BANGALORE: A mass murder took place in Isla Vista, California on May 23, near the University of California, Santa Barbara. Twenty-two-year-old Elliot Rodger killed seven people and injured 13, before shooting himself in the head. In a 141-page-long document titled My Twisted World, which he mailed to his family members and acquaintances on the evening of the killings, Rodger blamed women for 'not providing him with the pleasures he deserved from them.'
Less than a day after the gruesome incident, the Internet witnessed a giant wave of tweets, status updates and blog posts about the misogynistic nature of the crime. Women all over the world began sharing stories and experiences of hatred and harassment by men under the hashtag #yesallwomen. In four days, 1.2 million tweets were made under the hashtag, drawing the world's attention to the intimidation and violence women face on a daily basis. "Not all men are misogynists, but #yesallwomen are affected by misogyny," is one of those that got widely retweeted.
This in turn gave rise to another hashtag namely #notallmen, under which there was a backlash from the male population that said not all men are rapists. While the debates between the groups filled the social media sites with support and outrage, another group of men started expressing empathy with women and claiming virtual responsibility for crimes against women under #allmencan.
International media has termed this as one of the most powerful campaigns of recent times, as it attempts to educate men about the little things that they do to add to the 'rape culture' that is prevalent in today's world. 'NOW-NYC' tweeted #YesAllWomen because the #NotAllMen hashtag allows men to mentally separate themselves from the problem with the excuse of "it wasn't me."
Aditi Prakash, a student of Mount Carmel College in the city, has been actively taking part in the campaign over the past few weeks. "I have been groped in buses on multiple occasions. By coming out and sharing our experiences, we can make the men and the authorities aware of our plight. That is what we are attempting to do by retweeting such stories. While some men are empathetic, most of them think that women are overreacting for no reason," she says.
Meghana Khanna (name changed) was sexually abused as a teenager by a man close to her family. Despite having suffered in silence for four years, she was hesitant to press charges against him, as she felt that she didn't have enough evidence to take him to the court. "Also, I knew that I would be blamed ultimately, as I am the girl in the story. It was a difficult time for me, but I have bounced back now. There are people, even women, who believe that the superiority of the male gender is decided by nature and there is nothing one can do to change that."
Meghana shares posts against misogyny and sexual harassment on her Facebook page and feels that today's male population is afraid of being recognised as chauvinistic.
“The men that I have come across are usually understanding of the unfair treatment women are put through and are scared to say anything that might sound sexist. It’s a healthy sign that in some circles, chauvinism is not cool anymore,” she adds.
“A guy used to impose himself on me for a while. He would kiss me and refuse to stop even when I said that I didn’t like it,” says Samragni, a student of filmmaking from the city.
“The first time, I got him to apologise to me in writing for forcing himself on me. When it happened again, I decided that it wasn’t worth hanging around with someone who did not respect my boundaries. But I cannot cut out every man in my life that way, can I?” she asks.
“At the root of it, the issue is less about the sexes and more about respecting a fellow human being. Through hastags like #yesallwomen, we are trying to draw attention to that fact. And the responses under #notallmen are redundant and silly, because every woman who has suffered abuse has at least one good man in her life whom she could count on. We know that all men are not rapists,” she says.
Shakun Mohini of Vimochana, a forum for women’s rights, says, “We could look at the issue in the Indian context of acid attacks. In 99 per cent of the cases, men throw
acid on women when they are denied company or love. Does this mean that consensus is not even a deciding factor in relationships? Are women expected to go with the man’s whims irrespective of their own reservations?” she asks.
Every man might not be a rapist, but he could be a silent perpetrator of the rape culture. By laughing along when someone cracks a rape joke or by not stopping a friend who might cause a woman harm, men become part of the problem.