A lot of feminists have a bee in their bonnets about the hashtag campaign “not all men,” on the grounds that it detracts attention from the conversation asserting that men cause certain problems, and because, as they argue, exceptions don’t disprove the rule.
I suppose I’m glad that there are folks out there who at least acknowledge that ALL men aren’t responsible for the ills caused by some, but I maintain that #NotAllMen, far from being a distraction from a more important conversation, isn’t good enough at absolving men as a group from blame for social ills. “Not all men” still implies that a significant enough proportion of men behave in these ways (oppressive, sexually aggressive, violent, etc.) to discuss it as a male behaviour in the first place. The overwhelming majority of men do not do these things. This would be like rebutting the racist statement “black people steal!” with “not ALL black people steal!” This rebuttal would be questioned on the grounds that most black people don’t steal, and describing stealing as a black behaviour at all (rather than a human behaviour that anyone can engage in) is still racist.
#NotAllMen isn’t good enough because it still implicates men as a group, or the majority of men. It doesn’t communicate the reality that the group responsible for the problems described is not a significant proportion of men, but rather a tiny minority of people consisting of men and women, and it’s just as sexist to describe rape or violence as a male behaviour as it is racist to describe theft as a black behaviour, regardless of whether or not you acknowledge “exceptions.”
I suppose hashtag campaigns aren’t meant for clarity or nuance, but far closer to the truth would be something more like #ASmallProportionOfMenAndWomenAreViolentAndDangerousButMostPeopleSimplyArentLikeThatSoWhileWeShouldCertainlyAddressItWhenItDoesOccurYouCanStillGoAboutYourBusinessFeelingRelativelySafe. I know, it just don’t roll off the tongue the same way.
So, while the above meme is clearly presenting the image of throwing a bone to men’s advocates and those who oppose the feminist narrative, it still manages to maintain the overt sexism of any claim that all men do engage in the aforementioned behaviours. OP is essentially saying that as long as she acknowledges that there is at least one man in the world who doesn’t, it’s okay to continue to describe men as a violent group whose behaviours justify fear, distrust, and hatred from women. This is like saying, “I acknowledge that SOME Jews aren’t greedy! I’m not an antisemite! I just want to address Jewish greed as a social problem!”
If you follow my posts, and if you read the studies I link to, by now you probably know that the vast majority of men aren’t violent toward women, and that the small proportion who are is comparable to the proportion of women who are violent toward men. I shouldn’t need to remind you that violence is not a male problem. It is a human problem, with perpetrators and victims on both sides.
Sure, all women have met a male asshole, but this is a disingenuous way to frame the phenomenon of assholery, let alone the phenomenon of violence. All people have met assholes of both sexes. The existence of male assholes says no more or less about maleness or men as a group than the existence of female assholes says about femaleness or women as a group, just as the existence of some number of Mexican rapists in no way justifies Donald Trump’s implication that this behaviour characterizes the Mexican people.
By now, over the course of my blog, I’ve probably repeated most of these points ad nauseam, so I want to talk about another problem related to the debate between the #NotAllMen folks and the #YesAllWomen folks.
“All women” is a ridiculous claim. This meme and a truly astounding number of people I’ve spoken to assert with a straight face that most or all women have had experiences with individual men that caused and justified fear. I’ve written at length about the popular and horrendously inflated violence numbers that are peddled to us by the media. The wildest of these is the infamous “one in three” statistic, followed closely by the “one in five” statistic, whose studies suffer from severe definitional skewing, double standards applied to classification of men and women who perpetrate or are victimized, sensational reporting, focus on unreliable lifetime data, biased or small samples, poorly worded survey questions, and a number of other methodological problems and biases. But even if we take the highest and most skewed statistic, 1 in 3, at face value, this still falls remarkably short of “all women,” or even “most women.”
This is important, because there is a very popular narrative that male bad behaviour toward women — everything from disrespect to discrimination to violence — is institutionalized, culturally acceptable, and ubiquitous. Women are taught that they should be afraid of passing strangers, that they should be cautious when men approach them or are in the same spaces as them. We’re taught that strangers want to hurt us, that there are gatekeepers throughout education, business, and academia who seek to prevent us from success.
We are taught to expect men to hurt us, even though the majority of men won’t hurt anyone, and the majority of women won’t be hurt. We are taught to expect to be paid less for the same work, even though apples-to-apples comparisons show that in much of the country the truth is the opposite. We are told to expect discrimination against us that harms our careers, even though only ten percent of women, according to Pew Research, believe they have ever had a negative impact on their career due to gender discrimination, and even though some studies indicate that many women enjoy discrimination in their favour in the workplace. We are taught that we live in a culture that condones violence against women, even though the reverse is closer to the truth. We are taught that the criminal justice and social work systems will treat us with disbelief and ridicule if we try to report violence victimization, even though these systems are so dedicated to protecting women from men that it routinely treats male victims as perpetrators, and even though we lock away enough innocent men that one small organization has already identified and exonerated hundreds based on pre-existing DNA evidence alone. We are setting women up with expectations of harms they are unlikely to encounter, and this itself harms women.
We have been taught to be paranoid in public spaces, on edge with male friends, suspicious around potential male partners, and to feel a complete lack of bargaining power with male employers and coworkers. We are teaching our young people to live in fear, and I have met many women who have swallowed this narrative wholesale, who are very much afraid. This alone is a crime against women. There is no good reason to be afraid of an entire demographic of people, and I think we can all agree that part of a good life is being able to relax and enjoy your time, rather than being hyper-alert and fearful of others.
When I see this false narrative repeated over and over, and I see the number of women who believe it so wholeheartedly that they are desperately upset, I can’t help but wonder:
How many women are raped, assaulted, or discriminated against, and do nothing about it? How many don’t report it, don’t go to the police, don’t talk to HR, and don’t try to seek help because they assume that what happened to them is so common and culturally supported that no one will help them? We are teaching young women not only to be afraid of others, but to believe that there is no recourse for them if they are actually victimized. Would you report your rape or domestic assault victimization to the police if you thought they’d blame you for it? Would you talk to HR about sexual harassment or discrimination if you thought they supported it? This BJS study shows that many women don’t, and that the proportion is growing of female victims of sexual assault who have this fear of the system. From 1994 to 2010 the proportion of female victims who did not report due to the belief that the police couldn’t or wouldn’t help them increased from 8% to around 15%, almost doubling. I imagine it is no coincidence that this increase seems to have coincided with an increase in the prevalence of activists claiming that we live in a culture that accepts or condones victimization of women, and that police and social workers routinely blame and shame women who report, claims for which in ten years of research and dedication to these topics I have found not the remotest shred of substantiation.
These toxic misconceptions aren’t just harming women’s ability to comfortably move through the world. We are teaching women an ideology that, if believed, will cripple their ability to seek help if something terrible happens to them. What a horrible thing to do to women. This narrative of all men, or most men, all women, or most women, needs to be dismantled and set on fire, not just because of the flagrant misandry that underpins it, but also because of what it does to the quality of life of the women who believe it.