*Trigger warning for descriptions of sexual violence*
If you’ve read through the comment section on any story on sexual violence or gender inequality, you’ve most likely seen some form of the comment, “NOT ALL MEN ARE LIKE THAT! YOU’RE BEING SEXIST TOWARDS MEN! STOP STEREOTYPING US,” in response to either the story or another comment that mentions patriarchy, rape culture, male privilege, etc. If you’re like me, this comment really tests your patience—I’m not a violent person, but seeing this comment online or hearing it in person makes me want to slap some knowledge into the person saying it. I’m an optimist; I want to believe that people can and will change the way they think if someone properly explains the subject to them, so I’ve put together the following to explain why the “not all men” comment is unnecessary, insulting, and ignorant.
Step 1: Connect an experience that they may have with the logic behind the hate of the “not all men” comment.
Imagine that you go out to eat at a chain restaurant in your town. On your first visit, you get food poisoning. When you decide to give it another chance, the cashier severely shorts your change, throws French fries at you, and spits in your drink, all while the manager looks on approvingly. On your third visit, they forget half your order, then refuse to give it to you when presented with their mistake, and make you re-buy what was missing. You’re feeling pretty fed up with this restaurant already, then, when talking to friends, you learn that they too have had negative experiences at this particular establishment. One found half a cockroach in his salad, the another saw a worker handling money then touching food, and a third saw an obviously ill employee sneezing on the food while prepping it. How would you feel about that restaurant? Would you want to go back after so many negative experiences or would you avoid it? What if this happened at the same chain in different locations—would part of you think that this was the norm at all of these restaurants? When asked to eat there, would you agree or would you reply with something like, “Let’s go somewhere else. Every time I’ve been there, the food and staff have been horrible.” You know it may not be true of that particular location, but you’ve had enough negative experiences that they’ve ruined that restaurant for you.
Step 2: Compare the hypothetical situation above to the experiences of women dealing with sexual violence and/or gender discrimination.
If those types of experiences would throw you off of a restaurant, what do you think a specific group of people’s repeated violations of your bodily autonomy and safety would do to your outlook on that group? Imagine you are a woman. When walking home one night, a man grabs you from behind, pulls you into an alleyway, beats and rapes you, and leaves you crying and bloody on the sidewalk. The trauma from this event makes you scared to leave the house, but eventually you do. When riding the bus home, a man starts groping your ass, your breasts, and when you try to shake him off, he calls you a frigid cunt and spits in your face. You go out again, this time during the day. When walking on the sidewalk, three large men pull up beside you in a truck and start to holler things at you like, “Hey baby, why not come put that mouth to work?”, “Look at that ass! Cutie, why don’t you go bend over that trash can and wait for me!”, and “Why are you all covered up? Show us some of that cleavage, bitch!” One of them makes a grab for you, but only catches your sleeve. You yank it out of his grasp and take off down the sidewalk, but they’re following you, screaming obscenities and threatening violence. Now, when talking to friends you learn that each one has had experiences like yours to some degree. Every woman you talk to has a story like yours. Would you still feel safe around men, especially those that could overpower you? Would you see these as isolated incidents or as part of a larger pattern of behavior? Would you be as open and friendly when meeting new men as you once were, or would you be more reserved and wary, since you have no way to know what type of person they are? That’s what it’s like for women. We experience this kind of behavior constantly, as do our friends and female relatives.
Step 3: Conclude
We know that not all men are out to harm us. We know not all men rape, threaten, catcall, and kill women. When you say “not all men,” you’re not providing us with new information. Implying that we can’t differentiate between men who commit acts of aggression and those who don’t is insulting to our intelligence. We have the capacity for rational thought, but like everyone else, we learn from our experiences. And for many of us, our experiences have taught us that men can be very dangerous and in order to be safe, we must be cautious and on our guard at all times. It has also taught us something about the society in which we live—we live in an atmosphere where sexual aggression seems to be the norm, not the exception, and our concerns about our safety are met with flippant attitudes and dismissed, and any conversation we try to have about these issues is derailed and impeded by some man or men screaming about the injustices of naming men as our predominant sexual aggressors. If you’re not one of those men who rape, kill, harass, or promote a misogynistic environment, then we are not talking about you. Period. Don’t get offended over something not directed towards you; instead, if you are one of the “good guys,” try to have a little compassion and strive to understand the experiences the women in your life have. And if you really want to be one of the “great guys,” you could do worse than actively trying to combat sexual aggression and misogynistic attitudes when you come across them.