#yesallwomen: A different kind of Memorial Day

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“Being born a woman is an awful tragedy. Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.” ~ Sylvia Plath

I began this post in response to Friday’s mass murder in Santa Barbara, California, in response to the statement that the killer wanted to pay back women for rejecting him, in response to yet more violence as a result of one man’s warped reasoning that because he was rejected, he needed to take it out on society.

Yet the more I read, the angrier I became, especially when reading the yesallwomen hashtag responses. I became angry because for every thoughtful comment sent, there were comments complaining about how unfair it is for nice guys, about how unfair it is to lump all men together into one category. Yet again, it became all about men.

Yes, men were killed on Friday. I am not in any way trying to diminish their deaths. Rather, I am trying to respond to this one man’s contention that he somehow felt justified in what he did because no one wanted to date him. Because he was still a virgin. Because no woman would give him a chance, as if it was his right in this world to have sex, as if it were truly all about him.

It’s not.

Look people, we must do better. All of us. And in that vein, I wrote the following:

Please take a look at Twitter’s #yesallwomen. It’s not about hating men. It’s not about generalizing. It’s about how women deserve to be safe, about how women should not have to be afraid to go someplace alone, about how most men are not fully aware of how sexism infiltrates almost every aspect of a woman’s life, about how no one is entitled to sex, no matter how nice they are. How many men do not realize how degrading a catcall is, but think that it’s somehow flattering? How many men think that it’s no big deal that women routinely get their bottoms rubbed on public transportation? How many women grow up thinking that their opinions don’t really matter? How many girls are told to be pretty but aren’t told to be smart?

How many women do you know who have been subjected to catcalls that made them visibly uncomfortable? How many women do you know who have had a boss hit on them? How many women do you know who have been told how sexy/hot they are and are expected to love those comments even from a total stranger? How many women do you know who have tried to ignore comments only to have the comments escalate to implied violence?

When was the last time you were called a frigid bitch because you refused to be flattered by unwanted sexual comments? When was the last time you were told to smile because it would make you look pretty? When was the last time your daughter was told that her clothes made the boys uncomfortable?

How many men do you know who have been the victims of some form of sexual harassment? How many men do you know who have been denied equal pay because of their sex? How many men do you know who are afraid to go out alone at night?

Consider this: In all probability, a woman in your family has been a victim of sexual discrimination in the workplace. In all probability, a woman you know has been the victim of some kind of sexual assault. In all probability, a woman in your circle of friends has had to fend off unwanted advances from some man who mistook her friendliness for a come-on.

Consider this: I am one of those women.

Please don’t give me the “not all men are like that” excuse. Consider this analogy (which I found to be perfect): You have a plate of cookies. Some of them are filled with laxatives that will make you very uncomfortable. Some of them are normal. One of them is filled with cyanide. Do you take a chance and eat a cookie?

For women, almost every situation that they encounter is like staring at that plate of cookies. Sure, some of them are delicious, but how do you know which ones will cause you pain? How do you identify that one really bad cookie that just may kill you?

What does it say about us when we have men in power who say things such as this, yet we still do nothing about i?

“This, then, is the root cause of violence against women: power—the need for power, the need to control others. The only way to stop the violence is to change attitudes in our society, to educate our families so the cycle of violence can be broken, to educate our society not to condone or ignore violence within the family or elsewhere.” ~ Ms. Hayden (first name unknown), from 2nd session of the 27th Yukon Legislature (December 5, 1990)

Consider just this one line of argument: Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will molest/rape/kill them. That’s the difference in a nutshell.*

We all have to be better at this. I was on the forefront of feminism in the 80’s, pushing my way into areas that were traditionally male. I insisted on being called Ms., even when I had to explain why. I still believe that feminism is not a dirty word. Simply put, feminism is the belief that all people are entitled to the same rights and liberties and can be regardless of gender. It’s the idea that men and women should treat each other as social and intellectual equals. It’s the idea that gender is not destiny. It is not the idea that women are better than men. It is not the idea that all men are scum.

Yet I have a daughter who openly says that all women are bitches. It mystifies and confounds me. When I ask her not to generalize about such things, she argues with me, stating that as far as she’s concerned, all women are indeed bitches.

I have two sons in whom I have tried to instill the idea that all people are people, that all people deserve to be treated with respect. I don’t know how well I have done.

This is not about me. This is about us, all of us, women and men. We have to do better. We have to be aware of our words, be aware of our actions. I’m not talking about women always having to be aware of their surroundings. I’m talking basics. We have to be aware that sexism filters into every single aspect of our lives 24/7. We must pay attention. Consider this: our society allows people to tell rape jokes, yet women who have been raped are made to feel that they should hide that fact, as if somehow they are responsible for the violence against them.

We must do better.

I should not have to look in my rear view mirror constantly to make sure no one is following me again. I should not have to talk myself into going to my doctor’s appointment because I’m afraid that someone out there is going to follow me again. I should not have to worry that the stranger who decided to follow me will show up again at some random time, and that perhaps this time, he won’t just drive away.

We must do better.

