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I Am Looking Back and Ready to Say #YesAllWomen

Monday, June 16, 2014

Young women's outpouring of justifiable rage on social media against misogyny is a wonderful and inspiring sign of solidarity. As I watch and participate it's made it easier to process the pains of my own life.

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Sign: Yes All Women

Credit: Aaron Muszalski on Flickr, under Creative Commons

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(WOMENSENEWS)--In the days since a mass shooting spree in Santa Barbara, Calif., the outpouring of justifiable anger at misogyny on Twitter via the hashtag #YesAllWomen and on Tumblr has filled me with hope.

The enormous online response to the deadly rampage in Santa Barbara went from comments on murders of women to catcalls and the events in-between that make girls and women feel like targets. They document that violence against girls and women is commonplace. The posts also make the connection between obnoxious "hey sweeties" yelled by construction workers to a rising crescendo of harassment and even rape and murder. It is all about being less than, and while some events, like the catcalls, are almost harmless, the vulnerability women feel every single day is not.

The Twitter and Tumblr outpourings began in response to a Twitter posting with the hashtag #notallmen by someone who wanted to respond to Elliot Roger's slaying of six and injuring of 13 more in Santa Barbara by making a public announcement that not all men are bad.

Here are some sample tweets:

Many, including @KarenEhler, responded back:

The women's responses have been serious many times and smart-alecky at others, but always with the theme that violence against women--from micro-aggressions to murder--is something that all women experience over much of their lives.

The debate online has been so intense, that every major news outlet has written about it.

This online response also captured the attention of Anita Hill, the law professor who challenged in 1991 the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court and forever changed the national discussion of sexual harassment in the work place. At a recent public appearance for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art in Brooklyn, N.Y., that followed a screening of "Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power," Hill praised #YesAllWomen for making the connection from harassment to murder.

"Many of the women who wrote me letters after 1991 mentioned this," Hill told the audience.

Long Awaited Discussion

Could this online discussion be an indication of what so many women of my generation have been waiting for? That is, that this generation of college-age women get as mad as the women of the 1970s and push women's rights forward here in the United States and beyond.

Will the tragic events in Santa Barbara lead not only to gun control but also an understanding of the day-to-day apprehension that women and girls live with, punctuated by hollers from construction sites, casual remarks and warnings about when and where to walk or park one's car?

As editor in chief of Women's eNews, which began in June 2000 to produce daily news coverage about women's issues, I have witnessed a consistent creep forward in the expansion of the rights of girls and women. I am also reminded on a daily basis of the ferocious push back against these rights, from the Tea Party to the Taliban and many others in between.

What has become clearer and clearer since the founding of Women's eNews is that the incidents in my life, from age 6 through mid-career, were absolutely standard operating procedure, reflecting my place in the world. I was trained to keep quiet early and take without complaint the punishment handed out to me for being female.

The first time I was molested, he was the neighborhood bachelor in his 50s, maybe. I believe I was 6, perhaps 7. Invited alone to come into his house and then to sit on his lap, I had no idea why someone would want to touch me between my legs, but I knew it was wrong. I also knew enough to keep quiet, lest I be blamed, just as I knew to keep quiet about the molestations and sexual assaults throughout my adolescence.

My training in understanding the price of being female continued with a focus on my likelihood of becoming a slut. In eighth grade, I was kicked off the softball team, where my big sister had been a star, for talking to my classmate Danny Reaver after practice while waiting for the bus home. The stop was right across the street from the convent and we had been seen by the nuns. No appeal was undertaken by my parents.

This practice of punishing me to the max as a preventive measure continued through high school. Thus, I had nowhere to turn when Bishop Watterson High School expelled me for leaving a dance with a boy, a disciplinary action my parents thought was appropriate.

Draconian Punishments

When I did actually become sexually active, the special punishments were even more draconian--no access to birth control or abortion or a way to raise my voice in fear and frustration. My family doctor, a Catholic, refused to provide contraception and abortion was illegal in Ohio at the time.

