#YesAllWomen and Being Other

Donyae Coles_Not Your Girlfriend_Acrylic on Vinyl_2012This was a piece that I wrote sometime ago but alas was never picked up. I’m posting it on my blog because, well, still relevant.


My newsfeed, for a brief few days became a hotbed of hashtag activism with #YesAllWomen. Of course this is internet ancient history by now but it still weighs on my mind. My friends were detailing the injustices brought against their bodies, space, and general personhood by men who in many cases probably thought they weren’t doing anything wrong. The stories were familiar to anyone on two legs that was thought to have a vagina but I’m only seeing this outpouring of truth from my white friends and I can’t help but feel that #YesAllWomen doesn’t actually include “other” women.

Other meaning, of course, not white which, if we’re going to be honest, Feminism has always had a rocky relationship with.
This ideal becomes fact when I looked up the hashtag on twitter and was assaulted by a sea of white faces and then later when I watched the mapping of the hashtag. America and Europe glowed white with the trending tag but the rest of the world was dark and still. Which is, viewed from the context of race makes that statement ironic and hilarious in a darkly depressing way.

We could blame this one the use of technology in different nations but that borders on a sort of #FWP mentality and that is a bit problematic in and of itself. People all over the world use Twitter and Facebook. But this tag didn’t trend all over the world. Only in the space where a large amount of their women have a sense of being held on a pedestal of safety.

The #YesAllWomen hashtag took off after the tragic massacre in Isle Vista on May 23rd, 2014 and is in direct response to the sea of misogynist vitriol that filled the internet from Reddit to Twitter. As if Eliot Rodger was some sort of anomaly in American culture and really it was all the fault of women for just not giving him what he wanted.

That needs to be spoken against. That issue in our society, the belief that women are to be blamed for the hate and disrespect that they suffer at the hands and mouths of men very much needs to be addressed on many levels.

However, it seems odd that in addressing this issue, we have all but forgotten the week before’s issue du jour: #BringBackOurGirls. Which took far longer to trend than #YesAllWomen and has very quickly dropped from the twittersphere. The public’s attention span is notoriously short but you would think that with the similarities between these issues, they would combine into something great and instead, one has completely over taken the other.

Even more telling is the fact that Rodger’s insane rants with promises of violence against women have overshadowed the actual victims in this tragedy.

Which is something else that happens. When we rally to a single cause, other issues fall by the wayside, pressed out by the more vocal and attractive media presence.

I’m reminded of the 2013 article, India: The Story You Never Wanted to Hear. The young woman suffered from PTSD due to her time in India in which she was sexually harassed. She talks about the horror of her visit, what she endured and how now, home and safe she has trouble speaking on it.

The article was read and circulated. The comments were supportive of the writer and damning of the country that had spawned such horrible men. There was a lot of talk but all I could think about was in that same year, possibly that same month, I had read a statistic that there were 2000 women reported missing in India and no one was talking about them.

2000 women just gone. Maybe still alive. Maybe dead. Just missing.

Women who had lived and continued to live in the same environment that had caused this woman severe mental trauma and no one was talking about them. I thought to myself, after reading the article, what she was thinking? The woman with flame red hair, pale skin and startling clear eyes. I wanted to ask this beautiful woman, to her face, “What did you expect? With all the stories about missing girls in India, about terrible abuse, why did you think that you would be different?”

When I saw #YesAllWomen I thought of that story. I was reminded that being white in this country, America, gives you some measure of perceived safety. A measure of safety that women of color do not have, not even, at the very least, the fantasy of safety afforded to white women.

For us, our safety is never guaranteed. Even if this hashtag movement changed something in society and suddenly women were treated as equals, we would still be other. I would still be a nigger to someone. That wouldn’t change just because misogyny has been wiped from the page.

And yet, there’s this push for this all inclusive umbrella of womanhood. That somehow the injustices that we face will be erased simply by virtue of having joined in a united front. There’s this sense that we should all support the cause.
But it took two weeks for the story of the missing girls in Nigeria to build up enough steam for the media to say anything. And although there is more discussion around misogyny and the patriarchal society that we live in, those girls are still missing.

There’s no general discussion. They have disappeared from our social media landscape almost as easily and completely as they disappeared from their school that day. As completely as the women in India disappeared. #YesAllWomen but we don’t seem to care if we #BringBackOurGirls.

Feminist spoke out against the misogynist lyrics in “Blurred Lines” while ignoring the history of sexism in Hip Hop and R&B. They rallied against the slut shamming of Miley Cyrus but ignored her use of black women as props.

As Other, we see our children taken away for the same offenses that white women get a slap on the wrist for, our bodies are violated as a form of entertainment, our entire histories rewritten to not include us. #YesAllWomen does not address these issues.

Eliot Rodgers is dead. His damage is done but those girls are still missing. Those girls who were taken by Boko Haram whose misogynist views allowed them to believe that they had a right to abduct them. The same views led Rodgers to believe that he was owed access to perfect blonde female bodies.

The same views that allowed 2000 Indian women to just disappear.
The reality is, #YesAllWomen, although it contains the word “all” and “women” is not really about all women. It’s a rallying cry for middle to upper class white women to gather around. The world at large is already aware that violence and abuse happens to women of color, that worse than cat calls and discrimination takes place.

#YesAllWomen is part of a conversation that says, no, it’s not just other women that don’t fit into this certain mold or ideal, it’s all women, all of us. The unspoken part of that is, that prior to the week before the hashtag took over the internet, the idea was that it was only other women. Women who were poor or not white. Women who have been standing up to say, stop this, our bodies are not public property! Which is a hard argument to make when there is a history of your body being, in a very real sense, property, a culture that treats your physical attributes as fetish, that sees your heritage as costume.

I’m happy that there exists a voice and outlet for the women who are not Other, who exist simply as women. I’m happy that they have found a way to speak up against the subtle and not so subtle ways we are all subjected to violence and disrespect as we walk through this life in our female bodies. No one should have to live in fear simply because they’re the “wrong” gender.

There’s this constant sense that we can only care about one issue. That we all have to stand behind the one that is the most important and sadly, the numbers get decide which issue is the most important. Intersectionality is hard because it forces people to view things outside themselves, to accept that there a variety of problems and that sometimes, those problems all need to be addressed. It says we need to care about these girls, all of them, and speak about their problems at a level that addresses them, not erases them.

It seems as if in this new found fervor of expression and freedom that these same women have forgotten the other women who have battles yet to be won, whose oppressors can’t be reached by hashtags. That the women that suffer under other institutionalized forms of oppression, the kind that is based on skin color aren’t forgotten in this. The ones that exist in nations that are dark from Twitter. That they continue to speak out against misogynist behavior and attitudes and expand that discussion to racism to ensure that the other women are truly included in #YesAllWomen.