I believe in the power of words. I believe, especially, in the power of the written word. Writing means not just that we were here, but that we endure. Reading means that we can access and interpret our past. Thus historically, reading and writing have been cultural points of contention; they’ve marked racial, economic, and class boundaries. They’ve also marked gender and sexual boundaries.
(Think of the historical moments when education was deliberately withheld from lower classes, women, and/or slaves. Think of what we define as “chick lit” or what we see as “boys'” or “girls'” books. Think of the still-common under-representation of women and minorities in the publishing industry.)
Over the past week, I’ve been reminded of this power that words have to demarcate sexual boundaries in a visceral way. I’ve watched and read, transfixed by Elliot Rodger’s manifesto and the reactions to it. I’ve stood in awe of the sexism and sexual entitlement in his manifesto and in his last video:
All you girls who rejected me and looked down upon me and you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men. And all of you men, for living a better life than me, all of you sexually active men, I hate you. I hate all of you. I can’t wait to give you exactly what you deserve. Utter annihilation. (laughs).
I’ve read news stories and blog posts and committed the cardinal sin of reading the comments sections. I’ve balled my hands into fists after reading misogynist ideology or apologist rhetoric. I’ve shaken my head at attempts to misdirect conversations. There’s misogyny apparent in “all you girls . . . I hate you.” There’s coded misandry. It’s about “sexually active men.” In other words, it’s about men who are getting to sleep with those women who’ve rejected him. In other words, it is still sexually based and sexually motivated hatred based on a feeling of entitlement to women’s bodies.
I’ve seen #yesallwomen, and I’ve seen the reactions to it. I’ve read and wept over posts by my friends Gretchen and Brandie about their experiences and reactions to #yesallwomen. I’ve listened to it called, as conversations on social media often are, trivial. Hacktivist. Slactivism. (We just love to make up words that make others’ actions seem smaller.)
But #YesAllWomen is something different. What we are reading is a catalog of sexism. That the movement arose organically and already has upward of a million contributed tweets is a testament to the power of social media. Conversations are happening. Confessions and admissions are happening. Rage and hurt are being expressed. And they’re being written in 128 or fewer characters–leaving room, of course, for the hashtag. A hashtag that matters because it allows us to find those texts.
#YesAllWomen sprung from an act of radical mysogyny. The mini-texts created by women tell us of smaller acts, but they are all the more powerful because they are ubiquitous.
The questions become, I suppose, what do we do with these texts? How do we use them to change things?