Joining the Uncomfortable Conversation of Violence Against Women

Last week I watched a video by a YouTuber whose opinions I generally agree with which suggested that #YesAllPeople and #NotAllMen are as legitimate a statement as #YesAllWomen. To say that I was angered by it is a bit of an understatement. The desire to leave a comment was high, but as I scrolled through the comments and read the chorus of pro-men’s rights statistics and mysogynistic rhetoric I realized something that is despairingly analogous to real life: this was not a safe place to voice my opinion. The reality is that the world is not a safe place for women–even in the western world which we love to tout as being progressive and inclusive. We women exist in a culture that promotes the idea that we are tools and objects to be used and won. Where “feminist” is a dirty word, and in which speaking out about abuse and sexism is a social crime, because damnit all, look at all the rights women do have, and haven’t you seen all the shit that [x] group has to go through? Ultimately, this is where the #YesAllPeople and #NotAllMen hashtags fall short, because guys, this conversation isn’t about you.

I know it seems like it is, with how many women are coming forward recently to talk about what it’s like to live in fear of men. The horror stories of abuse and violence must seem like an accusation that you need to defend yourself against, but you’re reading it wrong. This conversation isn’t about how evil men can be. It’s about the tragic experiences disturbingly common among women, and how we can prevent them. This is why it’s crucial for you to understand that we don’t need you bursting onto the stage like you’re Kanye West saying, “I’m really sorry about your hardship, and I’mma let you finish telling your story, but I just wanna say, not all men are abusers and rapists.” Yes, we know that. But we’re not talking about the percentage of men who abuse women. We’re talking about the percentage of women who are abused by men–it turns out that that’s a bloody high number. And just to briefly address the #YesAllPeople argument, consider what it would be like if every time you talked about how outrageous the cost of living is currently, some asshole jumped in and said “Ch- You know, there are some people in the world who live off of five cents a month. You’re not the only one with problems, you selfish prick.” Not only is the relative poverty of the world not related to what you were originally talking about, but it would get old really fast.

I know that a lot of you guys out there feel bad for us. You don’t like the uncomfortable feeling that these stories produce any more than we women do. You want to comfort us and absolve yourself of guilt by association. You don’t want to be a part of the problem. But if you want to be a part of the conversation and the ultimate solution, here is what we need you to do first: close your lips and open your ears. Listen to us and our stories. Understand that even if you don’t see it, sexual harassment and violence against women is a very prevalent reality in our society. Recognize that institutionalized sexism and mysogyny exist everywhere in our culture, and speak out against instances of it where they appear. And as difficult as it is, whenever you can empathize instead of sympathize.

Women live in a world in which drinking can be misconstrued as implied consent (if she didn’t want to be fondled, she shouldn’t have had so much to drink); where inviting a guy into your home can be interpreted as a sexual invitation for which the women is at fault if she doesn’t follow through with the unspoken promise; where grown adults are advised not to walk the streets alone at night; where each date is a potential rape; where we’re taught that our bodies need to be put on display for men, but we must feel ashamed of ourselves if they overstep their boundaries. If you’re a guy and you think this is bullshit, then join our voices, but first you have to understand that we’re not talking about whether or not you’re a part of the problem; we’re talking about the reality of the problem itself, and that’s the bigger issue.

In the end, #YesAllWomen exists because #NotAllMen listen.


Follow the conversation on these great blogs as well:

Not All Men: How Discussing Women’s Issues Gets Derailed

Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men



11 thoughts on “Joining the Uncomfortable Conversation of Violence Against Women

    • I’m very sorry to hear that. Please feel free to email me if you’d like to talk about it.

      To answer your question, no, thankfully I have never been raped. I have however been persistently stalked, aggressively requested to be photographed naked, inappropriately touched by a teacher, and invasively touched at parties.

      In no way am I (or anyone involved with #YesAllWomen) attempting to undermine or deny the instances of male rape or abuse, however, I will suggest that those specific instances and the cultural and societal environment that breeds them is a separate conversation than the one being discussed here. I find your question to be needlessly aggressive in its insinuation that your experience trumps those being discussed under the #YesAllWomen hashtag. If I’m wrong in my interpretation of your comment you of course have my apologies.

