Why “not all men” is wrong, by someone who used to say it

By in Opinions

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.

Jordan Stovra

Graphic: Tim Knapen / Flickr

  • Guest

    The phrase “not all Muslims” inflates the egos of the Muslims who use it. While they may not be terrorists themselves, by using this phrase, they delegitimize [sic] the experiences of people who have
    been subjected to abuse by Muslims.

    • Emily

      Sadly this “joke” doesn’t make sense; the contexts are completely different. There are indeed people who think all Muslims are equivalent to groups like Daesh (ISIS) even here in Canada, so to remind people that it’s “not all muslims” is necessary. However, no woman complaining about a situation or encounter with a man is blaming ALL men. So when a Chad come up with this “not all men” bullshit we have to respond “Thats not the fucking point Chad.”

    • Guest

      Evidently, some people do think all men are rapists or potential rapists:

      http://cfjctoday.com/column/595762/let-s-be-clear-not-all-men-are-potential-rapists

      Of course the analogy isn’t perfect. Though it should be pointed out that Islamic terrorism (and barbaric cultural practices) are done for the purpose of advancing Islam (or a sick, twisted form of Islam) as an ideology. Sexual assault, on the other hand, is done either to harm the victim or to give the perpetrator pleasure. It’s not done to advance men as a group or to promote some kind of pro-man ideology.

      In both cases though, you’re making inflammatory generalizations about billions of people. When you do that, you are going to get pushback and you are going to alienate a lot of people that could be allies in the fights against sexual assault and Islamic terrorism.

    • Emily

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. I will address your last couple sentences, because I was really surprised by something. If someone can be “alienated” from being an ally to people who have been sexually assaulted just because they have heard that some people have said “all men are a threat” before, then honestly they should look deeply at their own values.

      At the same time, I don’t have time to check the sources and background of this “all men are rapists” headlines (i have honestly never seen or heard this actually said before) and while I hope it was poorly chosen clickbait style titling, it still should be recognized that many women when in public do size up the people around them as potential threats because our culture has instructed we do for our own safety (it doesn’t imply real belief that everyone is a real threat).

      It sucks but the fear is there, yet I hope this fear doesn’t drive people to so literally demonize a group. Just as I hope hurt feelings caused by the words of survivors don’t alienate an ally.

    • Guest

      It’s not really a matter of whether people should feel alienated. Sexual assault would be no less of a serious problem if radical feminists were shouting “kill all men!” from the rooftops. But in reality, humans are tribalists by nature. So a campaign that comes across as demonizing an entire gender is less likely to make a positive change than one that tries to extend an olive branch.

  • Shalom

    So by this logic, as “Guest” mentioned. Saying “not all men” is wrong, therefore, “not all feminists are ugly, angry beasts” is wrong too?

  • Lazz

    Funny thing is, this article doesn’t even back up the claim made in its headline. Jordan doesn’t explain why the phrase “not all men” is wrong, instead he does the typical feminist dance of taking jabs at men as a whole while complaining about their “privilege”.

    “You have to act like a better ally, before you can claim that you are different than men who are abusers.”
    I would have thought that not abusing someone would be enough to differentiate myself from men who are abusers. This bullshit about all men being predatory and abusers until proven otherwise is ridiculous.

    • Shalom

      That would require logic there Lazz and less “feelings”. The former is eroding quicker and quicker as this extreme ideology sweeps campuses, media and (identity) politics at large.

      Any rebuttal is quickly shunned as “sexism, racism, xenophobia, etc” rather than any intelligent, rational debate/discussion about it. This totalitarian-style view is paved with good intentions (sometimes) but is going to take us into a scary place.

  • John Einste

    “Act like a better ally, before you can claim you are different than men who are abusers”

    Exactly what lengths do I have to go to in proving I’m not a woman abuser? Is not abusing women not enough? Do I also have to attend rallies and wear shirts saying “Hey I don’t abuse women”?

    I guess my Y chromosome precludes me to being innately violent towards women?

    So I can’t just be an average dude who doesn’t abuse women, I have to be a “better ally” before I can claim I’m not a woman abuser. It’s “with or against” huh? Pretty black and white?

    Modern day McCarthyism everyone. Wow.