When #YesAllWomen began as a hashtag on Twitter over the weekend, I sat back for a while and observed. As a woman who writes for the Internet -- and often writes about misogyny, feminism and the world I experience as a woman -- I have learned that you don't always jump right into conversations online. It's dangerous: You have to be ready and willing to be torn down for what you look like, how you act and what you think, even if it is irrelevant to the conversation at hand.
Often, being a woman and being online sucks. Though #YesAllWomen was a hashtag created to be, however temporarily, a safe space for conversation in the wake of Elliot Rodger's self-justified misogyny-driven murders, it quickly became a place where women had to defend themselves for expressing what it is like to live in a culture of fear. Not a fear of just men like Rodger, but a fear of being held accountable for other people's actions toward us.
I call it the "asking for it" culture, or just straight-up rape culture. It is the culture that has taught me to carry my car key between my knuckles when walking alone, because I am not safe from others' actions. It is the culture that has taught me to lie about why I am not interested in interacting with a man. It is a culture that has taught me that if I am a woman who is not careful, I may be a victim of someone else's violent actions -- and ultimately, it may be my fault. It is a culture that has taught me to make men comfortable even when they are threatening my personal safety and making me feel unsafe. It is a culture that has taught me that if I act or present myself in a certain way, contrary to what I might say, my actions and clothing can express consent to a man. Consent that I do not give.
When debating with myself about participating in the #YesAllWomen hashtag, I started to think about all of the times in the last few years that I have experienced a man assuming his power over me in an online forum (this is not counting all of the times it has happened in real life, or in my entire 33 years on the planet). I wrote a piece about being trolled online and in real life by a person I know; this situation was terrifying, but I handled it. The person trolling me eventually apologized in person and the situation -- unlike most involving online harassment -- came to suitable conclusion.
But then I remembered a message I received on Facebook last year (see the above screenshot). It was from a person I had gone to high school with, someone whom I considered an acquaintance, even though he made me uncomfortable. I knew that he had feelings for me in some capacity, but I feigned ignorance in the name of ambiguous online friendship -- he often posted what I'm sure he saw to be "complimentary" comments on my photos and stories that I posted, but they made me uncomfortable. Still, I chose not to do anything (because if there is anything I have learned about this culture of fear I was raised in, it is to not wake a sleeping giant).
Eventually, it escalated to the personal message he sent me, which I ignored. Apparently, when people like him personally gift a compliment to a woman, we are supposed to be surprised and flattered and honored to have received it -- but unfortunately for him, comments do not mean consent to me. This backfired when I chose to ignore his message, which he responded to by calling me a bitch. Did this hurt? Not at all. I promptly took the message and posted it on Facebook for everyone to see, his name included.
I chose to out the perpetrator because one of the first steps to eradicate this culture of fear is to expose it. It is also because when existing as a woman in the culture of misogyny, especially online, I have found that my best defense is to outsmart the perp. It pisses me off to say this, but I am in a lucky minority because this person didn't pursue me further. Often when we acknowledge or react to harassment online, it comes with further consequences.
As this story of Elliot Rodger's online paper trail of scary sexism continues to play out and I think more about my own perpetrator's motives, it's clear that their lack of control is what motivates misogyny. There is a common misconception that misogyny is the outcome or reaction to feminism; it's not. Misogyny is about control. Feminism is about equity.
Misogyny is present in every woman's life. Men, too, are not immune to it -- you don't have to be a misogynist to be a participant. We all experience the injustice of victim-blaming. We all have been privy to conversations that make us uncomfortable. We all have been present for a situation or conversation that involves a lack of consent in some way. This is why conversations like #YesAllWomen are crucial to taking the power back and standing in the way of misogyny's control. But it can't only be up to women or a Twitter hashtag to combat it.
I really don't care if you call yourself a feminist or not, but when we don't say anything or react, we are complicit. Are you complicit in the culture of misogyny?
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