I was up late reading the #YesAllWomen feed on Twitter last night, and I spent a moment trying to recall the first time I felt uncomfortable in the presence of a man. Was it the overly affectionate family friend who fawned a little too much or squeezed a little too tight when I was a tween? Was it the “doctor” who came to see me when I had my tonsils out at 14 and fondled me while checking my heartbeat? Was it the boy in grade 12 who made out with me in his basement and started to take things further than I was OK with until his friend showed up and interrupted? Was it the guy who pushed my dumb, drunk ass into a room at a party at 19? (I still thank my luck that I got away.)
Or was it the complacency of the adults and friends in my life who were so used to this type of situation being the norm that no one ever did anything about it?
Not one person said anything to the family friend, because he was my elder and I was culturally expected to greet him with a kiss on both cheeks. No one reported the doctor, because hey, it’s a right of passage—it happened to lots of women in my family once they grew breasts. Instead of avoiding the grade 12 boy who didn’t hear the word no, girls continued to line up to date him.
If you have somehow missed it, #YesAllWomen is a powerful hashtag that began trending this week after further details broke about California college student Elliot Rodger, 22, who killed six people in a violent spree, injuring 13 others before turning the gun on himself on Friday. Rodger had written an extensive manifesto before the murders, posting disturbing videos on YouTube and, according the CBC, blamed “the women he says kept him a virgin for all of his 22 years and the men they chose instead.”
Read more: Talking to your kids about tragedy>
So Twitter is talking about misogyny openly, because this horrific event isn’t the first time a disturbed person has blamed women for his actions. And yet, after reading the stream (you can have a peek here), I found myself very afraid to post anything, for fear that I would attract the ire of the angry men who seem so hell-bent on attacking the conversation and the women who dare to speak out. I’m scared to hit “publish” on this post. I debated writing it anonymously. But if we don’t raise our voices, society will continue to go on this way. So here I am.
This isn’t the first time that hateful anti-women tweets have been shared widely. When UK feminist Caroline Criado-Perez launched a social-media campaign to have a woman put on a Bank of England note and won, she incited a stream of terrifying threats and hateful comments on Twitter. Hundreds of tweeters vowed to rape and murder her for voicing her opinion, and Criado-Perez wrote an epic post about how Twitter is optimized for abuse and how the experience has affected her psychologically. (Only two of the trolls were subsequently charged, but you might be surprised to learn that one of them was a woman.) Now with #YesAllWomen, Twitter is being used to spark a necessary conversation about how yes, all women have stories of intimidation and abuse—one that I hope will be taken off-line into boardrooms and cafeterias, into our homes and our playgrounds.
To be a woman is to be afraid. We live in a world where having a vagina is a liability. We live in fear of speaking out against our abusers, because our abusers are very good at keeping us afraid. We live in fear of walking alone in the early morning or at night. We live in fear of attracting the wrong kind of attention. Every travel decision, every getting-dressed decision, has a potential implication. Are we sending out the wrong kind of message? We are shouted at to “Smile!” in the street, and if we do, we might invite further comments or, worse, an uninvited companion as we walk. If we don’t smile, we are spat at, vitriol spewing behind us and we quicken our pace. And the scariest part is that there are people who will read this and say, “Well, good!”
If we dress a certain way, could we be perceived as slutty and asking for it? If we dress too modestly, could we be perceived as a cold witch who needs to get some? To let the fear pervade your life openly is to be called crazy. To fight back the fear and forge ahead leads to being called bossy, or a bitch. It’s no wonder we don’t know how to just be!
As a mother of a daughter, I worry about these so-called rights of passage she, too, will have to experience. How do I prepare her for them? How do I teach her to protect herself? And how do I go from explaining to an innocent six-year-old who is allowed to wear whatever she wants, that after a certain age she should be careful how she dresses? At what age do I tell her that #NotAllMen are abusers, but yes, all women have stories of sketchiness and abuse at the hands of some men? How do I tell her that it’s even worse for her friends of racial minorities?
Read more: How to talk to kids about sexual abuse>
#YesAllWomen isn’t an attack on men. Men are our brothers, our fathers, our husbands, our sons, our friends, our co-workers, and we love them. What I appreciate so much about this conversation is the stream of thought that suggests we need to stop pigeonholing men and making them feel like they have to be strong, tough guys all the time. We recently published a story that encapsulated this perfectly: a father wondering if he was being too stern with his son because of the culture of machismo he grew up with.
As the mother of a son, I’d like him to feel empowered to have emotions and share them. I’d like to raise him to respect himself and all humans, regardless of race, gender or sexuality. I’d like him to know that his self-worth isn’t determined by whether another human finds him attractive, that to love the goodness in himself and all living things is what makes a heart full. And I will do exactly the same for my daughter. Because this isn’t a female issue, it’s a human one.
Nadine Silverthorne lives in Toronto with her husband, two hilarious kids and one self-entitled cat. She spends her work-week as Content and Products Director for Today’s Parent, dreaming up all the ways she can get our great content to as many parents as possible. Read more from Nadine here and follow her on Twitter @scarbiedoll.
This story is part of #Project97 — a year-long conversation about sexual assault, abuse and harassment. Visit Project97.ca for more details on this collaborative project by leading Rogers publications, and join us on Twitter with the hashtag #Project97.