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#YesAllWomen: Going Beyond Hashtag Activism to Action

She's someone

Thousands shared this image on social media using the #YesAllWomen hashtag

By Efua Andoh (APA Public Interest Directorate Communications Staff)

The horrific shootings in Isla Vista, California on May 23 have given rise to a complex conversation on social media. The shooter’s disturbing YouTube videos and manifesto contained racist and misogynist rants revealing an attitude of male sexual entitlement and white male supremacy. Shockingly, after they came to light, defenders of his behavior emerged on social media – with some even creating Facebook fan pages or endorsing his twisted worldview in online chat rooms. The response to this misogyny on Twitter and other social media was immediate and overwhelming – #YesAllWomen was created and began to trend, garnering over 2.3 million tweets globally since May 24.

There are no easy answers about what led to the shooter’s actions – his extreme misogyny and racism are tangled with his complicated personal history. However, #YesAllWomen has evolved beyond a response to this particular incident to become a wider discussion of how pervasive misogyny affects the lives of women. Many may dismiss it as inconsequential hashtag activism, but #YesAllWomen raises issues too large to ignore.

Obviously, not all men are violent towards women. However, women using the hashtag noted over and over that they had to contend with the threat of violence, sexual assault and the sexual entitlement of men daily. These experiences can be damaging to the mental health of women. For instance, the percentage of women who consider their mental health to be poor is almost three times higher among women with a history of being the victim of violence than among those without. The #YesAllWomen hashtag highlights the need for all of us (male and female) to speak up and confront violence and misogyny in our society and worldwide.

Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One. #YesAllWomen — Emily (@emilyhughes) May 24, 2014
Because every woman I know has experienced some form of sexual harassment, abuse or assault, myself included. #YesAllWomen — Leah Pickett (@leahkpickett) May 25, 2014
The cops who asked me “Well, what were you wearing?” when I reported an attack and attempted rape. #YesAllWomen — Aimee Mann (@aimeemann) May 25, 2014

And, there are data to support how common these experiences are:

  1. More than one in three women in the U.S. have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to APA’s brochure on Intimate Partner Violence.

  2. Some subgroups of women are particularly at risk:

  3. Women with disabilities have an estimated 40% greater chance of experiencing intimate partner violence than women without a disability.

  4. African American women (44%) and multiracial non-Hispanic women (54%) were particularly likely to have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate in their lifetime, according to a 2010 CDC report.

  5. A systematic review found 58% of transgender women reported violence at home.

  6. When it comes to sexual violence, a nationally representative CDC survey showed that nearly 1 in 5 women reported experiencing rape in their lifetime and 1 in 20 women experienced sexual violence other than rape (e.g., sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact) in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Violence Against Women is a Global Issue

Around the world: violence against women is an everyday occurrence and is particularly a problem for women and girls in countries without legal protections for women. According to the UN, a 2013 global review of data found that “35 percent of women worldwide had experienced intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.” Incidents of violence fill recent headlines: nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted and threatened with trafficking simply for pursuing an education; 2 Indian girls, 12 and 14 years old, were gang raped and hanged while looking for a toilet; and a teenage American girl was stabbed to death for refusing an invitation to junior prom.

The #YesAllWomen hashtag has provided social support and validation to women’s experiences of sexism, harassment, and violence – individually, and embedded in the systems and structures all around us. This critical conversation highlights the rights of women and girls everywhere to live free from the threat of violence and sexual assault and without limitations placed on them because of their sex. Men can and should be an integral part of the solution by helping to ensure that women and girls everywhere are treated with dignity and respect.

We know #notallmen are sexist, but we also know that #yesallwomen face sexism. It’s time that EVERYONE started to try and make that change. — Zamurai Jack (@ZAmmi) May 26, 2014

We Cannot Forget that Men of Color Were Among the Victims

While #YesAllWomen has brought much needed attention to women’s daily experiences of misogyny, we must not forget that four of the victims were men of color. The shooter (although biracial himself) expressed racist as well as misogynistic views, stating his disdain for men of color in his writings and his resentment over what he perceived as them having the sexual success that he deserved. The impact of perspectives of white male supremacy, racism, and the lack of value accorded men of color in our society will be explored in a future post.

Going Beyond the Hashtag

Beyond the hashtag, what can each of us do to create tangible change?

Psychologists can:

  1. Raise public awareness of the prevalence and negative influence of interpersonal violence and trauma on the psyche and mental well-being of not just girls and women, but boys and men as well. Men who are physically and emotionally violent or abusive toward others were often emotionally or physically abused themselves.  Identifying abuse histories and aggressively treating the trauma early may help to break the cycle and prevent an abuse victim from becoming a potential violent perpetrator.

  2. Work with parents to find developmentally appropriate ways to discuss issues such as gender-based violence, sexism and racism. This will help to reduce the negative impact of these forms of oppression on the mental health and well-being of their children. Often parents don’t know how to discuss tough issues such as violence, oppression and discrimination with their children.

  3. Work to dispel stereotypes that maintain gender and race-based inequities and that promote the degradation of other human beings.

  4. Advocate for effective legislation and education and training of psychologists on the impact of gender-based violence, sexism and racism.

  5. Research and create interventions that reduce the objectification of women and the incidence of violence against women.

Members of the public can:

  1. Have frank conversations with their children about the importance of self-love, self-respect and respecting others.

  2. Educate both boys and girls on the meaning of consent and the importance of having healthy intimate relationships free of violence.

  3. Talk to each other honestly about the impact of sexism; just because not all men are actively sexist doesn’t mean that others aren’t or that they can’t be part of the solution.

  4. Ask Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Family and Medical Leave (FAMILY Act) to empower women and address inequalities that facilitate the objectification and victimization of women.

  5. Urge Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act to reduce violence against women around the globe.

Relevant Resources: 

We want to hear from you. Tell us in the comments:

  1. What are some other tangible ways we can confront misogyny and violence against women?

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