By Vivian Huang, Peer Educator with Women Helping Battered Women, age 16, South Burlington High School
Yes, all women have been degraded, discounted, and denied.
Yes, all women have been judged by our appearance, not our merit.
Yes, all women are outraged by the misogynistic ravings of 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, whose May shooting rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., killed six people and wounded thirteen others.
As the story unfolded, Rodger’s mindset appeared through chilling public videos and a lengthy manifesto. The shooter’s justification was that of pure hatred toward women who didn’t flock to him the way he believed he was entitled to; all females were thus responsible for his own grisly actions. However, while Rodger may have been mentally ill, he was certainly influenced by a culture that demeans and sexualizes women.
In the frenzied wake of the tragedy, social media responded in several ways. In the disturbing Men’s Rights Activist forums that Rodger took part in, self-described “alpha males” continued to view women as “things” to acquire. On Twitter, many men jumped to their own defense via phrases like “not all men are sexist.” Inevitably, these comments galvanized an online storm because the issue isn’t just that “not all men” disrespect women; it’s that society as a whole places women on a lower pedestal, does not treat women as equal to men, and, to varying degrees, oppresses all women at the risk of their health, careers, education, and safety. In an effort to shed light on the female experience, Twitter users trended the #YesAllWomen hashtag and defied the “not all men” argument through unsettling recounts of harassment, abuse, imposed gender roles, and fear.
Indeed, #YesAllWomen is one of the most powerful movements that I have yet witnessed in my years. Despite being fortunate enough to live in a day and place where I can vote, pursue education, control my own body and look up to strong female figures, the poignant conversations surrounding #YesAllWomen remind me that women must not tolerate daily doses of oppression. Furthermore, I realize that the brunt of the harassment, abuse, subtle put downs, and blindness to a woman’s full potential starts in the teenage years.
Per my own school experience, girls’ education seems to harbor significantly low expectations. One male classmate’s mother said to my mom that: “Girls usually don’t succeed in the science and math field. Even though Vivian is a girl, she’s a great mathematician and her classmates respect her.” Later, my shocked parents discussed the role of women with me. I feel blessed that they let me know: “No matter if society looks down on girls, you should never look down on yourself.” We went on to chat about feminism, or rather the shame of being feminists. If human equality should already be an innate ideal, we wondered why the word “feminism” has come to represent far-fetched beliefs and arrogance.
On a regular basis, I witness too many peers and adults condemn feminism and brush aside misogyny. The air is thick with muttered comments about lack of appreciation; after all, teen girls should be flattered that they are ‘sexy’ enough to warrant harassment, shouldn’t they?
Speaking from a sixteen-year old girl’s perspective, gender equality education has greatly improved but can reach more directly into teens’ hearts. I urge that parents sit down with their children, teachers pause in front of their students, friends reach out to friends, and coaches take a moment with their players to say that women are worth far more than lipstick, sandwiches, and sex. Every young man should recognize dating violence and rape. Do not only teach girls to defend themselves, but also teach men the values of respect. Please emphasize that relationships need to be founded on open communication, honesty and mutual respect. Teach young men how to control anger and handle rejection; “no” means no, and indecision means “no.” Do not be a bystander to abuse or violence. Intervening in harassment or expressing displeasure at sexist jokes, even without the presence of females, can help change our culture one person at a time.
The existence of over one million tweets, such as the examples below, is both sobering and promising. Movements like #YesAllWomen offer hope of strides in gender equality, but we must not forget that there is still more to be made. This is the light that has emerged from the horror of the Isla Vista shooting, and this is the reason that #YesAllWomen exists.
“#YesAllWomen is a confrontation of culturally-permitted misogyny, not an indictment of individuals. #NotAllMen is irrelevant.”
“#YesAllWomen deserve to live free from threats of domestic violence & sexual assault. We must shine a bright light on such despicable crimes”
“Because my best friend was once told she’s lucky all she’ll ever have to do in life is to stand around and look pretty. And it was meant as a compliment. #YesAllWomen”
“a ‘cool story babe, now make me a sandwich’ shirt doesn’t break the school dress code. a girl’s bra strap does. #yesallwomen”
“Because despite being one, I’ve come to fear the label ‘feminist. #YesAllWomen”
“#yesallwomen because the media will mourn the lives of ruined high school football players, but not of the girls they assaulted”
“#YesAllWomen because my parents teach me how to avoid rape, but not once have they taught my brothers self-control to avoid raping.”
“Because I wasn’t ‘asking for it’ when he hit me, and I shouldn’t have to defend myself a decade later” #YesAllWomen”