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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Yes, All Women.

I'm writing this post in the light of the horrific events that unfurled in Santa Barbara over the weekend, where a damaged and ill, but also entitled, privileged and misogynistic young man, fueled by anger and humiliation at what he saw as his rejection by women killed seven people and injured several more before taking his own life. In the hours and days immediately after the tragedy You Tube videos and a chilling and angry manifesto came to light outlining his attitudes to women, people of colour and his plans for his 'Day of Retribution'

 This particular tragedy is almost the perfect storm of issues. Guns (all of Elliot Rodger's guns were legally obtained despite the fact he had a history or mental health issues and he lives in California which has some of the strictest gun laws in the US), the mental health issues (Rodger's had a number of ongoing mental health issues and had apparently been in therapy for many years, his family and parents were aware of the issue to the point where they had called the police on at least one occasion believing Rodger's to be a danger to others) and vicious and deep seated misogyny. And it is this which I want to talk about right now.

When the story first broke and news of his videos and manifesto came to light women across the world were, understandably, shocked, horrified, saddened and angry. Men, whilst many felt the same way were quick to point out that 'Its not all men', women were keen to point out that, yes, we know that, but when it comes to misogyny, whether it be casual occasions of everyday sexism or sexual violence or aggression, it is all women.

This spawned much debate online, particularly on Twitter, where the #yesallwomen hashtag began trending. The purpose of the hashtag was to allow women to share their experiences, to open a conversation and make our male feminist allies understand that whilst of course its not all men, almost every woman will on a reasonably regular basis be the victims of male aggression and  privilege. For some women this takes the form of serious abuse (whether it be sexual, physical or emotional) or sexual violence for others it is domestic abuse, discrimination in the workplace, being prey to the unwanted and overly enthusiastic man in a club, a wolf whistle in the street, and audible comment about body, attributes, age, weight, looks, intimidation by a man or group of men. The list could go on and the problem is with many of these is that with the exception of the most serious, they are seen as entirely acceptable. Male privilege and our culture of casual sexism is such that aggressively pursuing a woman who has made her lack of interest quite clear is ok. Shouting at a woman whilst she walks her dog or takes a run or runs her errands is fine. Casual touching of a woman without her explicit consent is fine. But its not fine, its not ok and its not acceptable. We have become so trained that we should see these behaviours as harmless that often even other women will indulge in the culture of 'victim blaming' we seem to have created. That a woman should be flattered by a stranger yelling from his car that she has a 'nice arse/tits/is doable' that she should not be offended when a stranger yells at her that she is fat/ugly/a bitch. Women who stand up for themselves in these circumstances are further often further abused. The fact that we have a sliding scale of sexual aggression and misogyny is part of the problem. The fact that we have to be relieved that we have 'only' been victims of the lesser kind of these acts is a problem because they shouldn't exist.

In addition to gender, race also plays its part and cannot be ignored in the discussion less, #yesallwomen becomes #yesall WHITEwomen (and there is a very interesting debate currently going on on twitter under that very hashtag which I do recommend you read as it gives some very interesting perspectives and statistic with regards to the experience of women of colour) in the US amongst women of colour rates of reported coercive sexual behaviour are most high, with almost 40% of black women being victim of this kind of behaviour. Whilst it is true to say that ALL women experience this, we cannot ignore the experiences of women of colour who are statistically more likely to be the victims of more serious sexual aggression and more likely to be ignored as victims. Issues of white privilege and intersectionality are part of the debate and I do believe if we are to move feminism forward and truly become 'all women' you cannot discount the part race plays and the differing experiences of women of colour.

Unfortunately our media also perpetuates the cycle of misogyny. Look around your house, pick up the first magazine you see. Even those aimed directly at women often seem to exist only as objects. Magazines tell us how we should look, what we should be doing to 'please our men', they shame us for being fat, for having agency and using it.

Lets look at some examples from the media. Now the women I talk about here might not be my favourite people in the world, they may not live the kind of life I would chose, but do they deserve to be talked about in the kind of language that people do? The answer must surely be no.

Female celebrities are objectified to the nth degree. Kim Kardashian (think what you will of her) lives her entire life being too fat, too thin, judged for relationships (cos like 'Oh My God, she's been married three times'), you can argue that she has made the choice to live in the public and eye and its true that she did but does that really mean we should be allowed to pass judgement on her every act? That we should fat shame her throughout her pregnancy for daring to do what many pregnant women do (myself included) which is gain a lot of weight? And then of course she was judged all over again when she lost the weight, but would have been just as harshly judged if she hadn't.

Kate Middleton has recently had her bum in several papers and on the internet because her skirt blew up when she got out of a helicopter. Everyone has an opinion on whether she should weight her hems, wear a slip, wear bigger pants (she appears to be wearing either a thong or none, I would be inclined to suspect the former) but how about we just don't take pictures of women's bums when the wind catches their skirt and blows it up. How about we look at what it says about how we view women that a picture of a woman's arse, taken without consent is deemed public interest (this was hold even if Kate's full time job was wearing a bikini, consent is all and just because you've seen someone's bum once doesn't mean you always get to see it).

Kim Novac attended the 2014 Academy Awards. At 81 years old she looks pretty good and she's definitely had some work, but if that's her choice I'm fine with that. Plenty however, had a LOT to say. Headlines appeared on her 'shocking' new look and mocked her attempts at maintaining her youth whilst ignoring the fact that society has made it so unacceptable for women, particularly those who work in the public eye to get old that its incredibly common for women to undergo surgery to attempt to fight it.

It is in this context, this culture of victim blaming, slut shaming, fat watching, ageist, god for bid you go out looking a bit rough or should stand up for yourself or exhibit any kind of agency or not think it totally HILARIOUS when a man grabs your boob in a club 'for a laugh' that we live.A place where, factoring in unreported rapes, its estimated that only 5% of rapists in the UK ever spend a single day behind bars, or where women's reputations, lifestyles associations, dress and sex life are dragged through the courts and laid open for all to even get that 5% to face the consequences of their crime. It is in this world that ALL women live. In the developing world sex is used as a weapon of war, in the developed world a culture of casual sexism is all pervading, and whilst I certainly prefer my reality that of women in the developing world again it lays out questions as to why either group should have to tolerate what they do.

So yes, we know, we understand that its not all men, but it is all women and until ALL men understand that we need to keep having this conversation.

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