Last week, a really complicated and horrifying mass murder occurred in Santa Barbara, and one of the things that came out of it is #YesAllWomen, a hashtag that was initially in response to the murderer's online women-hating manifesto.Women talked about personal experiences with violence and abuse they've had when they refused men in the past, and about the culture that allows these things to continue happening. It's swirled into its own feminist movement that's both unrelated and completely related to the murders in Santa Barbara. Mostly, it's become a safe space for women to talk about things, things that are painful and true. I have not seen one woman say anything bad about #YesAllWomen. I have seen a lot of men say a lot of bad things about it, and about the women who participate in it, such vitriol that I refrained from actively writing my own #YesAllWomen tweets because I just didn't have the strength for it that these women did. Because trolls end up taking up way more space in my brainwaves than they deserve.
And I wasn't going to write about it anywhere else, because everyone is writing about it, and I understand very well the fatigue that comes with reading about the same thing over and over. But then I also saw people complain that #YesAllWomen is just another wave of online activism that is meaningless and not actually what we should be focusing on in regards to the murders, and something about this swift and easy dismissal of so many women's painful, hard truths and emotions just changed something in me. So this is all an awkward build up to what I'm about to say.
I was sexually assaulted, once. Luckily, only once.
It shouldn't be surprising that I was. When you're in a crowded room, there's a good chance that half of the women with you have been sexually assaulted. It doesn't mean that there aren't men in the room who are hurting, too. All it means is that half of the women around you have been sexually assaulted. A lot of them will never talk about it.
I don't talk about it a lot because I don't think about it a lot, both because I was lucky enough that the violation of my body wasn't violent enough that I have to think about it everyday, and also because whenever my mind does flicker on it, it feels like mentally picking up a hot coal and I drop that shit like it's hot and move on to other subjects. But sometimes when I do think about it, I think about the fact that everyone in my writing class that semester in college knew about it but my family still doesn't. And how that's the way I want it, but is that weird? (It wasn't until I read Roxane Gay's post yesterday that I realized this might be common.)
I don't talk about it a lot because I still have a lot of shame attached to how the whole weird night went down. I have a lot of shame attached to the uncomfortable visit to Planned Parenthood the next day, sitting on the T surrounded by wonderful women who I will always be grateful for, but still wanting nothing more than to disappear. Because I think the small percentage of people who know about it feel bad and I don't want them to feel bad anymore because they're the only part I don't have shame about. Because the only people who did anything wrong stole my passport and live in another country now, so what's even the use? (I know, it sounds so scandalous. But it only feels weird and awful.) I felt a lot of shame and confusion for a long time as to what to even CALL it. WAS it sexual assault? (Yes. Yes. Absolutely.) I feel enough shame that I used the word "lucky" twice just now in describing it. I will feel shame and regret as soon as I publish this post.
The system that still fails me in making me feel shamed about how much I drank that night is the same system that failed Elliot Rodger and the people he murdered, that allowed him to post a violent and women-hating manifesto online and then have the police consider him a nice white boy later, that tells women they are worthless if they aren't loved and men they are worthless if they can't find a woman to sleep with them, and the hyper-sexualization of women in that statement alone, that shuts down the pain of men as unwanted and the pain of women as irrational, that is full of poor health care but lots of fire arms, that uses "lesbian" as the ultimate insult against a woman who speaks up for herself because the idea of a woman who doesn't need a man is the most threatening and repulsive idea some dudes can think of, that allows people to believe they have the right to talk about issues that aren't theirs. It's all the same system. You can selectively focus on what you want to in that system, but it's all part of the same sexist, violent, unstable machine.
But every time people are slaughtered, and we rally for health care, and we rally for gun control, nothing ever happens. Nothing ever fucking happens. But listening to the people speaking up in #YesAllWomen makes me feel better. Listening to Melissa Harris-Perry so brilliantly and bravely bringing almost every conversation at her table back to women's rights makes me feel better. Feminism makes me feel better. And at least that feels like something. And I think that's what a lot of "online activism" is about. Just making us feel a little fucking better.
Maybe the connection between Elliot Rodger and me feeling the need to talk about my sexual assault isn't clear to a lot of people. But a lot of women this weekend have felt the same exact thing.
So dismiss #YesAllWomen, if you want. Just be clear that when you do, you are dismissing me.