If you've spent enough time in feminist circles and enough time engaging with allies, you are practically guaranteed to have heard the term "not all men!" If you had an automatic eye-roll reaction, I'll understand, and if not I'll explain. It's the sentiment consistently expressed by men in the face of stories about problematic male behaviour. Not all men, they will say. Not all men are rapists. Not all men are misogynists. Not all men are violent. All of these sentiments are true. But the expression itself is toxic - and I for one will no longer engage with anyone who employs this diversionary tactic any longer.
The reason is simple: it's not rhetoric that signals someone is a legitimate ally, it's a logical fallacy designed to derail an important conversation back to a topic they feel is more deserving - namely, men's problems. You might remember something similar in the #alllivesmatter response to the Black Lives Matter movement. There it was designed to accomplish the same thing - to divert attention away from a serious issue in order to accommodate the feelings of those who have no skin in the game. The men who descend like a swarm of flies on any feminist post simply to decry "but not all men!" are neither the victim nor the perpetrator in these scenarios - so what is it they'd like to accomplish by derailing the conversation?
I will address the rest of this essay to men. If you'd like to be an ally, listen and listen closely: we as women should not have to take the time out of our lives to pat you on the back for behaving like a decent human being. Indeed, it's alarming to suggest that the only reason you might have for behaving decently is the external validation it garners you. Rather, in an ideal world, if you read a headline, as you very well might, taking about the fact that 1 in 5 women have experienced sexual violence from men by the age of 15, or that 1 in 2 women has experienced sexual harassment at the hands of men during her lifetime, or that one woman on average a week is murdered by her current or former partner, you should not take that as an opportunity to let everyone know that you, as a man, have never murdered or harassed everyone. Literally no one is saying that you did - and taking issue with the phrasing of what is a statistically true sentence is a disingenuous act of derailing that needs to be stopped in its tracks, each and every time it's encountered.
The simple statement that men, as a collective, need to change, persecutes no one - and if you feel personally attacked by that statement, and aren't capable of understanding that if it doesn't apply to you, we are not talking to or about you, then you and your tone-policing, disingenuous rhetoric are no longer welcome at the debate table. So instead, let me just tell you what I do when I'm faced with a similar situation.
Recently, I came across an article in The Atlantic that was about the concept that, as the headline put it, "Women prefer male bosses." This sentiment doesn't reflect my lived experience - I've had both female and male bosses and tend to prefer the former. But here's what I didn't do: I didn't run to the comment section of the article to get belligerent and angry and bleat about how that wasn't true for all women. Instead, I acted like a reasonable adult and recognised that The Atlantic was employing a collective use of the word "women", which obviously applied to a large enough group to warrant the label statistically, acknowledged that it didn't apply to me, and just... Carried on with my day. Astonishing, I know!
When pondering this issue, Margaret Atwood's famous quote comes to mind: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them." That's what all this really comes down to. Women's lives, versus men's feelings. It is a statistical fact that the overwhelming amount of sexual assaults and homicides are committed by men. No one is saying that all men are murderers. What we are saying is that it is an identifiable fact that most murderers are men and that this is a very legitimate issue affecting the lives of women, not only in Australia but around the globe. If men have a problem with that statistic, why don't they use that anger and hostility and direct it towards the perpetrating men giving the rest of them a bad name, instead of, once again, directing it back towards women?
There's a very good reason why - because it's not really about the problem at all. Rather it's the sort of creeping alarm about the changing status quo that indicates men's anxiety about having to make room for women's stories. When you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels a lot like persecution - which is perhaps where the #notallmen victim complex originates. Join me in refusing to engage with these logical fallacies - because it is not all men. But it is more than enough.
By: Siri Williams