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Does #YesAllWomen Matter?

There are no shortage of important discussions that need to take place after the mass shooting in Santa Barbara last week. One of those discussions has been taking place on Twitter over the past week, with the growth of the #YesAllWomen hashtag.

#YesAllWomen stems from the shooter’s misogynist views, as espoused on the YouTube video he uploaded before the killings took place. It’s also a riff on the Not All Men meme – a parody of a line sometimes used by men when it comes time to talk about misogyny and gender inequality. The ‘not all men’ excuse, of course, misses the point – a point that #YesAllWomen explicitly makes clear. No, not all men are misogynists, but yes, all women experience the affects of a pervasive sexist culture at some point in their lives. And the statement that #YesAllWomen makes should give everyone – man or woman – pause. All women experience the effects of sexism.

Does #YesAllWomen matter? A CNN report cites a few people saying that participation in #YesAllWomen has included men and women alike who might not usually talk openly about sexism and misogyny. That’s great, because part of the problem is that not enough people talk openly about a culture that still objectifies women. Objectification, in the literal sense – to people entrenched in the misogynist mindset of the perpetrator in this case, women are things to be obtained. That if you provide a certain input – the ‘perfect gentleman’ the killer supposed himself to be – all women (yes, all women) should provide the desired output. The fact that women are human beings doesn’t seem to cross the mind of many in the online communities that the killer was a part of.

So yes, it does matter – misogyny, and the tacit approval of misogyny’s existence, is a social problem, and we can tackle social problems by speaking up and changing the normative values of the society we live in. That will take a long time, but that’s the only way things will change – you can’t legislate misogyny out of existence. #YesAllWomen itself might not change the hearts and minds of any misogynists, but it’ll certainly increase the amount of social pressure on misogynist groups like the pick up artist community. Over time, that matters.

But, there’s something that could derail that discussion, and it’s one big reason why nothing ever seems to change after mass shootings take place in the United States. I consciously chose not to name the shooter in this post, nor did I call him or what he did evil or crazy or heinous. That’s because those words are used so that our society can get away with not making tough decisions that can actually address the issues at stake, be they misogyny, mental health, or gun control. I don’t want to use the killer’s name because that makes it too easy to write mass shootings off as isolated incidents. Calling him ‘evil’ makes it too easy for us as a society to throw up our hands and bemoan our inability to stop ‘evil,’ as if such a vague concept meant anything.

Maybe the worst thing to start happening after these mass shootings take place is the way mental health has been talked about in the media. While it is important to do something about the parlous state of mental health services, giving the mental health of killers top billing can’t happen. It promotes the stigma that people with mental disorders are prone to violence, something that simply isn’t true. The killer in Santa Barbara didn’t do what he did because he had Asperger Syndrome, something he was receiving therapy for. There are sundry interlocking reasons for why he did what he did, but if the focus is put on mental health and mental health alone, then we’re making an awful mistake, because being a mass murderer isn’t a symptom of Aspergers.

That’s why the popularity of #YesAllWomen is so heartening. It’s confronting the fact that the culture of misogyny that the shooter was so deeply engaged with is not limited to him, and contributed heavily to why these events took place. It’s a widespread problem, and it’s one that needs to be addressed, and continuously addressed, because this isn’t an isolated incident in any sense. It’s certainly not an isolated incident of mass murder, something that has become shockingly commonplace in a fairly short time, and it’s not an isolated incident of misogyny, either. The shooter decided to express his views with mass murder, but there are hundreds, thousands of others out there who express the exact same misogynist attitudes as the shooter in other ways – sexual harassment, rape, murder, or just verbal abuse. For once, just speaking up on Twitter actually can make a difference – by saying that misogyny is unacceptable, and that what happened in Santa Barbara does not merely exist in a vacuum with a name.