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Image / Editorial


by Jeanne Sutton
29th May 2014

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The conversation men need to listen to…

?When I was 19 a middle-aged man sat on my lap on a busy Dart, fondled my breasts and licked my face. No one did anything. #yesallwomen? Louise McSharry

This past week stories similar to 2FM presenter McSharry’s have been blitzing social media with the hashtag #YesAllWomen. The whole ?campaign? began last weekend, in the aftermath of a mass-shooting in Isla Vista, California. A young man killed six young people including his three flatmates, two girls standing outside a sorority and a man in a deli. Just before his multiple crimes he had published a manifesto, entitled ?My Twisted World?, and a Youtube video, ?Retribution?, in which he said his intended plan to kill women was motivated by their not sleeping with him. No religious ideology. No aims to redraw political borders. He allegedly turned the gun on himself during a police shootout.

As the news of the murders broke, people on Twitter were horrified, and some strangely defensive. Emma Woolley with Toronto’s The Globe and Mail calls this the ?not all men? era.?As soon as a high-profile misogynistic incident occurs, men, and sometimes women, jump in to comment that not all men are like this. Not all men are like Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Not all men make death threats against women campaigning to put Jane Austen on the €10 note. Not all men want ‘retribution? against ?every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut? that told them no, to quote the Isla Vista killer. Then something extraordinary happened. Women got fed up with the hijacking of the conversation around violence against women and thus the hashtag #YesAllWomen was born. #YesAllWomen focuses on what women fear, every day, and not what men might or might not do. Tweets began tumbling in at an unprecedented pace, over one million were registered yesterday.

?Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One. #YesAllWomen? @emilyhughes

?Because when I want to call out somebody for making a sexist joke or comment online, I worry I’ll burn professional bridges. #YesAllWomen? @annetdonahue

There are countless other stories, so many upsetting accounts of assault and societal acceptance that you will find once you click through the hashtag. Women talk about invoking the ?Sorry, I have a boyfriend excuse? when dealing with relentless guys, because ?Sorry, not interested? doesn’t carry as much weight as “Sorry, that man over there has first dibs”. Incidents where scenes of public harassment are ignored by bystanders evoke nothing but a deadening familiarity. Police questioning the clothing of sexual assault victims when reporting would make us livid if the couple of hundred other ?confessions? hadn’t made us give up on humanity already. The saddest thing of all? None of this is surprising.

The whole thing is a necessary mutation of the Everyday Sexism Project, a collection of women’s daily experience of gender inequality submitted through the dedicated website or via the Twitter hashtag #EverydaySexism. However while #EverydaySexism records incidents, #YesAllWomen documents everyday existence and let’s men know exactly what goes through our minds when we walk home alone, keys in between our fingers. We think it is a worthy project, if people listen. The Irish Times yesterday dismissed the endeavour as some sort of slacktivism, calling these kind of online conversations ?useless weapons?. The world will keep on sexistly spinning. If we let it. The National Women’s Council of Ireland’s Orla O’Connor stressed to us that ?the debate needs to continue once the publicity surrounding these tragic events have gone away.? In a world where recent days have seen a woman stoned to death by her family outside a Pakistani public court for marrying the man she loved and a country where the Galway Rape Crisis Centre notes a “worrying increase” in referrals from teenagers, it is imperative this momentum is not lost.

Young men like the Isla Vista killer grow up in a world where women are meant to dismiss groping in crowded bars as what happens on Saturday nights, accept wolf whistles as compliments and almost apologise when refusing a man access to their body. A Washington Post article pointed to the ?bro? movies? of Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow as ‘misleading young men with ?escapist fantasies? of ‘sexual wish fulfillment?. While such near-accusations lay perhaps too much blame at the feet of Hollywood, there is a rampant ?bro? culture that young men are being force-fed, where bawdiness and bragging are rampant and selfies proof you’re living the high life. It’s a culture of entitlement, and women are just commodities. Sit these guys in front of a screen, sans a first person shooter game, and make them scroll the hashtag. In the first flush of tweets, Neil Gaiman wrote ?The #yesallwomen hashtag is filled with hard, true, sad and angry things. I can empathise & try to understand & know I never entirely will.?

Last September the young adult author Rachel Vail tweeted as her son began college, ?Great point made in son’s college orientation re sex/safety/respect/etc: “Consent is really too low a bar. Hold out for enthusiasm.”? That’s the conversation we need to start having with all men.

Jeanne Sutton @jeannedesutun