  1. It’s all right, I understand where you’re coming from. I find sexual abuse perpetrated against men just as disgusting as that perpetrated against women. I don’t want to shut you out of the conversation if you want to talk about your experiences or find some common ground. It was just the way the first comment was worded that rankled me, sorry.

  2. Just wanted to let you know that I loved this post and I’m totally with you. I think the problem (not with men, but with people in general) is that we’re super-defensive, and we often overlook the issue in a desire to defend ourselves. The millions of men who lose their minds screaming about how they’re not all rapists are completely missing the point. We’re not trying to say that every man is a potential rapist, we’re trying to point out that it is very common for men to do violence to women and that, in turn, makes women fear for themselves on a daily basis.

    I also DESPISE the “you’ve got it better than _____, so you should just shut up” argument. I despise that argument no matter what conversation it’s being used in. I hate it when people say that a person shouldn’t be depressed because there are people in the world who have it a lot worse, and I hate when people say that American women shouldn’t be whining so much because other women in the world have to deal with a lot more. Pointing out that someone else’s problem is worse DOES NOT CHANGE THE FACT THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM.

    And just for the record, I’m whole-heartedly on the side of guys who say that they have it rough too (have you see the video of the actors who staged a woman beating the crap out of her boyfriend and how people just stood by laughing?). But that’s not what the #YesAllWomen thing is about. If the men want to have a #YesAllMen thing to discuss the issues that they face, that’s fine. That’s GREAT. But instead of having a discussion about their own issues, they’re turning around the WOMEN’S discussion and making it about them because “ARG I MUST DEFEND MY HONOR!” And unfortunately, that’s human nature.

    Okay, that’s the end of my rant for today. lol

    • Yeah, I saw that video too. Violence done to men by women is a whole other can of worms with its own culturally ingrained gender-bias bullshit. I don’t agree with it one bit, and I have no problem standing beside men who’ve lived through it, but as has been said, it’s a different conversation.

      I know on the scale of sexual harassment I’ve had it relatively easy. But I have been harassed. On more than one occasion. I’ve been harassed while wearing a coat in June just to prevent harassment. I know not all men are guilty, but it still feels like if I so much as make eye contact with a guy it might be misconstrued as an invitation. So yeah, I’m afraid. I’m afraid to walk to work. I’m afraid of answering when a guy says “Excuse me” because two different guys have now taken it upon themselves to not only make lewd comments but to FOLLOW me when I tell them no. I’m afraid because here in Japan, if you go to the police with a harassment complaint, they tell you not to wear such provocative clothing. (By the way, summers here pop up into the 110s with 70% humidity, but make sure you wear long sleeves and button those collars all the way up to your neck, ladies. Don’t want to give the boys the wrong idea.)

  3. This is a great post – and you are so right. I spent my working life in a corner of academia run by men, for men. I put up with a lot of grief in order to get promoted, until I COULD speak out without fear of backlash. I wish it had been different…

    • That sucks, seriously. I think a lot of the time society doesn’t realize that the reason why don’t speak up about these things is that we’re not in a position of strength. Whether it’s our employers, a guy on the street who looks stronger, or a situation where the blame is too often shifted to us. However, not speaking up out of a very plausible fear still isn’t consent that that sort of behavior is OK. 😦

  4. This is a wonderful post, N J. Sometimes it is so disheartening because we have been having this conversation for so long, and the problem doesn’t seem to be getting better. Instead it takes new forms that are more subtle and insidious, where people can now claim that women have nothing to complain about because “it’s better now – can’t you see that?” Well, it’s not better until everyone (and I mean everyone – of all ages and genders) can walk through the streets without fear. I look forward to that day. Someday…

    • I especially don’t like the suggestions that women shouldn’t be getting so loud and angry about all this, and that more people would listen if we just talked nicely and reasonably. What do these people think we’ve been doing before this?

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