Jessa Crispin in Boston Review:
Last May, after the Isla Vista shooter’s manifesto revealed a deep misogyny, women went online to talk about the violent retaliation of men they had rejected, to describe the feeling of being intimidated or harassed. These personal experiences soon took on a sense of universality. And so #yesallwomen was born—yes all women have been victims of male violence in one form or another.
I was bothered by the hashtag campaign. Not by the male response, which ranged from outraged and cynical to condescending, nor the way the media dove in because the campaign was useful fodder. I recoiled from the gendering of pain, the installation of victimhood into the definition of femininity—and from the way pain became a polemic.
The campaign extended beyond Twitter. At online magazines such as Impose, The Hairpin, and The Toast, writers from Emma Aylor to Roxane Gay told similar stories in 2,500 words rather than 140 characters. Suddenly women writers were being valued for their stories of surviving violence and trauma. Bestsellers such as Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams portrayed women as inherently vulnerable. The New York Times Book Review recently proclaimed “a moment” for the female personal essayist.
No longer are the news or male commentators telling women they are at risk in the big, bad world, a decades-old manipulative ploy to keep us “safe” at home where we belong. Women are repeating this story for a different effect: women are a breed apart—unified in our experience and responses, distinct from those of men.
This emotional segregation is not good for us. I am worried about the implications of throwing the label “women’s pain” around individual experiences of suffering, and I am even more uncomfortable with women who feel free to speak for all women. I worry about making pain a ticket to gain entry into the women’s club. And I worry that the assumption of vulnerability threatens to invigorate just the sexist evils it aims to combat by demanding that men serve as shields against it.