#YesAllWomen: Important Conversation or Exercise in “Self-Esteem?”
#YesAllWomen has been a tour-de-force in hashtag activism. The number of people participating in it has not dwindled over the past days. In the time it’s taken me to write these sentences more than 130 tweets using the hashtag were published. However, not all have seen this social media movement as a positive thing.
Twitter, populated mostly by “regular folks,” often gets a bad rap for being a place of deep hate and intolerance. Yet, the problem is not just with John and Jane Q. Twitter-user. Think-pieces (much like the one you’re reading now) have been published that reduce the hashtag to turning a killing spree into “an exercise in self-esteem.”
Writing for The Federalist, Heather Wilhelm highlights tweets from users that run the gamut of candid descriptions of the aftermath of sexual assault to, what she paints as, maudlin whining by entitled women. She highlights her “personal favorite: ‘When I asked for [a] Happy Meal and didn’t specify a gender, they gave me ‘boy’ toys. Male is the default,’” adding “that last one is not a joke, but I did laugh out loud.”
Wilhelm does have something resembling a point when she claims that not all of the entries under the hashtag are poignant examples. In the tweet mentioned above, the argument could be made that why do toys have a “gender” associated with them in the first place? My own daughter spent her early years fascinated by Transformers, super-heroes, and robots, all found in the “boy” toy aisle. This aside, not getting a “toy” in your fast food meal does seem silly next to short accounts of seemingly insane sexual discrimination.
To suggest, as some of its critics do, that this hashtag actually paints all women as infantile victims represents missing the point on a massive scale. In talking about the effects of racism and sexism – which at its best only affects a person’s feelings – we have a very bad habit of trying to debunk a person’s claim on the grounds that the specific action was not racist or sexist at all.
One thing the “Check Your Privilege” folks have correct is that if you are not a member of the maligned group, the perspective you have on these issues is far different (and yes, in some cases, far less relevant) than the people who are. To try to deconstruct something as proof that a perceived slight was not sexist or racist or what-have-you, subtracts from the equation their feelings and point-of-view as wholly irrelevant to the discussion.
Rather than taking #YesAllWomen contributors to task for an exercise in self-esteem (which is a good thing to have, by the way), perhaps the critics themselves should attempt an exercise in compassion.
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