Reflections on “#YesAllWomen”

by T. Redtree | May 30, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


The spring 2014 school year wound down with a mounting number of female students coming forward to testify about their experience with campus rape and to protest the callous failure of universities to acknowledge and address this. Then last week Elliot Rodger unleashed his murdering retribution against women, which also took the lives of four male students in Isla Vista, California. UC Santa Barbara is a campus that had already been plagued by two gang rapes this winter. Students there held a small protest which together with a Twitter campaign has sparked an outpouring of grief, rage, and soul-searching discussion about rape culture on campus and in society at large.

Two young women started a hashtag titled “#YesAllWomen” to answer the all too typical response epitomized by a Twitter account titled “Not All men”—which was objecting to attributing the massacre to misogyny (women hating) and claiming this was portraying all men as sexist aggressors when this was just an act of a mentally deranged individual. The #YesAllWomen tweets stepped off with messages like “Not all men harass women but ALL women at some point have been harassed by men.” Within a few days, #YesAllWomen had over a million posts with an international following including celebrities, news reporters, and authors weighing in.

As women and young men poured their hearts out and gave testimony, a picture of what most people tolerate as normal began to take shape and pick up steam—challenging and changing the way that people have been thinking about these things:

“Because how often does a man text his friend to say he got home safe”; “Because the response ‘I have a boyfriend’ is easier than saying No”; “Because I was taught to scream fire instead of rape because it increases the chances of someone coming to help”; "Because women are taught to hate themselves if a man rejects them and men are taught to hate women who reject them”; “Because when men say No it’s the end of the discussion but when women say No it’s the beginning of a negotiation”; “Because I don’t make eye contact on the Street. I don’t put my drink down at parties, I cross the street when I see groups of men, because I use a buddy system"; "Because I use keys as a political weapon”; “Because we walk in groups not because we like to be in cliques”; “Because rape is the only crime where the victim has to prove it wasn’t their fault.”

Young women are expressing encouragement by the numerous posts by men giving their support and saying how much they are learning from absorbing the torrent of posts: “Because I started to read this site because I have a daughter but now I see I should keep reading because I have two sons”; “Because as a man I don’t have to carry pepper spray everywhere in case a man rapes me behind a dumpster.”

“Because the backlash from speaking out can be more traumatic than the incident”—this tweet was shamefully substantiated when the two women who started #YesAllWomen had to take down their personal accounts due to the online threats and harassment they received. In many of the posts, women confessed debating whether they should tweet, knowing they would be told by friends and colleagues to not be so angry or oversensitive. Bloggers testified to losing followers for posting. Feminist and mainstream journalists shared how often they are threatened with rape online for their reporting and having to take down the comment pages because of piling on by men acting like an online lynch mob.

This outpouring is giving voice to emotions normally shoved down and silenced—where what women too often put up with as “normal” is starting to give way to anger and a collective strength of spirit that women shouldn’t have to live like this. And it’s about time! These are the kinds of cracks in the normal routine that people have to step through and pry open so that there are real alternatives to how women at great cost accept and internalize their oppression. Cause let’s face it—it’s been fucking degrading and disheartening that the highest young women can shoot for in the 21st century is “owning” your own sexuality so you can “get yours” out of the dominant social relations that are saturated in patriarchal privilege and firmly embedded in the capitalist dog-eat-dog commodity relations that shape every choice you can make—no matter how free you think you are to make them.

It’s been disorienting that women have gained formal equality—while the culture has been seething with backlash, resentment, and brutality. You are supposed to “lean in” and have it all—to put longing for a loving meaningful relationship on hold while you pay attention to your education and consume yourself with a career, and in the meantime you can “man up” and do what the boys do... except you can’t really. Because the boys don’t have to walk home with their keys between their knuckles, and they are not the ones who are going to be looked at and treated like a slut.

Elliot Rodger’s manifesto was full of self-pity and resentment that he was being deprived of his rightful privilege; he was outraged at Black and Mexican men who were able to have sex with white women when he, who was half white, could not. He wrote in his manifesto, “Tomorrow is my day of retribution, the day in which I will have my girls are not attracted to me, but I will punish you for it. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you… I am the true victim of this. I am the good guy... I didn’t start this war.” These are ravings of someone who was mentally broken, but what has to be called out as even more disturbing is that these are the very same ravings being promoted by very powerful people in the political culture, in government, by organized fascist political movements and in the actions of resentful individuals this unleashes. From soldiers who have committed atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the endemic use of rape as a weapon of war, to the man who rapes—to the gangs who rape, to Bush then Obama who justify military intervention, torture, and drones in the name of “We didn’t start this war... We’re the Good Guys,” to the men’s rights groups that paint themselves as the true victims—this shit is epidemic.

