It’s official. #YesAllWomen isn’t just a hashtag; it’s a social media movement—and an incredibly popular one at that. #YesAllWomen was created in response to University of California, Santa Barbara killer Elliot Rodger and his misogyny-filled manifesto and videos. Days after the shooting, #YesAllWomen has continued to trend on Twitter, inspiring women and men to share deeply poignant, vulnerable sentiments about sexual assault, domestic abuse, and modern-day manifestations of misogyny.
#YesAllWomen began as a small but beautiful silver lining to a horrific act of violence, but it has its dangers. Sasha Weiss of the New Yorker praised #YesAllWomen as the “vibrant revenge of women who have been gagged and silenced.” In many ways, this is true. #YesAllWomen has led to an outpouring of simultaneously enlightening and disturbing examples of common-day occurrences of female harassment in the workplace and world of dating. These, in turn, have inspired a number of men to tweet out their support and recognition of the dangers and double standards that misogyny has wrought.
However, #YesAllWomen also transformed a highly disturbed, socially isolated college student into a figure somehow worthy of legitimate discourse about the serious issues of misogyny. While it is inspiring to see positive conscious-raising tweets about the female experience come out of a national tragedy, there is also something dangerous about taking a deranged 22-year-old at his words. We don’t know what exactly drove Rodger to violence, and we can’t conclude that misogyny over mental illness or social rejection was the root cause. This is by no means a defense of Rodger, but a reminder of the deeply grave, disturbing, and complex circumstances that gave rise to #YesAllWomen.
These problems are only exacerbated as the #YesAllWomen movement grows. More members of the Twitterverse are coopting the hashtag and attaching it to concerns that seem relatively trivial. The perilousness of ubiquity with a hashtag—or any buzzword, for that matter—is that people can too easily forget its origin. #YesAllWomen began as a way to somehow find empowerment and positivity after a brutal murder in which a gunman killed six people and then himself. You wouldn’t think people needed to be reminded of those horrific details, but some of the tweets suggest otherwise.
For example, there are multiple tweets that are variations of “#YesAllWomen because I’ve never seen a hot husband with a fat wife on a sitcom.” The gender norms and unfair female body standards perpetuated on television are important to recognize and challenge. However, do they really belong in a discussion inspired by a mass murder? Or let’s temporarily forget about something as extreme as the massacre that spawned #YesAllWomen. Lena Dunham used #YesAllWomen to share her experience of being physically threatened in high school by a boy she romantically rejected. Do sitcoms featuring attractive wives with shlubby guys warrant the same level of concern as a story of physical intimidation for being a woman? Grouping them both under #YesAllWomen indicates they do.
Another issue that has been tweeted out multiple times under #YesAllWomen are complaints about women being told to smile. Again, this is an annoyance and a reflection of a double standard against women. It is serious in its own way, but it is a rather large stretch to call it an example of misogyny.
The farther #YesAllWomen moves from the UCSB shootings, the greater the risk there is for people to appropriate it and make it about themselves rather than the original goals of making people aware of the serious threats one faces just for being a woman in 2014 America. A tweet like “#YesAllWomen Because even when your profile says you’re a lesbian you still get hit on by men on online dating sites! What even means no?!” seems like a relatively petty self-serving rant compared to some of the far more serious tweets about assault, violence, or even the basic fear of being a woman walking alone at night.
It is troublesome to assume Rodger’s murders were guided by misogyny, and it becomes even more troublesome when we try to cram so many things under the umbrella of what counts as misogyny. There are many legitimate issues related to feminism and the female experience in need of greater attention, but buying that attention by tying them to a tragic national murder is somewhat crass and deceitful.
The examples mentioned above aren’t the majority of the tweets, but they also aren’t even the most egregious misappropriations. In my searches so far that honor would go to:
When we’re captioning Instagram photos of our nails with #YesAllWomen, the movement has jumped the shark.
I pick on these “bad” examples because although #YesAllWomen is an imperfect social media movement, it has the potential to translate the inspirational stories people have been brave enough to share into positive changes in the treatment of women.
But if #YesAllWomen wants to have a life outside of Twitter and actually inspire people to act, rather than merely tweet, then it shouldn’t be slapped onto so many things. Otherwise, it runs the risk of losing its meaning.