Misogyny and Change: The #YesAllWomen Movement

If you’ve been keeping track of the news recently, you’ve likely heard about the murders that took place in Isla Vista, California on Friday, May 23rd. If you haven’t, I’m not going to go into the details here, but you can find plenty of information on the tragedy here.

To give an oversimplified explanation for the purposes of this post, the perpetrator of these murders (who shall not be named herein) was seeking “retribution” for being ignored by women, from whom he believed he was entitled to attention and sex. Though specifics are still a little unclear, it seems that he did suffer from some form of mental illness, but it is certain that he was also a deeply misogynistic person.

There has been and will certainly continue to be a large body of discussion and controversy surrounding these unfortunate deaths, but perhaps the most nuanced and delicate conversation is the one that has developed around the hashtag #YesAllWomen.

The hashtag is derived from the statement, “No, not all men harass women, but yes, all women have been harassed by men.” And from that single sentence spawned one of the most unifying and yet divisive social media trends in recent memory.

Before I begin discussing the hashtag itself, I want to offer a little preface. I sincerely hope that nobody will view my opinion on this issue as being somehow invalid because I am a male, because I think anyone who tries to argue that has fundamentally missed the goal of gender equality that is at the root of this issue. Indeed, I do genuinely believe myself to be a feminist; I support equal rights for people regardless of gender, just as I support equal rights for people regardless of age, race, religion, mental or physical capabilities, or any other differentiating characteristics. Regardless of each of these things, we are all people and deserve to be treated as such.

With that taken care of, let’s begin.

I like the #YesAllWomen movement because it’s unifying. It presents an opportunity to present one’s stories and concerns in a format that shows that misogyny and gender discrimination as a whole is a truly universal problem. Women posting with the hashtag may find commonality, community, and strength in seeing their own struggles alongside the struggles of others, and it provides an accessible and poignant method for educating those who are not convinced that gender discrimination is a big deal.

The #YesAllWomen movement has provided – perhaps for the first time ever – an outlet for women to discuss their struggles with misogyny in a way that is frank, unashamed, and supported. It is also incredibly visible and open, which is a big part of what makes it powerful. It shows that these women are tired of hiding these problems away, that they truly believe that now is the time for things to change.

And they’re certainly right.

However, in stark contrast to what I like about the use of this hashtag, I’m not as much of a fan of how divisive the #YesAllWomen movement can be.

One aspect of this was encapsulated in the “splinter movement” #YesAllPeople, which sought to demonstrate that gender discrimination is not just a problem faced by women, and that misogyny and misandry are both big problems. Some people decried this approach as trying to downplay the violence and harassment faced by women, but I really don’t understand this aspect. It isn’t meant to be a competitive thing – proponents of #YesAllPeople aren’t saying that men have it worse than women, or even that their struggles are equal. They’re simply saying that anyone can be a victim of gender discrimination and we should be looking for solutions that help everyone. It was meant to be a call for further unification, further strength, and yet some people interpreted it as a challenge.

Consider, for example, a male rape victim, who has suffered through a crime that some people don’t even believe exists. This man then sees people refusing to use #YesAllPeople because it “trivializes” the difficulties faced by women; wouldn’t he feel like his own difficulties were being trivialized? It seems callous to exclude male victims of rape and gender discrimination from the conversation simply because they’re less prevalent.

For my next point of concern, let’s revisit that foundational statement for the movement: “Not all men harass women, but all women have been harassed by men.” I still don’t understand why there has to be a “but” in there, signifying that these two clauses are in some way opposed to each other.

It shows in the online discussions, too. Many male commenters are criticized as having a “not all men” attitude, arguing that not all men are perpetrators of gender discrimination. And just like the #YesAllPeople debacle, some interpret this reasoning as a challenge, an escapist argument for men to back out of the discussion by saying they aren’t part of the problem. Some believe that the “not all men” mentality can somehow diminish the #YesAllWomen movement.

Personally, I don’t see it. When I think of someone saying “not all men harass women,” I see that as a statement that there is something wrong with the situation when some men do. I see it as a similar statement to “not all men are okay with this” or “not all men support gender discrimination.” It’s an acknowledgment that there is a problem (hence the implied “some men do harass women”) but an affirmation to not be a part of it and, even more, to be a part of the solution. It may not be as personal as the harrowing story of a rape victim, but that does not mean it is hostile or challenging in some way.

I guess the main point I’m trying to convey here is that the #YesAllWomen people and the “not all men” people seem to see each other as enemies right now, and that shouldn’t be the case. In the wake of the murders at Isla Vista, both of these groups (as well as the #YesAllPeople supporters mentioned above) saw that gender discrimination is a serious and ongoing problem. It affects people of all genders, though it is typically more common against women. And no matter who the perpetrators, no matter who the victims, and no matter what the reasons, it is not acceptable.

But by working together, it becomes a problem that we can work toward solving. So perhaps it’s time we stop arguing with people who want the same thing as we do and start focusing on accomplishing the goal.

The #YesAllWomen movement is a powerful unifying force that formed out of tragedy, and it has the potential to inspire real, lasting social change. That won’t happen, though, unless it’s actually able to unite us.

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