In case you’ve been having a few hermitty days of ignoring the internet: protests against systemic misogyny and violence against women are going viral. Much of this social media discourse has been organised under the hashtag #YesAllWomen, which is a direct response to the common retort from men that “not all men” are rapists, perpetrators of sexual assault or misogynists. Women are using the hashtag to tell their all-too-common stories of routine harassment, sexual assault and violence, a campaign that caught fire after Rodger went on a shooting rampage that he blamed on his “involuntary celibacy”.
The Tumblr, When Women Refuse, details stories of horrific violence against women as told by the news media. The stories frequently describe men who lose their temper when women deny them their perceived right to sex, as Rodger did. Zandt, a media technologist and author, says we need to move away from focusing on incidents like these as isolated, freak situations.
“With #yesallwomen and When Women Refuse, in the case of structural inequity of gender, I’m hoping that we can kind of get past these flashpoint moments of [gasps] ‘That’s sexism, over there!’ And actually look at this as a structural issue,” Zandt says.
“In the wake of the discussion happening after the shootings and #yesallwomen, men were still digging in and saying ‘No, really, its just that one guy over there.’” (It’s not just that one guy: Rodger was part of an online community of anti-pick-up artists who shared similar sentiments about women.)
Saying “not all men” is to derail the conversation and make it about the individual self as opposed to the wider systemic violence that is happening. To use that argument is to redirect the conversation to solely address one’s own thoughts and feelings, and not the very real issue at hand – which, simply put, is that women are scared of men because we fear the violence they are capable of. We’re scared of being killed.
“A lot of the responses I’ve been getting, on Twitter and elsewhere… [people are shocked]. Unless you’re working in this space every day, you probably don’t realise the epidemic of gender-based violence as a widespread cultural problem that we have,” Zandt says.
The idea for the Tumblr came to Zandt after journalist Kate Harding began collecting stories detailing other misogyny-induced violence against women who rejected men for a story she was working on. Harding said it was cool if Zandt made a Tumblr, too. The blog has received 71,000 unique visits in the first 24-hours. Zandt enlisted four other women to help her out. There are now five of them caring for and posting to the site.
As for #yesallwomen, it was trending on Sunday and Monday, and the discussions surrounding it are still going strong. According to a social media analytics platform called Sysomos, the hashtag has been used over 2 million times since the day of the Rodger massacre. With such a huge amount of momentum behind this campaign, I asked Zandt what kind of staying power she thinks this movement could have.
Screenshot via Sysomos
“You know, there’s a nerd discussion right now about the lifecycle of a hashtag. Generally, hashtags don’t last very long. I think we’ll see it for a while, and I think it’ll come back as a reminder.”
She says after the first media surge is over, hashtags can live in our collective internet consciousness as cultural reminders that covered a particular ground in our wide-reaching discussions online. Aside from that, they can live on as signs of solidarity, much like the way they start.
“What we are doing when we participate in these movements is we are doing digital consciousness raising. We are looking at each other and saying, ‘You are not alone. This doesn’t just happen to you. You are not crazy for thinking that it’s fucked up.'
“That, on its own, is such a hugely critical piece for making movements work.”
For now, Zandt has chosen only to post stories of violence faced by women who refuse sex as reported by news outlets. She isn’t posting personal stories because media organisations are generally seen to be more credible than an individual’s tale, and can act as an authenticator – though she does have a call for submissions on her website.
“Men in these conversations will actually respect the Washington Post or even a local TV station more than they respect or believe a woman’s story. But if it’s been in the news and there’s a police report behind it, or something along those lines, men particularly are more likely to believe it.”
Even after the hype dies down, Zandt says she’ll keep up with When Women Refuse in order to provide a resource/repository for journalists and others who are looking to know. And when the story dies down and the media stops reporting on the entrenched hatred of women that constantly leads to their rapes and deaths, Zandt thinks this movement will help fuel the fight against violent misogyny.
“A lot of people are of the mindset that we don’t really need feminism anymore. As far as the actual cultural moment, though, I think we are starting to take baby steps into reopening this issue in a mainstream context.”