Click here to read Vox article, “Eight facts about violence against women everyone should know.”

“I have emphasized today that I am a feminist because, as I said before, that seems to be the new “f” word, because there is great pressure on women to deny that they believe in women’s rights, that they believe that women should have the right to choose. There is great pressure to not say that—they may believe it within themselves—but not to say it within society, and there is fear. If I, at almost 60, cannot in safety, and without fear of being attacked, state my beliefs, how can young women do that, young women who need the approval of men? We all need one another’s approval. How can these young women stand up and declare who they are? That is the issue: fear and power, fear of saying who you are and the need for power.” ~ Ms. Hayden (first name unknown), from 2nd session of the 27th Yukon Legislature (December 5, 1990)

And finally . . .

From red blood black ink:

“They won’t remember the names of the victims, but they’ll sure remember his.

We have made violence into a media phenomenon where we will revere those who cause chaos. It takes work and dedication to be famous unless you have the strength to pick up a weapon. You ask a kid who shot JFK and they’ll sprout conspiracy theories about Lee Harvey Oswald, but you ask them what JFK even stood for and they won’t be able to respond. We don’t erase the right ones: we remember Ted Bundy but can’t name his victims. It’s broken and backwards and we reward violence with exultation instead of making sure their name is forgotten.

A man has killed seven human beings and already people are flocking to view the video he made on why he did it. His manifesto is already being passed around the internet. He is already hero status to certain kinds of lowlife scum.

And I won’t remember him. I refuse to learn his name. I refuse to watch his rant on why anyone would deserve to die and I refuse to discuss who he used to be or all the warning signs we didn’t see or what his favorite activities were. I’d much rather learn about the victims. I will not make him my celebrity. I will not let him be a part of history.

I am sorry for us today. I am sorry for every person who is scared to be called a feminist because it might result in death. I am sorry for all of us who just want to live our lives without being a victim. I am sorry that survival is considered beating the odds. I am sorry for the keys between my fingers and the glances behind me and the extra layers just in case and the heavy purse and the fighting stance and every method I have of preparing myself for the war we’re not allowed to talk about – I am sorry they do not make us that safe, that there is nowhere we can be safe unless it is alone. I am sorry for every girl who is blaming herself for the death of seven others just because she turned down a boy. I am sorry that she thinks she is guilty when there is nothing to feel guilty for.

I am sorry for the people who have lived such closed and restricted lives that they think rejection is the worst possible fate a person can go through. I am sorry for every boy who thinks that unless he loses his virginity, he’s not worthy. I’m sorry for every man suffering from mental health issues who is yet again watching as he is labeled a danger to society. I’m sorry that the quickest way we have to excuse these people is to call them crazy. I’m sorry that our society has structured it so you cannot run from what these people do. I’m sorry for every boy who likes holding hands and has a quiet soul and just wants to plant gardens and I’m sorry that they’ll tell you, “A man needs sex and violence,” I’m sorry that they’d lie to you like that. I’m sorry that if you’re a man, your shadow smells like a graveyard of our bodies. I’m sorry you’ll feel defensive because you don’t want to be known as one of them – I’m even more sorry that the more I hear “he was just so normal and such a nice guy,” the less likely I am to be trusting of you. I’m sorry that murderers don’t carry around large signs warning me off, I’m sorry that there is no way for me to determine if you’re cruel or not. I wish there was. It would save me a good deal of effort.

I am sorry for us. I am sorry for the way we feel safe for a moment only to have the ground wrenched out from under us. I am sorry how they will make this another pointless debate about gun restriction. I’m sorry for the fear every college girl suddenly feels as she sees the reactions – “he’s a hero,” “this is why every man deserves a pity lay,” “now maybe you understand the pain of the friendzone” – because for some reason, even though girls rejected a boy who would become a murderer, it’s still somehow their fault instead of a symbol of how disgusting he was. I’m sorry that girls like me want to be strong but can’t be because we’re small or quiet or filled with panic. I’m sorry that we have ways to get around turning guys down because we’re terrified of what will happen. I’m sorry that we watch while we’re told that men are like animals and will turn wild if we don’t wear the right clothes, if we don’t say the right words, if we don’t let them use their fists to tear apart this world – but at the same time, we’re told that men are the only ones fit to be leaders. I am sorry we have been raised as rainbow fish surrounded by sharks and then are told we are imagining the world wanting to swallow us. I am sorry that our skin smells of blood, that our backs are creaking with the weight of the stories we hear, I am sorry we live as whispers passed between each other, I am sorry the scars so often go unnoticed. I am sorry we will be silenced. I am sorry this poem will mean nothing in two day’s time because his actions will still ring louder than any response we could have. I am sorry we have to watch as he is defended. I am so, so, so sorry, and there is no way to fix it. People are proud of hating feminism. People are proud of a murderer. People are proud of what he did.

I am sorry for us today. I am sorry, and we are not safe.”

Rest in peace. None of you deserved this. /// r.i.d

*The actual quote from Margaret Atwood was cited as this:

“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said. (from Second Words)


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