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.
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