The hashtag #YesAllWomen first surged through social media a year ago, generating a million tweets within a few days on women’s experiences with violence, abuse and harassment, after the misogynistic manifesto behind the Isla Vista shootings became public. Initially a response to the apologia #NotAllMen, #YesAllWomen was a solidarity movement that demanded recognition of the daily injustices women experience.
On Saturday, Sept. 19, 33 iconic feminist artists will bring the #YesAllWomen conversation to DTLA’s Dilettante gallery, in an exhibition and art auction benefiting the East Los Angeles Women’s Center (ELAWC), which supports survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.
Back in May 2014, photographer Jessie Askinazi couldn’t stop reading the tweets:
“#YesAllWomen have been told that when boys are mean to them it’s because they like them.”
“Because women are forced to monitor the way they dress, act and exist so the male attention they receive doesn’t turn violent. #YesAllWomen”
“Because I know more women who have been sexually assaulted than ones who haven’t. #YesAllWomen”
A voice had been given to the feelings that constantly consumed her. Millions of voices. Askinazi felt a sense of unity that she hadn’t before, and she didn’t want it to die out.
The #YesAllWomen tweets have slowed to a trickle since last summer, but Askinazi says the movement is far from over. “These issues haven’t gone away just because social media moves on to the next popular thing,” she says.
Women's issues have indeed gained traction in media and politics this past year— with California’s “Yes Means Yes” law mandating affirmative consent on college campuses and actress Emma Watson’s “He for She” campaign calling on men to act against discrimination and violence faced by women.
Askinazi says she wanted to use the momentum of popular feminism to support organizations working on the ground that are “fighting tooth and nail to get women services and support they need,” such as ELAWC, which serves thousands of women each year with its bilingual, 24-hour crisis hotline, as well as with counseling, child care, self-defense and HIV support services.
It didn’t hurt that Askinazi had a few famous friends to help out: actress-director Rose McGowan and musician Kathleen Hanna, of '90s riot grrrl punk band Bikini Kill and feminist electro-pop trio Le Tigre.
“Kathleen was the first person I asked,” Askinazi says. “I told myself if she said yes, then I’d do this.”
Hanna and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon each created site-specific installations for the show, but Askinazi is tight-lipped on the details, saying only that Gordon’s piece is “very conceptual, in the vein of Yoko Ono.”
McGowan, who will host the evening of performances and conversation, will screen the trailer for her short film Dawn (available in full on YouTube), a suspenseful, '50s-era story about a young girl who walks into a perilous situation by following advice in a popular magazine on how to please men.
“[Rose] has been a voice of ‘enough is enough’ in the media. She is a hard-core, badass woman saying what’s on her mind. That’s the tone I want for this,” Askinazi says.
McGowan explained the intention of her film on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast last month: “There’s a strong message in there about what we do to young girls, letting them go in society while binding their hands with propriety. … Every single thing society and a lot of families have taught them is to be polite, and that can shift your brain and take away your internal warning signal for danger.”
Yes, it’s happened to her, too, McGowan said when Maron asked, and Askinazi quickly chimed in that it’s happened to most of us. That’s the whole point.
That's certainly the message in photographer Amanda Demme’s recent New York Magazine cover story, for which she photographed 35 women who came forward to accuse Bill Cosby of assault or rape. Demme says the piece was “an eye opener as to the importance of hearing women’s voices in issues that are of incredible urgency.” The New York Magazine cover will be on display at the event, and Demme contributed a fine art print to the online auction as well.
Zackary Drucker, featured in L.A. Weekly’s 2015 People Issue and an associate producer of the Amazon hit series Transparent, contributed (together with Rhys Ernst) an eerie image of a woman in a waiting room, seen through a thick mesh screen. Favianna Rodriguez, an Oakland artist known for her brightly colored political posters, contributed a bold print that declares “Politicians Off My Poontang!”
Askinazi says her favorite piece is graphic artist Barbara Kruger’s print, “Do I have to give up me to be loved by you?” a black-and-white, text-only image rimmed in red. One of the best-known artists in the show, Kruger has been producing provocative, text-driven images with feminist messages for decades. Bidding for the print starts at $30,000.
“I wanted to be involved in #YesAllWomen because sexuality, race and gender can determine what you have and what you don't, how long you live or how soon you die, whether you speak or whether you're silenced, whether you're allowed to laugh or can only fear, whether you use power or power uses you,” said Kruger in a statement.
“Her work has grit,” Askinazi says of Kruger. “It's not this precious art form. It’s stark, blatant, looks you in the eye.”
That’s just what she hopes this exhibition will do.
Dilettante Gallery, 120 N. Santa Fe St., Sept. 19, 6-10 p.m., $20-$100, 21+. yesallwomenart.com.