Yes this was a very extreme event exaggerated by mental illness, but there is a reason it has also struck so many people as not just an aberration. That same sense of privilege denied—that act that says “if I can’t have her no one can”—is manifested in three women a day being murdered by a current or former intimate partner. This same spring a popular high school student in Connecticut stabbed the girl who declined his invitation to the prom. The same week a crowd of 30 men stood and watched as a young woman, who had married the man she loved and not the one her family had arranged, was bludgeoned to death with bricks as she met with her lawyer in front of a courthouse in an honor killing in Lahore, Pakistan. Patriarchal traditions dictated that she deserved to die for disgracing her family. Elliot Rodger's massacre is just a peculiarly American form of honor killing. The satire magazine The Onion captured this with the headline “‘No Way to Prevent This’ Says Only Nation Where This Happens Regularly.”

Rape—including campus rape—is not about sex. It’s about the violent assertion of male right and power over women. Popular culture has desensitized rape and blurred lines so many male students actually don’t know that “No” does not mean “I know you want it.” Generations of people are being raised in a pornified culture. Young men (and young women) are assaulted with imagery and advertising where sexuality is modeled as objectification, and selling your body as your product. Prostitution is taught as a legitimate career choice in Women’s Studies departments, as if the best a women can do is negotiate a price instead of asking the question What kind of society is this that does this to women and what does the explosion of sexual slavery have to do with imperialist globalization?

As Bob Avakian points out in the film of the speech REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!—“You can do in this society today to women what you could not do to any other group without a huge outcry. Or imagine if you literally showed lynchings [of Black people] and depicted them as a source of titillation.... There would be outrage as there should be…. What goes on, particularly in the increasingly violent and vicious pornography, is very much along the same lines as the postcards of the hanging: the titillation of men through the physical torture and degradation of women, which is becoming more and more the norm and more and more mainstream in pornography. We should all think about the fact that one of the most popular forms of pornography, as it’s being more and more mainstreamed, is rape pornography, depicting literally the woman being raped.”

The right of women to abortion is now all but outlawed in seven states and is in a perilous state of emergency in the whole country—and yet too many people don’t get what the big deal is. Elliot Rodger's rantings—that “Women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with. That decision should be made for them by rational men of intelligence... Women have more power in human society than they deserve, all because of sex”—isn’t any different than what is being shouted in women’s faces on any given weekend in front of abortion clinics across the country being besieged by religious right-wing fanatics. It’s the same logic that has higher courts upholding reactionary local legislation that is closing abortion clinics with technicalities and making it unavailable, especially for women who do not have the money to travel to another state for an abortion. These are not unconnected issues—they are all part of a war on women—all made of the same stuff linked and woven from the same fabric.

Anguished parents are blaming gun laws, but the causes are much deeper, more intractable and more systemic. It’s part of the very fabric of this society. As A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity by the RCP puts it: “This fabric ropes back into history, it winds its way around the globe, braided into all the dominant religions and ‘moral codes’ and woven into every aspect of human societies. It is a heavy veil that casts the darkness of humanity’s first oppressive divisions over the lives, the dreams and prospects of every corner of humanity in the 21st century.” To live like this cannot be justified and should not be excused away with counsel of patience or false promises that this can be changed within the confines of the system of capitalism.

There is another radically different way society could be. As a young high school student in the early 1970s, I had the opportunity to hear a speaker talk about having been to revolutionary China, where she described that women could walk the streets at night without fear of being assaulted. I have to admit I just could not believe it. I had to do my research, which confirmed that many others who had traveled there also found this to be true. But more than that I realized that I just couldn’t even wrap my head around what that would even feel like. Now that capitalism has been restored in China—it has the world’s fastest growing pornography market. But I learned at that time that the subordination of women was not human nature—it was the nature of the system. I, like tens of thousands of others, began to ask the question: What kind of a system is this and why should anyone accept this as the best possible way things could be?

We Need A Revolution! We need a new and radically different state power! To learn much more about that, a must read is Break ALL the Chains, Bob Avakian on the Emancipation of Women and the Communist Revolution, now available at

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