Whenever a massive act of violence occurs, there is that sick sensation that gathers in the pits of our stomachs as we try to digest the horrific news. Word of Friday's shooting in Isla Vista was accompanied by that terrible feeling, that deep-down frightening and sad voice that seems to say, "My God, it's happened again." We mourned innocent lives taken by a sick, depraved human being. We read articles expelling details of his manifesto, which revealed that he wanted to seek revenge on women for not sleeping with him. We sat there baffled that any person's mind could actually exist with such high volumes of toxicity.
And then a conversation began.
Abuse, both verbal and physical. Unwanted sexual advances. Violence. Rape. Discrimination in professional environments. Discrepancies in pay. Barriers in religious settings. Being seen as simply less.
These issues are ones that span all of womankind. Yes, all of womankind.
Elliot Rodger's mind was completely contaminated. We know that. But in many ways, his worldview can be seen as a heightened version of the way some men really see the women in their lives -- as objects to which they are entitled, as beings which owe them certain servitudes: sex, devotion, laughter.
I have many examples of this in my own life, but one of the most consistent illustrations for me would probably have to be the parade of spectator-men I face every day while walking to the subway. Just about every woman in New York City (or any city with considerable foot-traffic) deals with this. Of course, the comments range from the very gross ("I want to put your feet in my mouth") to the almost-cliche ("Hey baby, I love to see you smile"). What I find fascinating about street harassment is that if I am with my husband, it ceases completely. The same man who would ordinarily be tormenting me on my daily commute is suddenly silent. I feel like the boy who cried wolf. "I swear he usually wants me to put my feet in his mouth!"
That is part of why some men remain oblivious to the continued plight of women. Those who would normally be the aggressors of harassment only seize the opportunity when other men aren't around (Slate ran a great article on this phenomenon yesterday). Because of this, men who don't cat-call women or actively attempt to hurt them (or at least they don't think they do), these men are often able to escape the sad reality which has affected their wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends for centuries.
My husband, who, like me, considers himself a feminist, asked me a really cool question regarding #YesAllWomen that I've been thinking about a lot today: "So what should I be doing, like, right now?"
Great question. The answer I had for him, and the answer I have for all men, is first to listen to the women in your lives. Ask them how they have been personally affected by sexism, how they have felt harassed, how they have been made to feel like less than what they are. Allow yourself to be shocked as you hear their stories. Have empathy for them, and resolve to live as a champion for their rights. Partner with the women you know and commit to making a real difference. Be bold enough to say, "Enough is enough."
Again, it's possible that I believe far too strongly in the power of a hashtag like #YesAllWomen. We all know we have seen this before. People get excited about a branding strategy for a human rights issue, and then it falls by the wayside. To a degree, I completely understand the cynicism that surrounds hashtag activism.
But even though I know it will cease trending on Twitter in just a few days time, I can't help but be excited about words which so powerfully encapsulate the essence of this truth -- that all women, whether they even realize it or not, are the targets of a flawed belief that has persisted for far too long. And it will take the commitment of all women and all men to really put an end to it.