#YesAllWomen advances digital activism

You know we have officially entered the dig­ital age when a mere pound sign can spark a grassroots campaign, an art exhibition and fund a women’s shelter.

The hashtag has encountered significant doubt in its potential usefulness since its cre­ation several years ago. It has proven, however, to be a key element in the globalization of a va­riety of social movements.

Hashtags allow almost everyone, across race, gender, class and economic divides, to partic­ipate in political and cultural conversations. Admittedly, their use is by no means limited to social justice and political campaigning. The versatility and informality of hashtags, though, is perhaps what renders them particularly effec­tive tools for change.

#YesAllWomen is a Twitter hashtag and so­cial media campaign that has facilitated the sharing of stories of misogyny and violence against women. It was popularized in 2014, par­tially in response to the notorious hashtag #No­tAllMen.

Its true origins, however, lie in the killing spree that took place in Isla Vista, California, in the same year. The killer developed a repu­tation in popular media as misogynistic, and his apparent hatred of women was a known factor in his crimes. And while it is true that “not all men” are like this– in fact, most men are not rapists, abusers, or hostile sexists– it is also true that every single woman has been subject to cultural misogyny.

The #YesAllWomen Art Fundraiser, hosted by actress, singer, and director Rose McGowan, will take place for one night only on September 19 in Los Angeles.

The show combines artwork, performance art, and book readings, and features more than fifteen artists, including Barbara Kruger, Tatya­na Fazlalizadeh, and Favianna Rodriguez. Co­median and writer Megan Amram will read an excerpt of her new book, Science . . . For Her! The exhibit will feature music and meditative performances by La Porscha, whose work is known for fusing art and activism.

Artwork will also be auctioned off online, allowing #YesAllWomen to remain a universal campaign.

The goal of the fundraiser is to transfer the energy of the hashtag into a community-orient­ed experience. The movement has already suc­ceeded in virtually uniting victims of misogyny from all corners of the world. Now, through vi­sual and live art, some of the art world’s leading feminists will attempt to take the movement of­fline.The leaders of the event want women and girls who are victims of abuse to feel that they do not stand alone.

Although the online portion of the move­ment is an important step toward solidarity, it is crucial that women continue to speak up in the tangible world, as well as the virtual one, about their experiences.

The proceeds from the event will go to the East Los Angeles Women’s Center. The center’s staff, made up primarily of volunteers, dedicates a considerable amount of time and effort to im­proving the lives of women who, in many ways, do not have other support systems to turn to.

They have provided counseling, taught par­enting classes, supported victims of abuse, fought against human trafficking, accompanied assault survivors to court and facilitated hospi­tal visits.

Some have even gone undercover to strip clubs and bars to provide support and assis­tance to women who may be in vulnerable or dangerous positions. In other words, the wom­en’s center has served as a source of power for a considerable number of women.

The project’s founder, Jessie Askinazi, pho­tographer, writer and feminist, specifically chose artists who reject the position of inferi­ority that women are placed in and use art to fight back. She endeavored to find women with a diversified mix of approaches to feminism and change. Askinazi hopes that #YesAllWom­en will become an annual fundraiser that will benefit a range of non-profit organizations aid­ing women.

Some argue that the hashtag trivializes the movement. Although it is a simplistic way of encompassing a monumental issue, #YesAll­Women serves to make the campaign easily ac­cessible, without disrespecting the victims that it aims to benefit.

The hashtag represents not only an expres­sion of shared pain and frustration, but also solidarity and a call to action, and continues to prove skeptics wrong by providing tangible aid to women. The profits donated to the East Los Angeles Women’s Shelter will directly benefit the numerous women who rely on the organiza­tion for support and guidance.

Hashtags help widespread groups of people stay connected, ensuring that feminism remains a global dialogue and forcing the world to see international issues through the eyes of wom­en of different cultures, classes and races. They have the power to mobilize people in protests and conversations that would otherwise remain virtually unknown.

If nothing else, hashtags should satisfy Amer­icans in one way: they have put news report­ing in the hands of the people, weakening the stronghold of the media on consumers’ minds.

Many people first hear about new develop­ments in politics and pop culture through Twit­ter and Facebook instead of newspapers and television, and have easy access to a range of perspectives and interpretations, as opposed to the often polarized views of news sources.

Hashtags have played a huge role in the growing accessibility of feminism over the past several years, introducing a historically taboo movement into mainstream media and culture.

#YouOKSis started a national conversation about street harassment, the controversial #BringBackOurGirls reminded the Internet to question the origins of online campaigns and #EverydaySexism allows women to share their experiences with cultural misogyny.

Of course, a hashtag alone cannot solve a global issue–it should be seen as a means, not an end. But there can be no doubt that the #Ye­sAllWomen campaign is a significant means for improving the lives of women and making their voices heard.

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