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Yes, All Women

The other day, I made a “friend zone” joke here on the blog. I acknowledged that the whole concept of a friend zone is sexist and gross, but I still played it for laughs. The UCSB shooting happened shortly thereafter – a massacre motivated by the same sexist concept, that men are entitled to have access to women’s bodies.

I was making a point about how the characters in Dickens and Hugo who are “friend zoned” end up sacrificing themselves, as opposed to whining about why it’s not fair that the objects of their affection won’t sleep with them. My joke isn’t that bad. You can find something more offensive almost anywhere. But it’s not anywhere, it’s here, on a blog about books, written by a feminist. This stuff is insidious. It’s everywhere. Yes, I’m calling myself out. I’m also sharing some stuff I learned because most of my readers are young women and this is important.

I’m reading and participating in #yesallwomen which is a reaction to the instant refrain of “not all men” that comes up when an event like this is viewed from a feminist angle. Suggest that this massacre was motivated by misogyny and aided by a sexist culture, and you will immediately be informed that Not All Men are misogynists. Not all men think that way. Not all men abuse women. This isn’t a feminist issue, they say, it’s about gun control. It’s about mental health (and yes, it’s certainly those things too.) And women are saying, yeah, we get that. Not all men. But all women ARE affected by misogyny.  Every woman has a story, probably many stories. Go ahead and check out the hashtag. It’s relentless, repetitive, and extremely disheartening.

(If you haven’t figured it out, this post isn’t about books and it’s about to get really personal. )

I’ve never been raped. I’ve never been hit. I’ve never been stalked. But, reading the stories, I found I could relate. Off the top of my head, I’ve been called a slut, called a tease, cat called, followed, offered “a ride” while walking at night, threatened with sexual violence, guilted into sex, badgered into sex, groped in public, groped at a party while nearly unconscious, verbally harassed, interrogated on my sexual history, repeatedly asked to do things I said were off limits, received obscene and harassing phone calls and sent pornographic pictures. I have pretended to pass out, to be sick, to have a boyfriend, to have somewhere to go, because I was scared to say no. I have reason to believe a video of myself in a sexual situation (which was consensual) is out there on the internet (not consensual.) I will never know, and even if I did, there’s nothing I can do about it.

I’ve never made a list like this before. It sounds kind of bad, all together. But all of this stuff is completely normal. Yes, all women have stories just like these. Many have stories that are far, far worse.  I’m one of the lucky ones. Never raped, never hit, never stalked. Never  financially dependent on a boyfriend or otherwise hindered from leaving. Privileged by almost every factor you can think of except my gender.

Also worth noting: all of these things happened in my teens and early twenties. Men feel entitled to women’s bodies – especially young women.

And the biggest realization for me? Most of the men were people I knew. People I loved. People who loved me. None of them were evil. The first person who called me a slut was my dad. The second was my boyfriend. I was 16. Most of the other things I listed were at the hands of long term boyfriends. This is what it means to live in a culture where misogyny is normal.

A commenter on a Facebook thread said the UCSB shooter was “not an aberration, but an extremist.” That’s the point of #yesallwomen. Men feeling entitled to access women’s bodies, to dehumanize women, to guilt and shame and demean women, is normal, common, expected behaviour. We accept it. Then we are surprised when a young man is radicalized and instead of harming individual women, goes on a spree.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t know how to stop accepting it. I don’t know how to teach my kids not to accept it, not to perpetuate this behaviour. I don’t know how to explain an event like this, and am thankful I don’t have to, yet. Even if we can just be more mindful that yes, all women carry these experiences with us, that’s something. Call it hashtag activism, slacktivism, what you will, this was powerful and eye opening and I encourage you to go and read and listen.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I applaud you for being willing to admit that you made a mistake. The #Yesallwomen campaign is wonderful.

    May 26, 2014
  2. “Call it hashtag activism, slacktivism, what you will, this was powerful and eye opening and I encourage you to go and read and listen.”

    I call it brave. That was a very powerful post.

    May 26, 2014
  3. Great post. Personal and brave. And bravo for pointing out your own mistakes.

    May 27, 2014
  4. You’re right. It’s so accepted in society(even by women) that I don’t even think about it. It just seems normal. But, reading this post has made me think about all the times similar things have happened to me by normal men (one in particular, whose mother would be ashamed if she knew). And, my biggest question is; how do I prevent my own children from accepting this? Especially my son? Time to do some serious google parenting research. If you have any ideas, let me know! Thanks for writing this.

    May 27, 2014
  5. Awesome post! ALL women go through some pretty insane things in our society, ALL women. Having just been forced off the LRT at a stop that wasn’t mine (making me late for work as I waited for another train) by a man screaming the c-word at me when I politely told him I just wanted to read my book after he repeatedly got in my face, I find I’m in a pretty ranty mood about all this. Chris Eng just did a great post about this: http://theg33k.com/post/86946344567/yes-all-men

    May 27, 2014
  6. Well said!

    May 27, 2014
  7. So much love for this post.

    May 29, 2014
  8. #YesAllWomen is very powerful and brings back lots of memories. Like you and Naomi said, I wonder and worry how and what to teach my sons so that they grow up to respect women and fight against this behaviour and mindset.

    May 29, 2014

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