Just hours after a mentally disturbed young man went on a killing spree that he called a “Day of Retribution” against women – whom he felt as a group had rejected and slighted him – Twitter ballooned with stories of the misogyny that women say they experience on a routine basis.
These were, in general, stories much less extreme than the one involving Elliot Rodger. On Friday, he killed six people after writing a chilling, 141-page manifesto and ranting in a YouTube video about how women at his college in Santa Barbara, Calif, “deserved” to die for having rebuffed his romantic advances.
The stories, shared on Twitter under the hashtag “#YesAllWomen,” were often of subtler misogynies. These were stories of how women still deal with anti-women attitudes often, in little ways, and how examples of gender inequality are often dismissed as “normal.” These were stories of how the women who talk about such experiences tend to be cast as “shrill,” “man-hating,” “no fun,” or “oversensitive” and can be told to “calm down.”
“We desperately need a cultural shift in our normalised ideas and attitudes towards women,” says Laura Bates, founder of “The Everyday Sexism Project,” a blog that collects stories of gender-based harassment and mistreatment from its readership.
The outpouring of stories began when a Twitter user posted one such story under the hashtag #YesAllWomen hours after the attack. The hashtag has now been used 1.5 million times, according to Topsy.com, a Web analytics website.
“In the real world it can be very difficult for women to raise these issues because they are often confronted with ridicule or silencing,” says Ms. Bates, who made her comments in an e-mail to the Monitor. “Sharing these concerns online enables a huge surge of solidarity, and seeing thousands of people sharing similar stories is a very effective way of combatting the 'you're making a fuss' criticism.”
Still, the backlash to the Twitter postings was immediate. The original user of the hashtag deleted her account over the weekend, telling news media that she had been besieged with threatening messages. Some people used the preexisting hashtag #NotAllMen to point out that not all men harass, demean, or otherwise mistreat women.
But #YesAllWomen users rebutted that: No, not all men mistreat women, but yes, all women have experienced some kind of mistreatment, the users said.
The stories shared via #YesAllWomen – both male and female voices said – are not indictments of all men, but of some men and, more broadly, of a culture that often ignores or validates misogynistic behavior.
Moreover, the women and men acknowledged that Mr. Rodger’s views represent misogyny at its most deranged and that few men share such a monstrous attitude toward women.
But the basic undercurrent to Rodger’s rants – his sense of entitlement to women’s bodies and his characterization of women as objects to be appraised and obtained – is not so unusual, they said. In fact, such thinking underpins a range of much less-extreme misogynistic behaviors.
In online postings, women (and men, writing about what they’ve seen) talked about men who refuse to take no for an answer in asking for a date. A number said they’ve found it easier to wear a ring, since it seems that men respect another man’s "ownership" more than they respect a woman’s right to say no:
“ ‘I have a boyfriend’ is the easiest way to get a man to leave you alone. Because he respects another man more than you. #YesAllWomen,” one Twitter user wrote.
Others talked about holding their keys like knives while walking home at night or about worrying if accepting a date with a stranger could be the worst, and last, decision they’ll make:
“Because a man’s biggest blind date fear is her [body mass index] and a woman's is never making it home #YesAllWomen,” one Twitter poster wrote.
Others talked about being judged at work for being assertive, about being told that they’d asked to be groped by wearing a short skirt, or about being catcalled on the street:
“Here's an important one: what is with telling women to smile? Would you ever tell another man that? I'm willing to bet not. #YesAllWomen,” another Twitter user said.
Bringing attention to such examples of everyday misogyny, hashtag users also noted, is perhaps the first step to addressing it, since instances of gender inequality are often so subtle, or so expected, that they are thought to be normal.
“Simply put, people who don't experience harassment or the threat of sexual violence often don't realize it happens at all,” writes Kate Ziegler, one of the founders of “Hollaback! Boston,” a blog that collects stories of street harassment in Boston.
“As we more readily acknowledge the realities of gender-based violence, we broaden the conversation,” she says via e-mail. “More people feel compelled to act and to discuss solutions, communities are more able to hold their members accountable, and societal norms begin to change.”
For many women, social media have become a powerful means of bringing about that awareness and beginning a conversation that is still difficult, or sometimes impossible, to have out loud.
“The internet is the only place you can find a community of women and feminists on such a large and supportive scale,” says Caroline Tompkins, founder of “Hey Baby,” a blog where she posts photos of New York City catcallers.
“There are so many things that make you want to feel like you're not making a difference by being vocal and concerned with women's rights,” she says in her e-mailed comments. “But #YesAllWomen is the much needed hope.”