, of course, is the key here. While yes, all women experience the impact of sexism, not all men are sexist, violent, or unwilling to work for gender justice. You don't have to be female to be a feminist -- we're talking about universal human rights. Nor is misogyny in our genes; it's a learned -- and again, taught -- sense of male supremacy, whoever the male and whatever the realm. That's what links tragedies like the one in Isla Vista to every other form of sexist entitlement on the spectrum.
Still, the very backlash to this work shows just how far we still have to go:
"Because every time I try to say that I want gender equality I have to explain that I don't hate men."
It's astonishing how the mere mention of this gendered issue can quickly bring on claims of "male bashing" -- itself a violent term which conveniently dodges the gruesome tales of female bashing that fuel the world's headlines, and now tweets. As usual, power protects itself, and this defensiveness aims to mask the already illegitimate power that is patriarchy. But the times, they are indeed changing. There are many new ways to be a resister now; to tell truth to power, and to each other too. It's urgent that everyone listens, and works for change.
Ultimately, as New York Times columnist Charles Blow suggests: "The problems women face in this world require the engagement of all the world's people .#YesAllMen."
The Women's Freedom Center is the local organization in Windham and Southern Windsor County working to end domestic and sexual violence. Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/womensfreedomcenter and at www.womensfreedomcenter.net. You can reach an advocate on our 24-hour crisis line at 802-254-6954.