As men in positions of power are outed as abusers, and with many people standing in solidarity with the #MeToo movement, some would argue that moving forward in these discussions requires the acknowledgement that not all men are to blame.
My personal experience with the phrase “not all men” began as one of naivety. I was sheltered after graduating high school and thought of the world as this place where, mathematically, saying “not all men” made sense to me. The issue, to me, was very black and white.
Over the years, I realized that the world is a tad more complicated. The phrase “not all men” is used to shift blame rather than find a solution to an issue, which statistically — according to the World Health Organization — affects one in three women.
This phrase is poorly thought out and does nothing to solve the issue of violence against women. It is the argumentative equivalent of saying, “I actually do not care about solving this problem, but because I am a man, I feel offended by being called a possible abuser.” Though I understand, to an extent, why men could be offended by blanket assumptions, I’d speculate that their opposition often boils down to fragile egos.
Men should remember that we are not the only people in the world who matter and that our inherent privilege in many social, professional and academic spheres means that our actions have the opportunity to affect others negatively.
The phrase “not all men” inflates the egos of the men who use it. While they may not be abusers themselves, by using this phrase, they delegitimize the experiences of people who have been subjected to abuse by men.
In my personal experience, I used the phrase to signal that I am a nice guy — not like those other men who abuse people. I am ashamed of this, because I used the phrase to leverage trust in people. That’s disgusting, full stop.
Ultimately, what we have to remember is that actions often speak louder than words. Just running around blindly and saying the phrase “not all men” is not a good way to gain ground with people who, to begin with, likely don’t trust you.
You have to act like a better ally, before you can claim that you are different than men who are abusers. Do not rely on simple decency to gain favour or popularity, but instead, listen and be a real ally — because being a fake ally is even worse than blindly shouting “not all men.”
With the recent events that have surrounded the sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and the #MeToo movement, it is obvious that a ton of people are affected by sexual assaults that occurred at the hands of men. Using the phrase “not all men” as a defence only adds to the delegitimization of these people and their experiences. Discourse concerning violence against women should support and uplift survivors, not limit their voices.
Graphic: Tim Knapen / Flickr