#YesAllWomen, like #sendeanlat, began after an act of unspeakable violence. Elliot Rodger, a lapsed student at UC Santa Barbara, went on a rampage, killing 6 and injuring 14 before committing suicide.
He began at his apartment, stabbing 3 men to death. He then drove towards a UC Santa Barbara sorority house, shooting at the women outside and killing 2. In a written manifesto he termed “My Twisted World” and emailed to acquaintances en route, he railed against women for rejecting him, expressed his belief in his right to women’s sexual attention, and his hatred of men who were more sexually active. In the video manifesto he uploaded to Youtube on his way to the sorority house, he cited his motivation as “retribution” for his rejection by women.
Following the widespread news coverage after the massacre, #NotAllMen began trending on Twitter, arguing that Rodger was an aberration. This exceptionalist narrative often takes place in the United States following killings by white men. It is a narrative echoed in the mainstream media, wherein white, Christian, male killers are termed mentally ill, exceptions to the norm, instead of being deemed “thugs” or “terrorists,” words applied almost exclusively to people of color and Muslims. The #NotAllMen movement also ignored that while each man individually may not feel, as Rodger did, ‘entitled’ to women’s bodies — from advertising and television, to cat calls and street harassment, to acts of sexual and gender-based violence, women are constantly viewed through the gaze and the lens of men. This leads to a culture where women are conflated with their bodies, bodies which (of whatever color or orientation) are subject to aggression and objectification by men — indeed, a culture of unequal power and sexual entitlement.
The #NotAllMen narrative allows society to exile the killers from the norm and thus avoid examination of the broader cultural environment leading to the rationalization of such hate. As a response, #YesAllWomen began trending on Twitter. This hashtag argued that while not all men are sexist or violent towards women, all women have experienced sexism or violence at the hands of men. #YesAllWomen has been tweeted 1.2 million times.
However, #YesAllWomen has also received criticism for privileging the discourses of and violence against white women, as activists noted that historically, “all women” has often been used by and for all educated, western, white feminists, rather than truly encompassing all women. Some people of color have abandoned the hashtag in favor of #EachEveryWoman as a more intersectional space. Twitter activists have pushed back at the hashtag for being cis-normative, that is, for excluding the experiences and voices of trans women.
Nonetheless, #YesAllWomen has been cited as a “watershed moment,” in which everyday women forced conversations about domestic violence, sexual harassment, mansplaining, rape culture, and sexual entitlement into the national narrative.
“YesAllWomen contributors make everyday acts of misogyny and sexism eventful — that is, as worthy of documentation, of remembrance, and of public and political discussion — before they manifest as violent acts of “retribution.”
— Samantha C. Thrift of the University of Calgary, in her essay “#YesAllWomen as a Feminist Meme Event” for Feminist Media Studies Vol. 14, No 6.
Both #sendeanlat and #YesAllWomen evolved to reference more than the truly horrific acts which inspired them. They have become cultural events of their own, giving voice to the smaller, oft-ignored microaggressions which form the bones of patriarchal societies. This environment is why each woman has experiences of misogyny to share.
Hashtags such as #YesAllWomen and #Sendeanlat aim to speak of the unspeakable violence, and thus force society to contend with, rather than ignore, everyday experiences of sexism and violence.