“Not all men!”: redirecting defensive energy

not all menIt’s a really common derailment in conversations about rape culture: the clarion call of men who would totally never rape a woman, and definitely think rape is bad, and want to make sure that you know that not all men are like that. Not all men, they say, rape, harass, or otherwise demean and objectify women.

Which, um, I mean, the reason this is a derailment is that it is not helpful in addressing the very real problems of rape and harassment. The thing is that regardless of whether this is a problem with all men or just a few (and yes, I know that it is just a minority of men that rape women, ok?), it is a real problem and it needs to be talked about. It is, in fact, more important to stay on topic in discussion about rape and harassment than it is to waste time soothing feelings and reassuring individual men that we don’t think they are personally rapists.

Ok, ok, it is actually possible to tell jokes that have rape in their content without making rapists feel like their attitudes toward women are normal. I don't 100% endorse this flowchart, but it's a pretty nice starting point.

Ok, ok, it is actually possible to tell jokes that have rape in their content without making rapists feel like their attitudes toward women are normal. I don’t 100% endorse this flowchart, but it’s a pretty nice starting point. Click through to the source for full size, y’all.

The thing that really gets me about the not all men defense, though, is that it’s being directed at the wrong audience. Because yes, it’s true that not all men are predatory rapists, harassers, and general objectifiers as women. And I mean, I’m super glad that’s the case, because the world would be a whole hell of a lot worse if they were.

But the thing is, dudes, feminists know you’re not all like that. Women, be they feminist or not, who complain about harassment and predatory behaviour, know you’re not all like that. Most women have positive relationships with men; friends, partners, co-workers, family members, whatever. Women have met men that aren’t awful people. And thus, they know you’re not all awful. You don’t need to tell them that.

But you know who doesn’t know you’re not all like that? Rapists. And harassers. And general objectifiers of women. Misogynist men genuinely believe that all men see women the way they do. The really do. And when you make “jokes” about raping, harassing or objectifying women, they take that as proof that you are like them. When you laugh at their jokes, they definitely think you’re on their side.

And I’d really like to think that it’s important to you that rapists don’t think you’re one of them. Like, at least as important as your clear need to make sure that women know you’re not.

So, dudes, the next time you see a discussion about rape culture, or about harassment, and you feel yourself getting defensive, and worrying that people don’t know that you’re not like that, do me a giant favour. Don’t tell that to the women who already know that. Take that energy, that desire you have to communicate a thing, and to do something, and use it to do something worthwhile.

Use it to criticize your friend when he demeans, harasses or objectifies a woman in your presence. Make it clear to *him* that you’re not like that, and that that behaviour is not acceptable. Make it clear to *him* that the world isn’t men vs. women, and that there are men in the world who don’t think it’s ok to talk about women like their only worth lies in their appearance, and that women’s desires are important, and they don’t just exist to fulfill men’s fantasies.

Stop telling us these things. We know these things. Tell the dudes who treat women like shit that their attitudes are not universally shared by men, and that their behaviour toward women is unacceptable.

5 comments

  1. Also, seriously, dudes who do this shit are makin it all about them, and not about the problem at hand. When they’re doin that, they’re a part of the problem. They’re saying their ego and reputation are more important than women’s safety, and that going on about it is worth stopping a conversation about women’s experiences with it.

    1. Oh I totally hear you. This post is directed at the folks who engage in this kind of derailment in well-meanung good faith. Which is a pretty meagre minority, but nonetheless.

      1. Haha, it totally is. But I think that there are plenty of people who THINK they’re doing it in good faith who would listen to a piece like this and hopefully take their egos to a better place (ie, telling other men they don’t like rape and harassment, which is what you’re saying).

  2. “But you know who doesn’t know you’re not all like that? Rapists. And harassers. And general objectifiers of women. Misogynist men genuinely believe that all men see women the way they do. The really do. And when you make “jokes” about raping, harassing or objectifying women, they take that as proof that you are like them. When you laugh at their jokes, they definitely think you’re on their side.”

    Nailed it! Thanks for this. I’m definitely using this information the next time a man tries to tell me that not all men are horrible.

  3. It’s a valid point being made here and I admit that I’ve used those very words myself. However, in the instances I’ve used them it’s because I’ve been on the receiving end of comments such as ‘All men are pigs’, ‘All men are perverts’ etc, pick your own variation. And I’ve heard it more times than I care to remember. And when something like that is said, it’s very hard not to get defensive. Particularly when it seems to be a commonly held belief amongst certain parts of the feminist/equality lobby. And yes, go ahead and say “It’s not all women.” and I hope you might understand a little better why this is a common reaction as unhelpful as it is to the argument.

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