It seems it’s been a week for social commentary on my part, which is unusual. Normally I blog about books or cooking or writing. I don’t often see stories that move me enough to want to blog about them. I guess with having worked in the justice system for 6 years now, I’m kind of jaded about the depravity of humanity and how common the darkness is in society. I read the news and it doesn’t have an impact on me because I’ve been wading through worse all day.
And then things happen like the #YesAllWomen movement on Twitter and it’s somehow so much bigger than news, so much more emotional. I was late to it and only really started reading the tweets today, so I missed many of the early stories, but it was a read that was both frightening and heartwarming all at once.
It’s frightening because I was nodding along to all of them in agreement, like some parcel shelf toy. I identified with so many of them, with the fear, the attitudes, the experiences, the frustration… It’s frightening how many women have experienced every day sexism. It scared me how many people were trolling it too, people who genuinely can’t understand the level of disparity that still exists in our society.
It made me wonder how many women are unaware of the situation. It’s one of the things that scares me most, this current trend in romantic and erotic fiction towards so-called heroes who are controlling, abusive and emotionally distant. Female readers absolutely adore them, blind to the misogyny that underlies their actions. It’s so common in modern fiction that it’s almost a trope.
But there was much to be felt on the positive side too. I have been amazed, humbled and moved by the bravery of some of these women who are telling their stories for the first time. There’s an overarching sense of worldwide kinship here, women reaching out and supporting other women who have similar tales to tell. There’s a sense of global unity about it that is comforting.
It’s a thought-provoking subject, prompting an examination of what actually counts as sexism and misogyny. It’s a challenging of so many seemingly innocuous little thoughts that have pervaded society. One of the things I’ve seen complained about most is how it’s easier to tell someone you have a boyfriend than it is to just say no because they’ll respect a man they’ve never met more than the judgement of the woman who is sitting in front of them. It’s something I’ve experienced dozens of times and I’m just as guilty as everyone else of claiming a boyfriend because it’s easier than the alternative. Why can’t no just mean no? It’s not a negotiation and it doesn’t require justification. Why should the ‘ownership’ of another man supersede my free will as a woman?
The thing that bothers me about the hashtag is that it will eventually run out of steam. I’ve yet to see a Twitter movement last longer than a week and it’s going to take a lifetime to change global thought processes. I’ve blogged before about victim blaming and it strikes me that these movements have a lot in common. Instead of focusing on the fact that only 30% of rape complaints result in a conviction and less than 1 in 6 incidents of domestic abuse are reported to Police, why aren’t we focusing on the causes of them? Why do so many men think it’s okay to treat women like property? Why do men feel a sense of entitlement to a woman’s body, regardless of her statements? Why should clothes speak louder than words? I appreciate that I’m not covering the issue of cases where the woman is the abuser; that’s a thought for a later date.
To a certain extent, I think we need to seize on the current feeling and make the most of it ourselves, as women. Although I’m seeing a lot of tweets from men who’ve been pretty shocked to discover that they themselves are guilty of many of these thoughts and actions, for us just to complain and speak up about it is not enough. We need to stand together. We need to be strong in our kinship and we too have to make a change, as well as men. We need to stop telling men we have boyfriends and tell them to their faces that we’re saying no because we’re not interested and we don’t have to justify that. We have to be smart and challenge sexism where we find it. If you are propositioned and somebody asks what you were wearing, make them justify why they thought it was a reasonable question to ask. This mass, sweeping statement of kinship isn’t going to slay sexism in one grand blow. It’s something we need to chip away at consistently and persistently.
The point is that the kind of men who are okay with the current status quo, and to whom the vast majority of these tweets refer, are the ones that aren’t going to care two figs about some hashtag on Twitter that, as far as they’re concerned, was probably cooked up by some man-hating, bra-burning feminist group. Just talking about it isn’t going to have any effect on them. We have to make them listen.
I can’t help but think of all those women in Sudan who have suffered from rape being used as an accepted tactic in their civil war. They’re standing up for themselves by wearing those sleeves with teeth that will severely injure would-be rapists. Those are the tools that they use in an extreme situation of war. Surely we have our own, less extreme, tools here? We have our intellect and our convictions and the right to be equals. We just need to keep using them until it’s enough, until, like the would-be rapists of Sudan, men don’t even want to try and put us down.
If Twitter had been around when our ancestresses were fighting for women to have the vote, I can see that it would have been a huge wave of support around the world, but just to talk wouldn’t have been enough to push it through. It was the actions of many, the protests, the speeches, the refusal to sit down and not be counted, that changed the world. In the UK it was only in 1928 that all women over 21 were given the vote. It’s less than a century ago.
So let’s stop talking and start doing. The next time someone propositions me and I’m not interested, I’m just going to say no instead of claiming a fictional boyfriend and I’m not going to feel embarrassed about it. I’m going to keep doing it, refusing one douchebag at a time, and I challenge you to do the same. Stand up for what you are and for what you’re entitled to.
If even a fraction of the women out there reading these tweets feel the same kind of kinship, commitment and determination that I’m suffused with right now, then maybe, just maybe, we can change the world.