** Trigger Warning ** This post may be triggering for those who have survived physical, verbal, emotional, and/or sexual assault. Read with caution.
I come from an academic background, and the first thing we learn in history and women’s studies is that there is no singular lived experience of women. We are all unique, living complex and diverse lives. Needless to say, when the hashtag #YesAllWomen took over Twitter, my initial reaction was very academic. Oh, no, you can’t do that! The only universal truths are biological. This won’t end well. Then I thought about it. Then I read the tweets. Then I tweeted. I changed my mind.
Regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender expression, or religion, women are the subject of physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual violence. Looking at the United States alone, the numbers tell a sad story.
In America, one in three women will experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner. Eighty-five percent of intimate partner violence victims and survivors are women. Approximately three women are murdered every day by an intimate partner. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, 15 – 44. When an abuser has a firearm, they are seven times more likely to kill their partner. Between 2009 and 2012, forty percent of mass shootings were the result of the shooter targeting his intimate partner (girlfriend, wife, or ex-wife). Similarly, between 2009 and 2012, approximately sixty percent of mass shootings resulted in the death of the gunman’s past or former partner or family member. It has since been verified that in seventeen of those cases, the gunman had a prior domestic violence charge.
The statistics speak for themselves. Through the #YesAllWomen movement, women who do not have a safe space to express their fears, concerns, and frustrations are coming together to claim that space. Together, women are demanding that their experiences be heard. In reading the similar experiences of others, we are coming together to say enough is enough. In just 140 characters, women are tweeting to demand their safety. What’s more, in reading the lived experiences of our sisters, our own fears are being validated. We’re not the only ones to walk home with our keys out, ready to be used as weapons if need be, we are all doing it. There is an odd comfort in knowing that.
The response has been amazing. Millions have tweeted using the hashtag, bringing global awareness to grim reality women face daily. This is not hashtag activism, and the spark of awareness cannot be undone. That is all we wanted, to be heard. To have our feelings validated. With that, however, grew the #NotAllMen movement. No doubt millions of men read these tweets and thought about the lives of their moms, sisters, wives, girlfriends, and daughters differently for the first time, there were also the men who saw it as an affront to their existence. #NotAllMen was there first, the precursor to #YesAllWomen. The tweets were largely the same, not all of us are terrible, [expletive]! Thanks for making our point for us, guys! We know it is not all men, but many. Until the ideology behind #NotAllMen no longer exists, women will always hold on to the fear of victimization.
Rachel Wacks is a Foundation Fellow with the Women’s Foundation of Palm Beach County.