I want to talk about the #YesAllWomen conversation. I read recently that the hashtag has “jumped the shark” — that it got it’s 15 minutes of fame and it’s time to retire talking about it. Well, no. Because I have things to say.
First: I believe men and women were created equally. Men were not created to amuse, entertain, or serve women, and women were not created to amuse, entertain, or serve men. My body certainly was not created for men, and theirs were not created for me. I believe every individual woman possess unique talents and abilities and that every individual man does as well. More than furthering ‘female power’, I desire every individual to know their worth and value. I believe women are just as much in God’s image as men, no more and no less. And vice versa. It is because of my certainty regarding the worth of every person that I am offended by the rampant sexism and gender inequality that men and women both face daily. Now, the type of sexism expressed in the hashtag is very specific, but it is not the only form of sexism. For instance, I have a male teacher friend who has many times expressed to me how difficult it is to be a man and genuinely enjoy children without receiving negative reactions. That others doubt the purity of his intentions based off of the behavior of others and not his own character is sexism. And that’s a mild example — it would be an error to believe that women are the only ones affected by a gender gap.
That being said, it is still important to pay attention to the particular acts of sexism that are being shared through this hashtag. I have a problem with some of the responses this hash tag has yielded, and not just because they aren’t my beliefs. Instead of listening and learning from these stories, there’s a lot of dismissing, blame shifting, and harsh defenses. Frankly I feel like the stories could be very eye opening for men, as well as women, if they would read them without a defense already up. I’ve talked a lot about this to my boyfriend and he confessed to me that he had no idea women felt the way that we do. He was disgusted at the stories I personally shared, and even more so that they aren’t rare instances for women. Those who have not experienced what the men and women using the hashtag have do not have the right to say, “Yeah but life is hard for everyone.” These stories are important. Don’t give them a “Yeah, but”.
The hashtag “Yes All Women” is a response to the biggest defense that was seen after the murders in California were deemed an act of sexism: Not All Men do those things. Well meaning men responded, “not all men act that way!” but the truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter. Not all men do this, but yes all women have still experienced this type of behavior.
Not all men attack women. Not all men rape, abuse, belittle, mock, or disrespect women. My life is full of men who don’t do these things. Men who respect women, men who walk with me at night so I’m not alone, men who don’t see me as an object of conquest. I love these men and I respect these men and I am so thankful for these men. And yet, even though I know so many of these trustworthy men, I still have pepper spray on my keychain at all times. I still make my plans in such a way that I am never alone by myself at night. I’m still afraid to travel to certain countries because of my gender. I’ve still had men follow me. I’ve still had men touch themselves while smirking at me in public.
You’re right, not all men do these things. But for more then 20 years I’ve learned from my own and other women’s experiences that I am a whole lot safer if I don’t try to guess which team a man is on and keep my phone out with “911” already dialed.
Not all men, but yes all women.
I don’t share these things to prove how much of a victim I am (because I’m not one), nor do I believe that the #YesAllWomen tweets are posted for that reason. Something tragic has taken place as a result of extreme sexism and it has inspired women and men to be honest about their experiences. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me or women in general, I just want you to know that these things happen – a lot. I didn’t tell these things to my boyfriend so that he would feel bad; I told him so that he would know because, having never been a woman, there’s no way he could have otherwise. A sweet friend of mine said something great on this subject:
“I also believe that women are not walking victims. I believe we are powerful. I believe we are smart. I believe we are capable of much more than society expects of us. So I don’t have to stay frustrated about the fact that I walk around more vigilent at night than my male peers, because its scientifically proven that I am a better multi-tasker than my male counterparts so I can do it. And I do. Thats the win. I make smart, wise choices about where I am and what I’m doing and how safe I am, but I still do things. I don’t live in fear. I don’t live as a victim. “
Men, I would simply like you to know that even if you don’t think this way or do these things, other men do. I propose to both men and women to be intentional with your sons: don’t assume they’ll learn to respect women, that isn’t something any form of media is going to teach them. Tell them. Show them and tell them and press it firm into their hearts. Teach them how good men can be. Be intentional with your daughters: teach them that they are strong and capable and have the right to defend themselves and are also expected to respect others. Show them how they deserve to be treated. And if, God forbid, they do experience a heart breaking act of sexism, tell them they are are not a less valuable daughter (or son) of Christ. They aren’t dirty. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t ask for it. Please, parents, tell your children that they do not lose worth because of things that happen to them. They are so loved.
Before sitting down to write some thoughts I actually talked to other women about it first. I knew that my blood boiled over the all too familiar stories that I was reading, but I wanted to know how others felt. And not just any random women, I wanted to know how the women that were living life right alongside me felt. I wanted to hear their stories.
I asked more then thirty women questions about this. Some married, some mothers, some single, some black, some white. I asked them if they had similar experiences. I asked them if they really believe that all women experienced this form of sexism. I wasn’t surprised when every one of them said “yes”. I guess the hashtag wasn’t jumping to conclusions after all? I read stories about being followed, about women who were too afraid to defend themselves after having derogatory remarks shouted to them, about women who found it was safer to dress like men and pretend to be lesbians than be feminine.
But something more important came from listening to these women: at no point did I hear hate in their voices. And I think that the men who are working so hard at defending themselves against this topic need to listen to what I am saying. The thirty+ women that I spoke with, via email and in person, are not full of hate regarding men. Some are angry at specific men who have harmed them, and frankly I say rightfully so, but they are not bitter or angry or wielding pitch forks. They’re sympathetic to the fact that not everyone realizes what it’s like to be fearful of rape because not everyone has had to be. And more-over, havng been at the receiving end of sexism, they seem very quick to notice unfairness towards men. From these women I heard sympathy for the men who have been demeaned for being men. My friend Lauren, who is actually a really bang-up fiction writer, addressed this really well:
“I think women expect men to stop thinking like men and start thinking like women. And I think the fact that we want men to start thinking more like women highlights our belief that there is something inherently deficient about the way men think. Sexism against women is a well-covered topic. And don’t get me wrong–it’s an important one and one I’m passionate about. My experiences, my fear, my disgust, my rage against the way I’ve been treated–these things are real and deeply felt. But just as real is the wounded spirit of men who are painted as deficient, as dogs. We become the kind of people we are expected to be. As we demonize our men, they become more like demons. As we elevate them, as we encourage their unique minds, and listen to their different thoughts, we expand our own thinking and we give them the liberty to be male and good at the same time.”
We need to be more aware: both genders watching out for the other. We need to listen to the stories our neighbors have to share with the only motive being to help carry their burden. My sisters, I am so sorry about the things that have been done to you. I am so sorry that a man believed he had more of a right to your body than you did. I am so sorry that those boys talked to you like a second class citizen, instead of the daughter of Christ. You are worth so much more than what has been done to you. And my brothers, I am sorry about the difficulties you endure that I will never understand. I am sorry that you feel blamed for the behavior of others.