I used to live in relative comfort thinking that the people I choose to interact with hold similar opinions to me on the things that matter. You know, things like where the best restaurants are, favourite film genres, cat person or dog person, women’s rights.
Then everything changed. I was sitting among colleagues discussing the hardships that women endured in their quest to get the vote when a man who I’d seen and spoke to regularly for the previous four months chipped in. ‘But all men didn’t get the vote until 1918,’ he said, clearly pleased with his demonstration of acute political awareness.
I warn you, fellow feminists, ‘not-all-meners’ live among us. They look like regular people, they can make themselves sound intelligent, and they can hide in plain sight. Scary right?
It’s possible that the man in question was unaware that shifting the conversation in this way subtly undermined the oppression that women faced for centuries. Maybe I was overreacting – or maybe I was menstruating that day, and this is just a hormone induced rant. Who knows which one of my feminine afflictions shaped events?
But one thing is certain. There is no place for the phrase ‘not all men’ when it comes to the historical oppression of women, gender inequality, and certainly not on issues of women’s safety. Do you know why?
Because no one ever said that it was all men.
At a time when police forces across the country are finally starting to crack down on violence against women and girls, that harrowing phrase is being thrown about in conversation far too often.
After the murder of Sarah Everard, posts appeared on social media claiming that ‘not all men’ commit crimes against women and ‘not all men’ have a violent nature. I think I can speak for most women when I say that we don’t walk around thinking that every man we meet is a threat to us. That’s the thing: it only takes one.
The man with his hood up walking up quickly behind you on a dark night could be a completely normal guy whose just in a rush to get home before dinner. The policeman offering a ride home could just be doing his job. You see, we know it’s not all men, but how are we to know which?
What if you were seriously allergic nuts (stay with me) – so allergic that if you even touched a nut you could die? Then you’re given 10 bars of chocolate that all look exactly the same, except one of them contains nuts. Would you take the risk and choose one?
The point is: until there is a way that we can differentiate between normal men and potential rapists and murderers telling women that they shouldn’t be scared because it ‘not all men’.
‘Not all men’ is often used defensively. I know that my previously mentioned colleague did not invent the patriarchy – he’s 23-years-old – no one was blaming him for that or insinuating that life was great for all men. Of course it wasn’t, it was just worse for women.
The defensiveness comes from the assumption that feminism is about women being against men when that is not the case at all. It’s about having social, economic, and political equality across the genders. Think of it like this: we aren’t trying to bring men down; we are trying to raise women up.
Not to mention, men can be feminists too so branding feminists as man-haters is just as counterintuitive as saying ‘not all men’, driving a wedge further between the sexes.
So how can you avoid or, better still, educate people on why the ‘not all men’ defence has no place in the discussion?
If you want to be diplomatic, you can tell them that saying these things does not promote social growth, only complacency. The chocolate bar metaphor had helped me explain it a few times – feel free to steal that.
If they’re using it in the ‘but I’d never do something like that’ context, you can say: “Congratulations on doing the bare minimum, but I’ve actually ran out of ‘I’m not a sexual predator’ certificates” (a personal favourite).
And if he’s the kind of ‘not all mener’ that just won’t budge, you can always turn on the waterworks and blame it on those uncontrollable hormones of yours. That will be sure to make him squirm a little.