Wow. 2014. If there were ever any doubt that violence against women continues to be an issue this year has been pretty damn determined to knock any illusions out of us. That violence continues to be embedded into multiple aspects of our society and, above all, in women’s experiences. Our illusions of progress are hard-won I think, and often people are pretty determined to hang on to them.
I remember in grade 9, a friend had an… unpleasant experience after accepting a seemingly innocent ride on the back of a new motorcycle. I recall how shaken she was when she returned. I also remember talking to my mom about it that evening. While it’s been decades since it happened, my recollection is that she was sympathetic and supportive about that one instance, but when I ventured the opinion that about a third to half my friends had gone through similar unwanted experiences to one degree or another, she couldn’t believe it. Didn’t want to believe it I understand, in retrospect. But I remember above all the frustration of naming something about the world in which I lived and being told that it had to be exaggerated.
That disbelief is omnipresent, isn’t it?
In May, one of the responses to the Isla Vista shootings, and the misogynistic public manifesto of the shooter himself, was the creation on Twitter of #YesAllWomen – a hashtag appended to tweets detailing the many ways in which women’s experiences are shaped by misogyny, sexism and fear. It was an overwhelming moment for many of us – not just the women who were speaking their truths or learning that others shared their fears and/or experiences, but also for people who’d never had to consider such experiences. As I witnessed the growth of #YesAllWomen and the responses to its messages I felt as though there was the potential for something beyond a viral twitter moment to result from this.
The Atlantic said of the phenomenon simply that “…the vast majority of men who explore it with an open mind will come away having gained insights and empathy without much time wasted on declarations that are thoughtless” an insight eloquently echoed in Neil Gaiman’s tweet “the #yesallwomen hashtag is filled with hard, true, sad and angry things. I can empathise & try to understand & know I never entirely will.”
Jezebel elevated the conversation swirling around the hashtag to an even loftier level stating “…now with trends like the #YesAllWomen hashtag, we are uprooting everyday sexism, the ideas that perpetuate systematic marginalization, outright violence towards women, rape culture, and demonization of women who deign to stand up for themselves, forcing it out and showing just how pervasive and destructive it is.”
It has certainly been a powerful trend, the hashtagging of truth. Forcing it out and showing just how pervasive and destructive it is.
In the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, another harrowing hashtag emerged: #BeenRapedNeverReported. As its co-creators explained:
Our anger grew.
Not so much about what Ghomeshi was said to have done—we have heard those stories all too often while doing our jobs as journalists—but by the reaction of much of the public.
Why, people scoffed on the internet, screamed on social media, argued in bars, had these women not reported him to the police? Why had they waited years to come out against him? Why were they not making their names public? Could this be a conspiracy of "scorned" women and cast-off girlfriends and Ghomeshi groupies whom he had ignored?
We both knew full well why these women—initially four, now more than double that—stayed mute. As did every woman—and man—who has ever been raped, sexually assaulted, abused, molested, messed with.
We are the silent, shamed majority, each with a horrifying, humiliating I-should-have-known-better it-was-all-my-fault memory and myriad reasons why we keep it all to ourselves, not even telling our closest friends. Sometimes we keep these stories secret for a lifetime, empowering our attackers to revictimise us every time we blame ourselves for having worn the wrong clothes, or having had one too many drinks, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was also becoming clear through the heated debates on social media that even people we considered enlightened, still don't get it. They have no clue of how common it is for women to be flashed or to have a man masturbate before her while looking her up and down late at night on a subway train, both frightening violations whose impact is often minimised.
So many social media spaces, so many voices speaking up to tell their truths—trying to share and to educate.
As heartening and inspiring as this swell of solidarity is, I don’t want to classify this as a “tipping point”. It isn’t a moment of profound change, an “aha” that is magically transforming the world, eradicating misogyny and violence against women. It is my hope, however, that these spaces and the conversations that take place within them are at least the beginning of the disruption of disbelief.
Because here’s where we stand today.
28 Ontario women had lost their lives at the hands of violent men in 2014 according to a Huronia Transition Homes reporting up to Nov. 26. That number is already higher by at least two.
It’s time we believed each other. It’s time we understood what our disbelief allows to perpetuate, and resolve instead to act. Let’s resolve to go forward hearing and trusting the voices of those who have been victimized and exploited. Let’s listen when someone tells us they’re afraid or hurt. It’s time to trust these voices…and our own.