Sometimes a movement is born from just a few, powerful words shared and spoken by people around the world—and it can start with just a hashtag.
#YesAllWomen, a collective online response to the recent shootings in Isla Vista, Calif., may be one of those movements.
Yes, All Women: You Are Not Alone
Hashtags, once an obscure practice favored by tech insiders, now mainstream thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, are created by putting a hash mark—”#”—in front of a word or phrase. You’re more likely to see them on television programs and otherwise tied to pop-culture phenomena, so advertisers and TV networks can better track what people care about.
But when people use hashtag to create a dialogue around an issue, they become more meaningful than water cooler chatter. They become the conversation, and can create action. Just think back to the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011, when citizens of oppressive regimes learned through social networks that they were far from alone. As a result, they took to the streets—and governments fell.
#YesAllWomen began making the rounds after a tragic shooting, but its message transcends a singular act of violence. People are using it to highlight the harassment, discrimination and bias women face every day.
From “Not All Men” To #YesAllWomen
On Friday, a violent rampage left seven people dead, including the gunman, near the University of California campus in Isla Vista, just outside of Santa Barbara, Calif. In a video manifesto the 22-year-old shooter, Elliot Rodger, shared online, he claimed that he wanted to punish the women who rejected him for years, despite being a “perfect guy.”
#YesAllWomen is a reaction to more than just Rodger’s warped beliefs. It extends an idea that has been discussed for months—the excuse that “not all men” are misogynistic. This far-too-common response to any discussion of women’s lives angers feminists. They view the “not all men” argument as an attempt by men to shift blame and thereby excuse themselves from conversation about harassment or gender-based violence.
Rodger blamed women for his misery, and, in response, women took to social media to talk about being victims of gender-based harassment, violence, and discrimination, sharing stories of the misogynistic acts that happened to them every day. The shooter blamed women—all women—for his unhappiness. So women on Twitter flipped his psychotic rant around and turned it into a call for sanity—something powerful and empowering.
Not all men are like Rodger. But what #YesAllWomen demonstrates is that yes, all women live in fear because there are men who discriminate against them, who are violent against them, who sexually assault them.
The hashtag is still a trending topic on Twitter, and has sparked a public conversation that, before Twitter, may have been impossible. (While the #YesAllWomen hashtag is also prominent on Facebook, the design of that social network makes it harder for these conversations to surface there.)
Through 140 characters and a public platform, a handful of people can turn a violent tragedy into a national conversation. The Isla Vista shooting prompted the hashtag, but it quickly turned a dialogue about gender discrimination and rape culture.
For people who have never experienced what the women on Twitter are talking about, following the #YesAllWomen hashtag can be difficult and hard to relate to. Though each tiny memoir is different, and ranges from outright violence to subtle discrimination, the stories echo one another: Women are still suffering at the hands of men.
For women who have lived through these experiences, the #YesAllWomen conversation makes them feel less isolated. And while it’s not clear what shape this movement will take, the Arab Spring experience suggests that people who learn they are not alone are more prone to take action.
People might not agree with every tweet; people rarely do. But by reading the conversation with an open mind, it’s likely everyone will learn something. All women, and all men.
Photo by JD Hancock