I know, I know. Not another hashtag. Didn’t we just leave this party? Have we even fixed the other thing that we were hashtagging about the last time? Indignation, and so forth! (There is, of course, another conversation to be had about hashtivism, although I think a great deal of the indignation that usually surrounds it comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what it’s supposed to be able to achieve. If you expect a hashtag to replace real-world activity, determine future policy, wash your windows, straighten out your love life and, in short, be Mary Poppins, there’s no way you won’t be disappointed.)
But #YesAllWomen trended this weekend and kept trending, all through the fireworks and barbecues. After the shootings in California, it’s an answer to the “Not All Men” objection raised whenever a woman complains about something that happened to her. It’s down in the count now, but it’s still there, and I’d recommend reading it — especially if your first response was something approaching an eye-roll.
Obviously hashtags have their limits. But this is a subject well-suited to one. #YesAllWomen has turned into a forum for sharing stories, which, strung together one after another, form a vivid picture. It’s worth a look — especially for the people on the other side of the “Not All Men” party to whom this kind of thing would never happen.
It matters because every woman has a story like this. Every one. That nervous feeling when you’re the only one on the subway car and a strange man gets on. That time you were jogging in the evening and someone shouted “How much?” and your first thought was “Oh no, I didn’t think this outfit was particularly suggestive!” not “Seriously?”
A Margaret Atwood quote about people’s worst fear echoed through the thread: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” As the documentary “When A Stranger Clicks” observes, “Surveys show that in the online dating world, women are afraid of meeting a serial killer. Men are afraid of meeting someone fat.” There’s a difference of kind, not degree, that emerges through the brief, 140-character accounts.
But the sheer number of stories is also what makes them powerful and unsettling. The snowballing effect of shared story after shared story keeps the hashtag rolling, the sense that everyone knows what you’re talking about and can relate. Everyone does. The resounding yes-that-happened-to-me, yes-I-know-that-feeling is comforting and empowering online, but when you consider its implications for what women face every day in the world outside the phone screen, it’s chilling.
The hashtag may not translate to any particular real-world action, but in this case the conversation is powerful in itself. #YesAllWomen have a story like this. If you don’t believe it, read them.