Back in the day, before we were married, my husband and I went for long walks at night — the only free time we had in common, and also lovely and romantic. I always noticed footsteps behind us, anyone approaching and, in general, who was in the vicinity at all times. He didn’t. We talked about what shaped our different awareness / alertness / fear levels.
I thought about those differences when I saw the #yesallwomen hashtag trending on Twitter. The hashtag began in the wake of last week’s California killings — the mentally ill 22-year-old who killed four men and two women and wounded many more in his rampage through Isla Vista. He left behind a trail of YouTube videos and a 140-page manifesto detailing his plans and his hatred of women, writing: “I cannot kill every single female on earth, but I can deliver a devastating blow that will shake all of them to the core of their wicked hearts.I will attack the very girls who represent everything I hate in the female gender: The hottest sorority of UCSB.”
The young man is clearly and seriously disturbed. In this, he’s not “typical” of men or of men who abuse or kill women. I don’t think the concept of a “typical man” means much here. The more significant fact is the cultural misogyny which, while not universal, is so widespread that it shapes the experience of all women. That’s what Kaye M. meant when she began the #YesAllWomen hashtag:
Guys, I’m going to be tweeting under the #YesAllWomen hashtag. Let’s discuss what “not all men” might do, but women must fear.
— Kaye M. (@gildedspine) May 24, 2014
The hashtagged tweets are going up faster than I can read them. They resonate because of our common experience as women. I have been followed, assaulted, attacked, more than once.
When I practiced law in Chicago, my clients included women living with a very specific, personal fear. For one woman, even after the divorce, her only escape came by leaving the state and living under an assumed name. In that case, we needed a police escort into and out of the courthouse. For months, I watched my rearview mirror for her husband’s van.
My experiences are my own, but they are also the experiences of women in our country and culture. I wrote a few months ago about the toll of domestic violence — one in four women, one in seven men. Eight facts about violence against women in Vox begins with:
“The most recent, national survey of American women found that a slight majority (51.9 percent) reported experiencing physical violence at some point in their life. These figures, its worth pointing out, are from 2000 because that’s the last time the Department of Justice released a comprehensive report on the prevalence of violence against women.”
One of the most resonant of the #yesallwomen tweets features a quotation attributed to Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
On Memorial Day, we remember the dead, and not just those who have died in wars. I remember Carolyn Leete, two years gone here in St. Paul. And I remember the three young women and the three young men who were killed a few days ago in California by a young man full of hatred of women.
Fear and remembering do not end the story. We also have strength and hope and determination to protect ourselves, our sisters, daughters, mothers — and to change the culture of this country and this world to make it a safer place for all.
We know — not all men are like that, whatever “that” is at the moment. Not the point. As Kelsey McKinney explained in Vox:
When a man (though, of course, not all men) butts into a conversation about a feminist issue to remind the speaker that “not all men” do something, they derail what could be a productive conversation. Instead of contributing to the dialogue, they become the center of it, excluding themselves from any responsibility or blame.
“Men who just insist on you having that little qualifier because it undermines your argument and recenters their feelings as the central part of the dialogue,” Hudson says.
CORRECTION: The people killed in Isla Vista were four men and two women, not, as originally written, three men and three women.