The Problem With “Not All Men”

And why you should stop saying this.

Image byMatt Lubchansky

This is one of the best comics I have EVER seen, and I see a lot of comics. “Not all men…” is a common refrain among “good men” because they want you to know that even though you as a woman face assault, harassment and systemic oppression each day, it is not all men who will subject you to this.

I want 2014 to be the year we kill this ridiculous statement, and these are my reasons:

  1. Women are not stupid, of course we know that “not all men are rapists/sexual harassers” or whatever. The statistics say so. However, how are we supposed to know which ones are and which ones aren’t? Better to err on the side of caution, no? How are we supposed to know who is saying hi in a friendly manner, or who actually needs directions, as opposed to just wanting to harass us? Most women end up assuming the worst because MOST times they have assumed the best, they have endured painful consequences. That stranger you once decided to stop and give directions ended up following you to your destination because he mistook your kindness for interest. That man you casually chatted with at the bar when you thought you were being nice ended up forcing himself on you, kissing you against your wishes. It is safer for us to learn that you are a “good man” when we are suspicious than to learn, rather painfully, that you are a bad man because we gave you the benefit of doubt.
  2. Yes, poor little old you. There we were, discussing rape, violence against women, systemic oppression and other manifestations of sexism, and you had to jump in to remind us that “not all men” do these things. Why don’t you really say what you want to say? “I HAVE NEVER RAPED/HIT/ASSAULTED A WOMAN!” Right? Isn’t this what you really want to say? Yes, make a discussion that is about the plight of MILLIONS of women about poor little old you. I mean, millions of women are being assaulted and oppressed, but you’ve never done it, so why are we making you uncomfortable with these discussions?
  3. When women and their allies talk about these things (patriarchy/sexism/misogyny/rape/violence against women) we are NOT talking about men as individuals. We are talking about structural issues: patriarchal society, institutions and systems. You are the one who takes it upon yourself to make this personal with your “not all men” slogan. We must never forget that one benefits from privilege by being part of a group, not because of anything you have done to earn or deserve it. By being a man, you are more privileged in a society than a woman. Similarly, by being white, one is more privileged than people of colour. By being straight/cisgendered, one is more privileged than LGBTI people. All these, as you may have noticed, are accidents of nature — you did nothing to earn or deserve such privilege. When we do not acknowledge this, we are part of the problem.
  4. The fact that you are removing yourself from discussions about the oppression of women with your favourite “not all men” slogan means that you ARE part of the problem. You want to exempt yourself from how the patriarchal society treats women, and just because YOU have never assaulted a woman does not mean you have not propagated the patriarchy or rape culture. When you INTERRUPT a discussion on misogyny/rape culture/sexism to let us know that you are not like these men, you SILENCE the women and men having these discussions, and DERAIL the conversation from its initial purpose to illuminate the plight of women, to dealing with you and your supersedingly important feelings. You completely ignore how you benefit from our patriarchal society, and shake off any responsibility in propagating its existence. This is a douche move, and YOU ARE LIKE THESE MEN.
  5. Most women AND men are raped by men. The rape statistics in Kenya are shocking. The fact that you have never hit a woman does not negate the fact that most violence against women is gender based, and is perpetrated by men. The fact that you have never raped a woman (or man) does not negate the fact that most rapists are male. The fact that you know women who are educated does not erase the fact that more women than men are uneducated by design. The fact that you know women who earn more than you does not negate the fact that women still earn less than men for the same work. This is the reality. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. We do not “hate men” because we are acknowledging facts backed by statistics all over the world. No one is out to CRUCIFY YOU.
  6. Had you rather we start each statement with “Some men….”? Would that make you feel better? Because I beg to differ, it should be “Too many men….” given the statistics. Is it that you want us to acknowledge (and quite possibly commend) the fact that you have never assaulted a woman? As my friend @NonieMG once asked, do you want us to give you a cookie for being “a good man”? Pause for a second and think about how MESSED UP that is.

Listen, guys, I understand how easy it is to get defensive when you feel blamed for something you don’t think you are guilty of. But this is not about you. This is BIGGER than you. The goal here is to make life better for EVERYONE, men and women alike. Discussions to shed light on the topic are the first step. We want to talk about patriarchy/sexism, why it exists and how to deconstruct it, because it hurts EVERYONE, not just women.

So the next time you feel the urge to ask a feminist to make it “easy for you” to understand and support the movement or (God forbid, as I have been asked before) “palatable”, don’t. The next time you want to ask “Feminism 101" questions, remember that GOOGLE EXISTS FOR A REASON. Do not derail conversations on important issues to ask questions you can easily find the answers to yourself. The next time you want to jump into a conversation women are having about THEIR plight to give an unsolicited opinion, don’t. YOUR THOUGHTS DO NOT EQUAL THEIR LIVED EXPERIENCES. And the next time you feel the urge to jump into a conversation with the refrain “not all men”, don’t. Instead, have a seat and pour yourself a nice, big cup of SHUT THE FUCK UP.