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All women, all men

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In the wake of the Isla Vista massacre, a hashtag took Twitter by storm. #YesAllWomen saw women from all over the world recount their lived experiences with misogyny, gendered violence and everyday sexism. It saw women claw back space on a social platform used for rape and death threats.

#YesAllWomen is something of a response to #NotAllMen -- a reference to derailing, devil's advocate-playing men who take over conversations in feminist spaces (i.e. "Not all men are rapists"). Not All Men became an Internet meme. #YesAllWomen serves as a sobering reminder of just how prevalent sexism is. Predictably, it also put #NotAllMen men on the defensive.

Encouragingly, I've noticed many men ask, on Facebook and Twitter, variations of "So, what can we do about it?"

Well, lots, actually. You can:

1. Acknowledge misogyny exists and has consequences. For everyone. Acknowledge men hurt women -- even if you, as an individual man, do not hurt women.

2. Learn to recognize sexism. Then get comfortable with calling it out. Become that person at parties. "Not cool, dude, not cool." That's your new mantra. When one of your male friends tells a sexist joke or catcalls a woman or calls her a bitch for not returning his advances, what do you say? "Not cool, dude, not cool."

3. Examine your privilege. Resist the urge to play devil's advocate and realize not absolutely everything is up for 'debate' -- especially someone else's lived experience. This requires listening/knowing when to shut up. Intuition -- not just for women!

4. Don't interrupt, man-splain -- which the Urban Dictionary defines as "delighting in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock-solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation" -- or talk over women, at the dinner table or in the boardroom. Don't tell women to 'lighten up' or 'relax' because 'it's just a joke.' Don't accuse them of being 'emotional' or 'irrational.' Those are silencing tactics.

5. Understand that women owe you nothing, be it a smile or sex.

6. Treat women like human beings and not members of a special-interest group. Understand that misogyny hurts everyone. (See item No. 1.)

7. Don't seek cookies for not hurting women. We don't break out the confetti cannons for people who meet the minimum requirements of being a decent member of society.

8. Direct your anger/defensiveness at men who hurt women, not women who are hurt by men.

And as a society, we can:

1. Stop using 'boys will be boys' as an excuse for damaging behaviour.

2. Work to change the narratives in sexual education. Dispel the idea sex is something one person 'gets' and the other person 'gives up.' Talk about consent and what it looks like. Talk about sex for pleasure. As Jaclyn Friedman wrote in a recent Time piece on sex-ed: "When we don't expect sex to be a mutually satisfying experience shared by two people, it leaves us vulnerable to some truly poisonous alternative ideas, including the stubborn myth that sex is a precious commodity that men acquire from women."

3. Stop putting the burden solely on women to change/modify their behaviour -- whether that means asking them to accept responsibility for their sexual assaults or asking high school girls to change because their bra straps are 'distracting.'

This is small list, but it's a start. Change is hard. Change is slow. But change, in this case, is so completely necessary.

Are you up to the challenge?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2014 A17

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