Amid revelations of Elliot Rodger's deep-seated anger and resentment toward women, Internet activists crafted a counter-narrative with the hashtag #YesAllWomen. It has created a catalog of stories about what not all men do, but what most women fear: male violence. Brooke talks with Deanna Zandt, co-creator of the Tumblr "When Women Refuse", about the potency of the hashtag to shed light on everyday misogyny.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Those groups, despite some pushback, did, in their generally grudging or acquisitive stance toward women, provide a kind of home for Rodger, and the focus of the national conversation, especially on social media, quickly shifted to the scourge of misogyny. Many men responded with the Twitter hashtag #NotAllMen, as in not all men are violent, a phrase often invoked in response to wider conversations about violence against women. And many women answered with the #YesAllWomen hashtag, asserting that while not all men are predators, all women are culturally conditioned to fear male violence.
#YesAllWomen also inspired a Tumblr called “When Women Refuse,” which is collecting news stories across the globe about violence committed against women who refuse male advances. Deanna Zandt is one of the Tumblr’s co-creators and a media technologist. She says #YesAllWomen debuted soon after the horrible news emerged Memorial Day weekend, and it thrives even though the originator subsequently shut down her Twitter account.
DEANNA ZANDT: Yes, that’s right. Early on in these conversations, it’s a very frequent occurrence for women to receive all kinds of harassment and threats to get them to shut down their public profiles, which is exactly what’s happened to this woman, I think. They use the threat of violence, sexual assault, publicizing your private information. I’ve been through it many times, and it’s terrifying, it’s absolutely terrifying.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But violent, hateful speech is kind of a fact of life online.
DEANNA ZANDT: These conversations are a mirror of what’s actually happening in our culture, where when we have free and open spaces to have these conversations these are the types of things that come out. On the other side, though, that stuff isn’t the norm. The productive, amazing conversations and connectivity that happens when we share with one another strengthens our communities and our bonds and our actions offline.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Have you taken a look at the #NotAllMen hashtag stream lately?
DEANNA ZANDT: [LAUGHING] I can’t bring myself to go there. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think that two parallel arguments are happening without much intersection?
DEANNA ZANDT: Well, people who are having one conversation will often use the opposing hashtag to kind of bait the other side into getting into some sort of discussion. Often those conversations aren’t terribly productive because it is a baiting exercise.
What I do see happening frequently are other smaller discussions. I know of a group of men who are meeting via Facebook right now to talk about the impossible expectations that American masculinity puts on men and ends up breaking them, in some ways, and figuring out what role feminism can do to alleviate some of that toxicity.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are you making an effort to separate this at all from the Isla Vista shooting, just so that you don’t get charged with taking advantage of a tragedy that isn’t directly connected to your cultural critiques?
DEANNA ZANDT: Yeah, a lot of people have made that criticism. We haven’t actually been on the receiving end of it so much because in the About page of the site we talk about the origin of where this idea came from and that it’s sort of taken on a life of its own.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are you hazarding taking correlation and making it causation?
DEANNA ZANDT: I definitely feel pretty strongly against the causation part. It’s one of the reasons why we decided not to take personal stories at this time. I wanted to just share documented news stories, specifically of women who have been victims of violence when they have rejected men in their lives, or otherwise, or even strangers. And I’m actually hoping to use this site as a tapestry that we can weave together to demonstrate really what’s happening in our culture, that these are not isolated incidents.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: First of all, does it take a hashtag to start this kind of conversation? And then, what do you expect it to achieve?
DEANNA ZANDT: A hashtag isn’t required but is super useful. Often in the same way that “Yes We Can” and “Si se puede” become rallying cries for a movement, hashtags are doing the same thing in the digital space. And what I see happening here whenever we have these extremely emotional moments that are very traumatic for a lot of people, most people before they come to a conversation, they feel isolated, they feel like they’re the only ones that this happened to. So when they start sharing their stories with one another they realize, I’m not crazy for feeling this way, I’m not crazy for feeling scared in this situation.
It’s very much like digital consciousness-raising. Consciousness-raising of the second wave of feminism was such a huge part of the movement, in connecting women together and people together to share their stories of systemic problems and make systemic change.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Someday, this hashtag will stop trending.
DEANNA ZANDT: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so, what happens then?
DEANNA ZANDT: There’s a lot of discussion right now around the lifespan and the lifecycle of a hashtag. I find them very useful as in-the-moment tools. Those tweets will live on until someone deletes them. They will become an archive and a reference point, a point for journalists to dig into stories as other related stories come up. It doesn’t have to be a platform, at every given moment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: After Sandy Hook, there was such a strong movement and a strong possibility that there would be some substantive gun control.
DEANNA ZANDT: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It never happened. I know it’s a rich lobby, the NRA.
DEANNA ZANDT: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But it would seem that it would take decades for a change in the kind of culture that you’re pointing out in the Tumblr.
DEANNA ZANDT: I don’t actually think that it has to take decades. You know, we look at something like street harassment, Emily May started an organization called Hollaback! to start fighting street harassment, I think almost 10 years ago, and many people said, what, catcalling, why is that dangerous, why is that bad? And some people still, obviously, say that. But the headway that they’ve been able to make as a movement around the world has been incredible, for people to stand up and say, wait a minute, no, that does feel bad and dangerous, when that happens to me on the street. And that’s only been less than a decade. So, again, the power of digital tools to really shift a cultural consciousness is incredible at this moment, if we use the tools wisely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What’s the biggest impediment?
DEANNA ZANDT: Apathy, people feeling apathetic because they’ve never felt like they’ve been able to move a needle before. And I think these are some of the differences that we’re seeing when people are contributing to these social media moments. This is oftentimes their first experience with contributing to some sort of social change, and they see what happens when it goes from their Twitter stream to their local news station or to a mainstream cable news station or something on the radio.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Deanna, thank you very much.
DEANNA ZANDT: You’re welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Deanna Zandt is the author of Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking.