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Listen up men: Saying '#NotAllMen' is incredibly insensitive to survivors

When men say “not all men,” they’re inadvertently including themselves into the survivors’s narrative, when they should, instead, take the time to offer support or call out predatory behavior.
 – Photo by Fred Murphy / Codepink.com

Content warning: This article contains mentions of or references to sexism, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Not all men: It’s a sentiment that’s echoed everywhere from face-to-face interactions to trending Twitter hashtags whenever the topic of rape culture, women’s rights and sexism, in general, become notable or newsworthy.

“Not all men ” are sexist, they say (and “they” is always men). “Not all men” hate women. “Not all men” are rapists.

There’s a certain truth there: It’s correct in saying not all men intentionally, maliciously and abusively harm women.

But the thing about power structures, including the patriarchy, is that the people who benefit from them inherently uphold them, even if they do so unintentionally or without malice. 

When men see women sharing their fears about going outside, or the story of their assault or misogyny they have faced in their fields and refute with “not me,” they’re centering themselves in a survivor’s narrative.

Instead of expressing empathy, offering assistance, offering a listening ear or calling out the predatory actions of their friends, family members and peers — these men set out to center themselves as one of the “good ones.” Absolving themselves of guilt, gaining appreciation or attention from women and maintaining the fact that they, on a personal level, would never do something like that become more important than the women sharing their pain. 

Almost every woman has a story of some kind of assault or harassment. It doesn’t have to be graphic or sexually violent for it to be a sexist, abusive and traumatizing attack. And while “not all men” men cement themselves firmly as someone who’s definitely not a rapist (and expect us to hold the applause), I have to ask them: Have they ever touched a woman who tried to dance away from them in a club?

Have they ever made sexual jokes to a classmate or coworker despite a lack of consent or under the guise of a playful relationship? Have they ever catcalled someone? Have they ever made someone feel pressured into sex? Have they ever been silent as their best friend, their brother, their classmate, their father treats women as conquests, or sends an unsolicited dick pic or berates and abuses women whom they are in positions of power over?

Many women, including myself, have been berated and harassed by men who consider themselves to be good feminists, good allies and good people. 

Even if a man has never done any of these things, even if he successfully calls out those around him on their sexist, abusive behaviors, moments in which women are expressing the ways in which they’ve been abused are not an opportunity for men to prove they are better than other men.

Regardless of if all men are rapists, or abusers or harassers — which no one would claim that they are — all men grow up in a toxic, patriarchal society that glorifies the abuse and sexualization of women.

Men are taught to take control of what they want, to only value women as wives and mothers or conquests to be tossed aside. So by virtue of existing in society, men absorb these ideas. 

It takes time, effort and willingness to listen to women and their experiences without speaking over them, for men to even begin to unlearn the sexist ideas behind phrases like “not all men.”

“Not all men” men ultimately harm women. But every man knows one who does, or who has or who will. And if men truly care about being “one of the good ones” — they should put their money where their mouths are and be “good” in the moments when women need them most. 

I remember the first time I was sexually harassed and recognized it as something that should make me feel bad — as something that, at the time, made me feel ashamed for myself instead of angry at the boy who was doing it.

I was 12 years old. 

I remember every time a friend has told me about the harassment, the abuse and the assaults they, too, experienced.

These men remember, when they type #NotAllMen, or say it to the face of a woman sharing her story, all the times that they haven’t harassed someone. They think of all the times that they have spoken up.

But do they remember the times that they didn’t?

Whether spoken or written, yelled or hashtagged, “not all men” not only succeeds in derailing conversations about the abuses women face (Evidence: The fact that this article needs to be written), but it also centers men in a way that doesn’t even focus on their issues.

#NotAllMen isn’t designed to discuss male abuse or assault statistics or how patriarchy, toxic masculinity and rape culture affect men in negative ways too. It’s just another way to harm women.

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