Feminism is important to me both personally and politically. My last blog post sought to highlight my experiences of sexism. Since then I have only become more committed to the cause. However, the discussions I find myself in too often include the response, by many of my male friends, that it is “not all men”. They declare this indignantly and with a tone of moral superiority. They are adamant that they, personally, “are not like that” and are all for “equality” [note: not ‘feminism’]. This trope is unhelpful and problematic for several reasons.
I am daily and continually disturbed by society. The rise of fascism is Europe is terrifying, the unequal treatment of the LGBT+ community angers me and the presence of racism within the “developed” West is disgusting. All of these issues connect to a feminist understanding of society, where power is given to a select few [mainly white middle-class men] and therefore legitimises and reinforces the unequal treatment of certain groups. The retort “not all men” only perpetuates these inequalities.
I become incredibly disillusioned when men reply to feminist issues with “but not all men”. This is not helpful discourse. In fact, I would go as far to say it is fundamentally damaging to the plight of women. It is important to consider that, for many women, speaking out about mistreatment is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It is often accompanied by feelings of shame or guilt. When we feel empowered enough to point out sexism or misogyny your reply of ‘not all men’ only reinforces the idea that we are second class citizens. Our experiences are second to your assertions that ‘not all men are like that’. We must validate our oppression by ensuring you’re not offended. Should we accompany a disclaimer every time we discuss sexism? “I know not all men do this but…..” ? This is just another example of how women’s thoughts and feelings are regulated by how men experience them. We are unable to openly discuss our experiences without fear of Not-All-Man crashing through our window, politely reminding us that you’re not all the same. As if we could have possibly forgotten.
The recent shooting in America has sparked fierce debate by feminists as to the role misogyny played in the tragic deaths of 6 young people. The response has caused women to take to twitter seeking to highlight the systematic oppression faced by many every single day. The hashtag “YesAllWomen” reveals rather disturbing truths similar to that highlighted by the Everyday Sexism Project. For those of you sceptical to the extent of feminist issues, have a read through the twitter feed. However, this free and open discourse has been met by a “notallmen” hashtag. I really do believe that this exemplifies male entitlement. As women begin to discuss the failings of men they do so only under the very oppression they are trying to combat. Men do not think they should be criticised because it is not, personally, their fault. They didn’t go out and rape someone and these discussions are therefore not only irrelevant to them but also offensive. Again, this only serves to highlight how restricted the discourse surrounding feminism is. We are constantly battling against people who do not think it is their issue to deal with.
Instead of relegating discussions of feminism to the trope ‘not all men’ I instead urge you to say to each other “don’t be that guy”. Turn a negative and restrictive statement into one that can have positive ramifications. We know that not all men are like that. That is not what we are saying. We are not man-hating, bra-burning women. I love men. Men are fantastic. Just not when they are involved in oppression or hate. We need a more collective response to feminist issues (which are not exclusively women’s issues). We need men on board to help understand and combat inequality. Rather than declaring your blamelessness, instead ask how you can help be a part of changing things.
I think this tweet perhaps highlights why ‘not all men’ has become such a common response:
“Not all men” does not aid in the discussion of feminist issues, it serves to derail it and reinforces the idea that society’s main concern and focus should be on the feelings of men. Enough men are violent and sexist, that is the point.