The violent rampage of a man whose hatred of women was so deep that it drove him to kill was the catalyst for one of the most heartbreaking, powerful and disturbing trends I’ve seen on Twitter. #YesAllWomen saw women from around the globe share their stories of harassment, abuse and various types of misogyny that they had endured. The hashtag demonstrated the many ways our societies allow men to somehow feel entitled to women, usually at the expense of women’s health and wellbeing, safety, and even lives.
Of course, #YesAllWomen was met with the inevitable cries of #NotAllMen from those who felt slighted that so many women had spoken out about their feelings of pain and terror at the hands of men. Now, in the tens of dozens of tweets that I read, I didn’t see one that actually claimed that all men harass and abuse. Not one.
But, and I say this without trying to be provocative or sensationalist, I would not be surprised if I had seen a tweet that read #YesAllMen.
I’ve written before about those “safety” messages we as women get: don’t drink too much, don’t wear that short skirt or low-cut top, don’t walk alone. To me, those messages not only tell me to try to make sure he rapes someone else, they also tell me #YesAllMen. Those messages – given by friends, family, the police, security personnel, teachers and others – are given with the implication that any male stranger I encounter is a potential rapist, who will strike should I be too drunk, or showing a little too much skin. Those messages don’t come with a disclaimer noting that #NotAllMen are a bad. They are blanket warnings, covering any and all men and we have heard them our entire lives.
#YesAllWomen demonstrated the myriad of ways in which women are harassed, abused and assaulted on a regular basis. When women are consistently subjected to men who are total strangers hurling sexually explicit remarks at them as they walk to the train station, another who rubs up against her in a suggestive way on the bus, or decides, mid-conversation, that sticking his hand up her dress in bar (all things that have happened to me fairly recently), I wouldn’t blame them for thinking #YesAllMen. There is absolutely nothing in these actions that would suggest that these men aren’t capable of taking their verbal and physical assaults one step further. Coupled with those “safety” messages, I think #YesAllMen could be an entirely reasonable thought.
Logically, I know that it’s #NotAllMen. We all do. But logical thinking can be a funny thing. I know, for example, that I’m more likely to be raped by someone I know in a private house, than I am by a stranger on the street. But it’s what Tom Meagher so brilliantly described as the “Monster Myth” that so often rules the way we think. The “how not to get raped” messages we get from the media, from authorities, from those who are concerned about our safety, is to always be prepared and to protect ourselves from strangers, because #YesAllMen are potential rapists. And those messages have been so pervasive, in my life at least, that even though I know better, I will still employ every tactic I can if I find myself walking through a park with a man behind – keys between my knuckles, phone in the other hand, perfume ready to be sprayed into someone’s eyes.
Those “safety” messages lend themselves to the Monster Myth. They tell us that if we follow a certain set of rules, we’ll stay safe from the stranger lurking in the bushes. They tell us #YesAllMen. Likewise, the Monster Myth tells us that it is those men we don’t know who rape. Any man. #YesAllMen. It’s a vicious and useless cycle.
#YesAllWomen was a glimpse into the terror and suffering of countless women around the world. #NotAllMen missed the point completely. It was a reactionary hashtag that didn’t show that those who used it hate men’s violence against women. It showed nothing more than childish defensiveness that buys in to the Monster Myth, thus perpetuating the idea of #YesAllMen. If those who continually cry #NotAllMen were so concerned about being tarred with the violent brush, they would be better off speaking out against the things that enable men’s violence against women in all its forms, whether it be a rape joke, or their friend groping a girl in a bar.
We know that it’s #NotAllMen. We really do. But the ever-present Monster Myth and behaviour-policing “safety” messages tell us otherwise.