Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Trigger warning: Sexual violence and everything related to it.
Every time there is a heavily publicized act of violence against women just for being women, there is an inevitable backlash of “Hey, come on. Not all men…”
“Not all men are jerks.”
“Not all men treat women that way.”
“Not all men are violent psychopaths.”
And the resounding answer is always: DUH.
We all know that NOT ALL MEN ARE ______________. We know. But the reason we need to talk about violence against women is because even though not all men are violent psychopaths, all women have to learn the difference between a violent psychopath and a regular guy.
That’s how the #YesAllWomen hashtag started. It tells the story of how every woman has been subjected to the actions of this small, minority group of men. Those who are jerks, those who do treat women that way, and those who are violent psychopaths.
Hashtag Slacktivism rarely accomplishes anything. In fact, it almost always accomplishes nothing. But in this particular case, it accomplished exactly the thing it set out to accomplish.
It shared our stories.
Because every woman has a story about being a victim. Every woman has a story of a time when she needed to decide between fight and flight. The statistics on sexual violence are disturbing, but the biggest problem is that (to some people) they are still shocking.
There are still people who DON’T BELIEVE THIS IS TRUE.
There are still people who don’t believe that one out of six women
ONE OUT OF SIX WOMEN
will be victims of a rape or rape attempt in their lifetime.
This doesn’t take into account any of the other forms of sexual assault. Cat calling is sexual assault. Following a woman, shouting sexual advances at her is sexual assault. Uninvited sexting is sexual assault. Groping is sexual assault. Forced kissing is sexual assault. Sexual intimidation is sexual assault. Sex by coercion is sexual assault.
Most women and girls who experience these attacks never tell anyone.
In addition to the countless (literally, I cannot count high enough) times I’ve been cat-called, followed, and groped, I was physically assaulted at the age of nineteen. I was lucky. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, and I felt grateful for my “escape” from my “date” even then. Do you know how many people I’ve told before now?
My husband knows my life, but before I ever told him, I told my parents. I downplayed it to them the night it happened, the night I came home disheveled, crying, and my face covered in angry red marks. “It’s not a big deal,” I told them. “I don’t need to talk about it. I’m fine.”
Look at that sentence:
“It’s not a big deal.”
And frankly, it isn’t. Not technically. It’s so common, it’s so normal, it’s boring. Nobody cares, nobody wants to hear. When I sit in my book club, and there are twenty women in the room, odds are that there are at least two or three others in the room who have experienced worse than what I experienced. That’s how not-a-big-deal-it-is.
But even though these events are so common and normal, there are still people who think they don’t even happen. There are people who think women are blowing things out of proportion, or that our fear is unfounded, that it can’t possibly happen to anybody in this neighborhood or on this campus.
BUT IT DOES.
It happens all the time, and it happens in every city, every town, every college campus, every bar in this country. Nothing protects us from sexual violence. Nothing makes us exempt.
But something can give us a voice.
The #YesAllWomen hashtag showed all women everywhere that they are not crazy. They are not alone. They are not “dirty” or “broken” for experiencing these things. Women are not wrong for thinking of their own safety and they are not wrong for trying to protect themselves in mundane situations.
The #YesAllWomen hashtag showed all men everywhere that this stuff does happen. If you’re one of the men who doesn’t perpetrate the violence, great. Wonderful. Superb. I’m not being sarcastic when I say: THANK YOU.
But being not guilty isn’t enough. You need to know that this is true. You need to know, when a woman confides in you, tells you the terrible thing that happened in her past, that she’s not lying. You need to know that when your girlfriend comes home, trembling with fear because she was followed, her fear is rational. You need to know that this happens, it happens a lot, and we have every reason to be afraid.
Not All Men are jerks. Not All Men treat women that way. Not All Men are violent psychopaths.
But all women have lived their lives in fear of sexual violence, or retribution for not being interested.
#YesAllWomen have dealt with the repercussions of sexual violence. All of us.
I didn’t create this hashtag, I don’t want to take credit for it. It was started by my friend, Kaye, who is seriously wonderful in many ways. This topic surfaced as a result of one particularly heinous act of violence, which was a result of many factors (mental illness playing a big part, I have no doubt), but this topic should be at the forefront of our discussion all the time. This should not be shocking. No one should feel dismissed when their fears are justified. EDITED TO ADD: This isn’t necessary to the point of this post, but I want to be sure everyone knows that my parents disagreed with me. They thought it was a very big deal, and they were 100% on my side.