June 27, 2014

#YesAllWomen

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

When I was in high school, I met an old friend at our local park for a picnic. She had moved after elementary school so we were attending different schools and hadn’t seen each other for some time. We spread out our blanket, sat down, and proceeded to share food and stories.

Before long, a man came along, probably in his mid-late twenties, sat on our blanket and attempted to join in with our conversation. We both just looked at him for the first few minutes, shocked that he would be so bold. He continued talking to us, flirting, and asking us what we were “into.” We asked him to leave—we were not looking for a party or anyone else to talk to—but he refused to leave. Long story short, we had to leave the park to get rid of him. He tried to follow us but we made a lot of noise once we were nearer to other people and he wandered away. I never went back to that park.

I was reminded of this incident after the Isla Vista (Santa Barbara) murders occurred and the hashtag #YesAllWomen emerged and burned up the internet.

The young man who allegedly committed the murders appeared to have been socially isolated and mentally ill.  He had created a widely reported on YouTube video where he ranted about his lack of attention from women, leading to #YesAllWomen.

The use of the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen reached a peak within a few days and is a place where people, mostly women, post their experiences, thoughts, and feelings about how, yes, all women have a story to tell about how they are treated as property, as inferior to men, as sexual objects, as without a rational legitimate voice or opinion. And, yes, many also have experiences of sexual assault, rape, and interpersonal violence and have had to alter their behavior to avoid threats or actual attacks. At its root, #YesAllWomen is an airing of women’s experiences within a society characterized by a “rape culture.”

When it first appeared, it was said to be a response to the hashtag #NotAllMen which surges in use when people want to say that not all men commit sexual violence or are misogynistic or sexist in their behavior or attitudes.

Both hashtags are complementary and ripe for a robust sociological analysis.

We know that a society’s level of gender inequality is at the root of how men and women experience life and their overall life chances. If one gender is dominant over the other, that power takes shape in many, if not all, areas of life and society. Gender based violence is one of many impacts of gender inequality.

Through these two Twitter hashtags we see an airing of (1) the ways that gender inequities create very different lives and experiences for each gender group and (2) the difficulties these differences present when trying to communicate about the impact of these realities.

Much of the conversation is an attempt to help people understand that the comments are not about “all” men, they are about what it is to be living in a subordinate position in society and have to live your life by the rules of another segment of society.

Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois teaches us about the concept of double consciousness, how people living in the less powerful segments of society need to know the rules of the powerful so as to keep living yet they maintain their own culture within their powerless group.

Sociology would suggest and the dynamics of power are at the root of this issue. When power is wielded, the dominant group defines the cultural norms and societal structures.

The subordinate group has to live within these confines to survive. They may link themselves to those with power to gain some semblance of power for themselves or for protection. They may retreat from the dominant culture and create a sub (or counter) culture of their own. They may work in society to change (or overturn) the dominant culture to be more egalitarian or some other structure entirely. They may just attempt to live their lives and only deal with the issues when they occur and treat them as individual experiences, not realizing that if so many people experience them, they are societal in nature. One can trace these dynamics when it comes to any of the stratification systems we have built into our society, such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.

The question remains, what will be the impact be of these two hashtags, and their 140 character tweets, on our society? Will they change society? Will women no longer have to design and live their lives in fear of domination and violence? Will men realize the extent to which things that are invisible or trivial to them actually affect the women in their lives? Will we raise our children differently, design our educational systems and job structures differently, and perceive the genders equally?

If so, tweet on! If not, what needs to be done?

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Comments

I seriously doubt your story really happened.
At 38 years old, I have never been sexually harrassed, intimidated, or even cat-called—publicly or otherwise. Not ONCE. Nowadays I just roll my eyes and tell the girl to stop whining, since most women won't relate to the problems of "pretty girls".

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