I was shocked by the clarity of the intention of a 15-year-old boy from Pocatello — “kill all the girls.” I don’t know the full story, but we do know that this 15-year-old boy believed he had a right to a girl’s body and demanded a nude photograph. When he was rejected, he reasserted his masculinity the way society taught him — through threats of violence.
His actions are a stark illustration of our deeply ingrained culture of domination. Somewhere along the way, he got the message that men deserve what they want, and should have the power to get it. It is a critical reminder on how we all have a role in undoing a culture of domination. To do this we have to see and name the ways we artificially create hierarchies to dominate other human beings.
This time we were spared the grief of a school shooting because someone intervened. Bystander intervention can change the norms about acceptable behavior, but as long as we avoid dealing with the value and power assigned to boys and men over everyone else on the gender spectrum, we will continue to experience gender violence — abuse and rape — in our communities.
So why does gender violence exist? It begins with pre-assigned rigid gender roles, and leads up to the objectification of girls’ and women’s bodies. When girls and women refuse to be objectified or move beyond assigned gender roles, they face social exclusion and often, violence. In 2014, a shooter prompted by his sense of male entitlement engaged in a “war on women” at Santa Barbara University. In the wake of the rampage, many women shared their experiences of harassment and sexual assault under the hashtag “#YesAllWomen.” A year later, a 15-year-old boy resorted to threats of violence when he was unable to invoke his male privilege, and so now we must declare “#YesAllGirls.”
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In a recent report, Idaho ranked 50th overall on the status of women. And the prevalence of gender violence is staggering — 13 percent of Idaho’s female high school students report having been forced to have sexual intercourse in the last 12 months and one in four women experiencing intimate partner violence in their lifetime. And now a 15-year-old demands a nude photo and then threatens to “kill all the girls.” His intention should not have been shocking, and that is the most disheartening of all.
So what keeps me committed to ending gender violence? I believe that we can change the trajectory for generations ahead by engaging in conversations on gender. We can change the human story that assigns value and power to one gender (or class, or race), and see the full humanity in everyone.
#YesAllGirls is call to engage in a conversation with your sons about valuing and respecting girls and women and about redefining and sharing power, and with your daughters about their innate strength and ability to reach their full potential.
While the dominant story in Idaho is one of devaluing and exerting power over girls and women and people who are gender oppressed — there is danger in this single story. The writer, Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie, cautions us against telling a single story about any group of people. She warns that if we tell that story over and over again, that is what we become. Let’s replace Idaho’s dominant story — see how as human beings we are more alike than not, understand our profound interconnectedness and reject the story that one gender, one race, one class, or any identity, should have more value and power than another.
Kelly Miller, JD, is executive director of Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, advocating for over 30 years to end gender violence and liberation for the last girl.