A lone gunman’s killing spree has widely been cited as the trigger that started the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter, but this online trend marks the tipping point of a litany of abuse directed at females online.
Yes, #YesAllWomen came into being directly after the Isla Vista shooter’s misogynistic motivations had been revealed through an online trail of women-hating rants, including a 147-page ‘manifesto’ and homemade videos.
During the killing spree that took place near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara on Friday, 23 May, six people were killed and several others wounded by Elliot Rodger.
On 24 May, the #YesAllWomen hashtag began circulating on Twitter, according to Hashtags.org. To date, it has been part of almost 1.8m tweets.
The #YesAllWomen hashtag even made the front page of New York newspaper Daily News
Violence against women online
While the California shootings crystallised the danger of unchecked misogyny, this brand of hatred and the vitriol espoused by the shooter is not a singular phenomenon.
Abuse of women online is so common, it is practically a fact of internet culture. From revenge porn to rape threats, women have been targets of humiliation and degradation for such crimes as being a feminist, an activist, an ex-girlfriend, or just someone who wants to see women treated differently in comic books and video games.
Just one of the comments in response to a YouTube video in which author and activist Rebecca Solnit links the California killings to a culture of violence against women
Thankfully, though, the internet is a platform for everyone, not just the hateful commenters. Both women and men are fighting back in blogs, articles, videos and tweets to say that this behaviour is unacceptable.
On Twitter, @EverydaySexism highlights the instances of sexism people encounter on a daily basis. Anita Sarkeesian continues her video web series exploring representations of women in pop culture, despite a constant barrage of hateful and threatening commentary. The Hawkeye Initiative uses gender-flipped images to address the disparity between how male and female comic book characters are drawn.
An image from The Hawkeye Initiative
Days since last tech incident
As this catalogue demonstrates, online culture has a gender issue. Offline culture does, too, and a need for increased gender diversity in STEM has been well-documented by our Women Invent Tomorrow campaign.
The tech industry – itself entrenched in the online world – can be a minefield for women and other groups that aren’t well-represented. Self-described ‘STEMinist’ Meagan Waller created a website to track the days since the last tech incident (ie, the discrimination of marginalised people in tech) and the counter has never passed zero.
Waller’s website can’t actually count these incidents as they occur; the counter is there to signify a toxic culture and the website draws attention to organisations working to combat it.
The question of why these organisations exist has many answers. One of which is that Mahbod Moghadam, co-founder of website Rap Genius, commended the California gunman’s manifesto as “beautifully written” and passed comment on the killer’s sister’s looks. He has since apologised for his comments and resigned from the company.
Resources that highlight the issues facing women are often met with the same response online: not all men are anti-women. This argument became the rote testimony of so many that it actually became a meme with its own hashtag – #NotAllMen.
The ‘not all men’ argument does not excuse the fact that some men, some tropes and some cultural norms are harmful to women. Not all men have to be directly involved in or responsible for an issue for it to exist.
And thus, we have #YesAllWomen. This trending hashtag is much more than a reaction to a misogyny-fuelled act of violence perpetrated in California. It’s the poignant counterpoint to #NotAllMen. It’s the response to an online culture that has gotten out of control when it comes to silencing calls for gender equality.
The evidence is there in the tweets, and the fact that one of the two Twitter accounts responsible for starting the hashtag has become private to stop the abuse directed at it.
Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Accenture Ireland, Intel, the Irish Research Council, ESB, Twitter, CoderDojo and Science Foundation Ireland.