#YesAllWomen is a hashtag that started trending following the Isla Vista shooting, but it's not just about the shooting, or shootings in general, or those women — it's about the experiences of all women, regardless of age, race, class, location or any other factors. Yes, all women experience misogyny.
I shared a personal experience on my personal Facebook page recently, an example of how seemingly non-aggressive behaviors like cat calling a woman on the streets are part of a culture of misogyny. I had a vocal detractor who felt that I was blowing things out of proportion — 'that's not misogyny,' he said, 'misogyny is defined as hating women!' But that definition hardly captures what misogyny is and how pervasive it is.
Part of my response was this:
"...When we talk about misogyny, we're not talking about men who might say, "I hate women and I want to cause them harm," we're talking about a culture of misogyny. And what I mean, and what others mean, when we talk about a culture of misogyny is that we live in a world in which men generally feel safe and women rarely do. We live in a society in which the first judgment I must make when I meet a man is whether or not he will harm me."
"...I can never be sure if telling a man to stop commenting on my appearance will end simply or if it will escalate matters. Without even thinking about it, the response I've been trained to give when a man cat calls or gropes, is to be polite or flee. After the fact, I'm usually upset with myself for not saying, "This is my body, not yours," or something to that effect. It's a defense mechanism, because we really never know if standing up for ourselves will lead to actual violence or further harassment."
"...Talking about it, and talking about a culture of misogyny ... is a step in the right direction of addressing the disrespect and violence all women, YES, ALL WOMEN, deal with every single day, all over this planet."
But I wasn't alone, I had help from friends.
One friend wrote: "Objectification means seeing a person not as a person but as an object on which to project your own thoughts and desires. That might not sound like hatred to you ... but it often feels like it to us."
Another wrote: "Street harassment is absolutely misogyny AND objectification. Talking about my body in sexual (non-consensual) and public way is not okay and it's not 'flattery.' In a community where half of women have experienced intimate partner violence and over 1/3 have experienced rape, we have a right to feel threatened when men cat call us on the streets. But really no matter where you are, it's still misogyny. I also know that there are countless numbers of women who not only are made to feel uncomfortable by street harassment, but actually experience violent panic attacks and PTSD because of past memories. #yesallwomen know what it feels like to feel unsafe just because of their gender."
#YesAllWomen is a response to #NotAllMen — there is a kneejerk reaction to defend oneself as a member of a group (men, in this case), when it feels like there is an accusation leveled (misogyny, in this case) — my detractor minimized the experience I had and failed to recognize how that is part of the problem. The detractor also suggested that the correct response to aggressive behaviors from men would be to "learn self defense" — which puts the weight of action in all cases managing the way women react to men rather than managing how men act toward women.
Another friend had this to say: "...Even the best of us men fall prey to the indoctrination of patriarchy. 'Making light of the abuse.' 'Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior.' The list goes on. Arguing with a woman who feels threatened is simply feeding into the 'minimizing, denying, and blame' wedge of the pie.
"To wit: men, it doesn’t matter how good you are. It’s about direct intervention, and facing the dark selves that we have been programmed with. Like institutionalized racism, institutionalized sexism requires a daily examination of our behaviors, and the behaviors of others. Sucks, huh?"
I'd like to invite everyone to have discussions like this and to engage in some self-reflection, we can change the culture, but it's going to take all of us, YES, ALL WOMEN AND ALL MEN.
Note: Recognizing that one is part of a privileged group can be an emotionally trying process, but it's important to note that privilege does not minimize a person's achievements and hard work, rather it provides the perspective to see the additional difficulties faced by those not part of that privileged group.