In the days following the UCSB Shooting, I witnessed women all over the world recognizing a familiar albeit exaggerated sentiment in the manifesto and YouTube videos posted to the internet by the perpetrator, Elliot Rodger. It was anger directed at women for having been denied the sex he felt he rightfully deserved. Even after a young man went on a shooting spree after bluntly stating the latter, many men continued to ignore what women had to say, with the “not all men” argument. Phrases like “not all men” allow individuals who use them to sever themselves from a collective social issue.
The #yesallwomen movement that came about as a response provided a platform for women to say, ‘Fine. Not all men commit mass murder because they hate women; but yes, all women live with the fear of sexual and otherwise gender-driven violence. Yes, all women are affected negatively by the patriarchy. Yes, all women need you to take a breath, listen, and try to understand why this is so important.’ We understand that it’s aggravating to be lumped in with jerks and rapists, but the truth is: unless you’re actually concerned about the issues and willing to be part of battling against the misogyny that is undeniably present, I don’t feel bad for you.
Women are not taught that all men are jerks and rapists. In fact, we are taught only to be wary of certain types of men; the clearly shady ones peeking their unshaven faces out of dark alleyways. The ones who “look like they would rape you.” So when we find that we have too readily placed our trust in the hands of men who seemed completely nice and normal until we see they have no concept of consent, we lose the sense of certainty about whom we should be suspicious. Once you’ve realized that the men capable of rape, sexual assault, and gender violence are indistinguishable from men who would never commit these heinous acts, you learn to be distrustful. You learn to keep fear and caution in the back of your mind throughout each and every interaction with a man.
This is how it happened for me, and it had to happen a few times in a few different ways for me to understand what was really going on. The first and most influential event was when I visited a then close friend for his birthday. I spent the beginning of the night with him and his girlfriend. I vividly remember him telling her that I was “like a sister” to him. Sure enough, though, by the end of the night, after spending a good hour emptying the contents of my stomach into a toilet that had probably never been cleaned, I found myself in what was then an unthinkably compromising sexual situation. I was drunk, but functioning, and tired as all hell. He started asking for more and more in the way of physical affection, and I said no. I said no. But at a certain point I was tired of talking about it. At a certain point I thought, “Fuck it. It seems like he really wants this and it’s not going to kill me.” So it happened. I let it happen and I know that.
It took me a year before I told any of my friends, and another before I had a sober conversation about it. At first, I thought I was just becoming too promiscuous. Maybe I was becoming the girl who always managed to sleep her way through a friend group, not that I could understand why ‘that girl’ always got such a bad rap anyway. I just remembered the encounter being so sickening; trying to keep my eyes shut and as every second passed, hoping that the next one would be the last. I knew that drunkenness was a factor in defining rape and I was drunk. But I was lucid and he had been drinking too. I didn’t know what to think about it so I kept it to myself.
The thing that really upset me was that I pride myself on being strong and independent. I like that my personal philosophy is to have sex when and with whom I want, but here I was giving my body to someone who I didn’t even want to sleep with. Someone who didn’t deserve it. I came to realize that ideas rooted deep within each of us allowed it to happen, ideas that said he had been a friend to me long enough to warrant a sexual encounter. He had put in his time.
I have only recently begun to understand how these types of events in my past have played into the way I see myself, men, and the world at large. I’ve spent a great deal of time wondering why I have such a hard time creating meaningful relationships with men and why the ones from my past seem almost illegitimate. I’ve been wondering why every time I end up sleeping with somebody, it feels like a waste.
I have been reading more feminist literature and started to understand how systemic sexism plays into events such as the one I experienced. When I came across the #yesallwomen thread on twitter I was dumbstruck. I thought about the baseball bat under my bed and the pepper spray on all my friends’ key chains. I thought about my closest female friends and realized that each and every one of them had a story to tell about a time that they were sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or raped. I realized that the trouble I was having with men wasn’t only a personal issue. It was something that most women in our society have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s not just that we have to be afraid of the stereotypical creep on the street (which is scary enough), we end up fearing a lot of the men we meet, the men we look up to, the men we trust. At least that’s how it’s been for me.
#yesallwomen still matters to me because it is one of the first hints I’ve seen of a medium through which women can publicly share these kinds experiences with one another. It allows us to retell our most horrific experiences so that men can see these issues in a way that they will never be portrayed on TV. It allows us to understand these issues as universal and work against everything we’ve been taught about how women should react to sexual violence. It allows us to begin to bridge the gap in understanding between the sexes and work toward eradicating rape culture.
We can’t let conversations like the ones roused by #yesallwomen fade. We need to keep the urgency of these issues in the media and maintain a public space for women to address the injustice we confront every day. I still need #yesallwomen and I think the world does too.