It’s official. #YesAllWomen isn’t just a hashtag; it’s a social media movement—and an incredibly popular one at that. #YesAllWomen was created in response to University of California, Santa Barbara killer Elliot Rodger and his misogyny-filled manifesto and videos. Days after the shooting, #YesAllWomen has continued to trend on Twitter, inspiring women and men to share deeply poignant, vulnerable sentiments about sexual assault, domestic abuse, and modern-day manifestations of misogyny.
#YesAllWomen began as a small but beautiful silver lining to a horrific act of violence, but it has its dangers. Sasha Weiss of the New Yorker praised #YesAllWomen as the “vibrant revenge of women who have been gagged and silenced.” In many ways, this is true. #YesAllWomen has led to an outpouring of simultaneously enlightening and disturbing examples of common-day occurrences of female harassment in the workplace and world of dating. These, in turn, have inspired a number of men to tweet out their support and recognition of the dangers and double standards that misogyny has wrought.
However, #YesAllWomen also transformed a highly disturbed, socially isolated college student into a figure somehow worthy of legitimate discourse about the serious issues of misogyny. While it is inspiring to see positive conscious-raising tweets about the female experience come out of a national tragedy, there is also something dangerous about taking a deranged 22-year-old at his words. We don’t know what exactly drove Rodger to violence, and we can’t conclude that misogyny over mental illness or social rejection was the root cause. This is by no means a defense of Rodger, but a reminder of the deeply grave, disturbing, and complex circumstances that gave rise to #YesAllWomen.
These problems are only exacerbated as the #YesAllWomen movement grows. More members of the Twitterverse are coopting the hashtag and attaching it to concerns that seem relatively trivial. The perilousness of ubiquity with a hashtag—or any buzzword, for that matter—is that people can too easily forget its origin. #YesAllWomen began as a way to somehow find empowerment and positivity after a brutal murder in which a gunman killed six people and then himself. You wouldn’t think people needed to be reminded of those horrific details, but some of the tweets suggest otherwise.
For example, there are multiple tweets that are variations of “#YesAllWomen because I’ve never seen a hot husband with a fat wife on a sitcom.” The gender norms and unfair female body standards perpetuated on television are important to recognize and challenge. However, do they really belong in a discussion inspired by a mass murder? Or let’s temporarily forget about something as extreme as the massacre that spawned #YesAllWomen. Lena Dunham used #YesAllWomen to share her experience of being physically threatened in high school by a boy she romantically rejected. Do sitcoms featuring attractive wives with shlubby guys warrant the same level of concern as a story of physical intimidation for being a woman? Grouping them both under #YesAllWomen indicates they do.
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