Becoming a mother at age 18, an easily predictable event given the milieu, coincided with a dramatic change in the method and intensity of punishment. My 21-year-old husband attacked me with his fists at least once a week. Occasionally, he threatened to kill us, once by asking me if I wanted him to crash our Volkswagen Beetle into an oncoming truck. Other times, with a knife.

The lessons I'd learned as a 6-year-old girl stuck with me. Keep quiet. If I did or said anything I would only be blamed. No help was available. And he had the job that paid the bills.

When I applied for a scholarship to attend Ohio State, my male case worker made clear through innuendo that I could be rapidly approved if I was sexually available. Later, I related this in a shrugging way to a campus guidance counselor during a meeting about the cost of tuition. "That's all right," I said. "I am used to it."

She stood up from her chair to her full height, which was about 5'10", and with a deep intake of breath said, "Well I am not used to it." She got on the phone right that second, got me a new case worker and I was quickly approved. That was the exception to the then reigning rules.

Sexual harassment was endemic in the news business when I landed my first job as a reporter. My editor used to come to where I and other new female hires were sitting in front of a row of computer terminals and give us back rubs. A visit to his office would include a kiss on the lips.

Later in my career, I would get emails from my then-boss telling me how hot I looked and sat through staff gatherings where penis size was the topic.

I mention all of this not in a bid for sympathy, empathy or understanding. But rather, to say, #YesAllWomen and yes, me too, and yes, over the course of my lifetime and yes, all girls and women throughout our lives. Perhaps the next hashtag needs to be #YesWeWillUnite.

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Thanks, Rita Henley-Jensen for sharing your story, one that bears a striking resemblance to many I know of, including some of my own. Though the 3 men who tried did not succeed in raping me, the threat, verbal and physical,has never left my memory. along with all the hundreds (really, probably thousands) of other harassments, street, office, everywhere. Whether running out of a bosses office to escape, or quitting a job (back in the day when "sexual harassment" had no name), (many jobs quit), including the 10 years spent living with a traditional chauvinist male, until I left with 3 children...a decision I celebrate still.....all of these negative experiences remain. However, they pale in comparison to the positive strength and knowledge I gained from the Women's Movement, in which I participated, wholeheartedly, and from organizations such as Womens E-News, and feminists, who thankfully I can more easily access on the Internet.

It is these, that reign uppermost in my mind, and get me through the periods when I have despaired that younger women were not carrying on. But, during the last dozen years, culminating with #YESALLWOMEN, I am filled with high hope because of so many young girls and younger women, carrying on, stronger than ever, and so creatively.

Women's E-News, and some wonderful feminist writers and activists are critical tools to continue forward in the struggle to end so many "isms". I am also hopeful from some male feminists “who get it”, who are truly in the struggle with us, as allies.

In spite of negative experiences, I consider myself one of the lucky ones, who in the 50's, had progressive parents who taught me early on (way before the first attempted molestation as a teenager), that nobody had the right to touch my body, ever, unless I wanted them to. They taught me to be vigilant, and to fight anyone who did not take "no" for an answer. I never thanked them for this, wish they were still around to thank.

I loved your article, and love #YESALLWOMEN, visit frequently. Though there are very negative responses, as well, I understand that ignorance and understand the adage that “power concedes nothing without a struggle”, so I do know that many are just clinging onto their male (mostly white) privilege, and we are strong enough to stand tall and free.

Thanks again for sharing part of your story, and for the wonderful work and great e-mails I get regularly. Not being a traveler, I so appreciate all the news from around the world of women rising, always rising. I am reminded often when reading the stories/actions of other feminists, of Maya Angelou’s “And still I rise” poem which so epitomized her life.

Being a lower-income retiree, my financial contributions will be small and infrequent, but when I am able I will do so. In struggle and peace, katy kay.

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