Who else has some serious #NotAllMen fatigue?
I knew I reached my breaking point when I read that fucking hurricane study and thought OH GOOD EVEN LADY HURRICANES ARE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST.
But as much as I’ve been beaten down by the chorus of “#NotAllMen!” and “What about the mens!?” that followed in the wake of the Isla Vista massacre, I’ve been encouraged by the response from women.
Beginning with this essential analysis on the subject by SIAC‘s own Marlo Campbell, I’ve read dozens of other thoughtful pieces about male entitlement, institutionalized misogyny and gendered violence written by smart and unapologetically angry women.
I’ve scanned through the thousands of tweets, many of them harrowing, at #YesAllWomen — a movement that’s clawing back space on a social platform used for rape and death threats (I’m not the first writer to point out the significance of that).
A response to #NotAllMen — that classic male derailing/silencing tactic — #YesAllWomen saw women from all over the world recount their lived experiences with misogyny, gendered violence and everyday sexism. It was as though a giant neon sign was erected that read: QUIET, MEN — WOMEN ARE TALKING.
#YesAllWomen is vitally important because it does a few things: it serves as a sobering reminder of just how prevalent sexism is. It serves as a reminder that we live in a culture that raises the kind of boys that grow up into men like Elliot Rodger. It challenges the rather comforting notions of ISOLATED INCIDENT and DERANGED MADMEN.
But perhaps most importantly, #YesAllWomen makes men uncomfortable.
Men’s comfort is of utmost importance in our society, which is probably why a star football player’s reputation carries more currency than that of a rape survivor.
As The New Stateman‘s Laurie Penny points out in this still incredibly relevant 2013 essay, “most of us grew up learning that being a good girl was all about putting other people’s feelings ahead of our own.”
As such, women who have internalized the nice-girl narrative tend to speak in qualifiers and apologies — EVEN WHEN SPEAKING ABOUT THEIR OWN OPPRESSION — so they won’t poke the bear, so to speak.
We say things like, “Some men are rapists,” “some men are misogynists,” “I know YOU aren’t a rapist, but …” All are variations on NOT ALL MEN, NOT ALL MEN and NOT ALL MEN. (#YesAllMen saw women reject that framing language. The resultant tweets are so visceral precisely because they are so unladylike.)
Here’s the thing: ALL MEN do stand to benefit from sexism.
ALL MEN do stand to benefit from a societal structure that’s been rigged in their favour.
That, to quote Penny, is how oppression works. “Thousands of otherwise decent people are persuaded to go along with an unfair system because it’s less hassle that way,” she writes. And tacitly accepting things because “that’s they way they are and always have been” is the easy choice. The comfortable choice.
Change — well, change is hard. Change is slow. Change is uncomfortable. Change is scary.
Change, in this case, means actually acknowledging our society hurts women. It means acknowledging men hurt women — even if you, as an individual man, do not hurt women.
It’s a pretty simple concept and, yet, it makes (some) men short-circuit with rage.
Back to Penny:
Somehow, it is still hard to talk to men about sexism without meeting a wall of defensiveness that shades into outright hostility, even violence. Anger is an entirely appropriate response to learning that you’re implicated in a system that oppresses women – but the solution isn’t to direct that anger back at women. The solution isn’t to shut down debate by accusing us of ‘reverse sexism,’ as if that will somehow balance out the problem and stop you feeling so uncomfortable.
Anger has indeed been volleyed back at women over the past week; take a scroll through literally any comment section or Twitter mentions of any woman who has dared to suggest that misogyny played a role in the Isla Vista killings and then cry/scream/break stuff accordingly.
As one #YesAllWomen tweeter pointed out, “#YesAllWomen because I’ve seen more men angry at the hashtag rather than angry at the things happening to women.”
This discomfort many men are feeling is a good thing. Realizing that you’re part of a system that hurts women SHOULDN’T be comfortable. As Penny pointed out above, it SHOULD elicit a reaction.
“Saying that ‘all men are implicated in a culture of sexism’ — all men, not just some men — may sound like an accusation. In reality, it’s a challenge,” writes Penny.
And (some) men are rising to that challenge. I’ve seen many guys ask on Facebook and Twitter variations of “What can we, as men, do?”
Big systemic changes can often seem intimidating/overwhelming/impossible, which is why the reaction is so often: Welp, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
But the truth is, there are lots of things men can do. And there are lots of things we can do as a society.
In fact, because the sun is shining and I’m feeling charitable, here’s a (very small) list.
How Not To Be a #NotAllMen Man: An Official SIAC Guide
1. Admit there’s a big fucking problem. That’s always the first step. Acknowledge that misogyny exists and that it has consequences. For everyone.
2. Learn to recognize sexism. Then get comfortable with calling it out. Yup! You are going to become that person at parties. Welcome to the cool kids club. Repeat after me: “Not cool, dude, not cool.” That’s your new mantra. When one of your male friends tells a sexist joke or catcalls a woman or calls her a bitch for not returning his advances, what do you say? “Not cool, dude, not cool.”
3. Resist the urge to play devil’s advocate and realize that not absolutely everything is up for ‘debate’ — especially someone else’s lived experience. This requires listening/knowing when to shut up. Intuition — not just for women!
4. Don’t interrupt, condescend, mansplain or talk over women. Don’t tell women to ‘lighten up’ or ‘relax’ because ‘it’s just a joke.’ Don’t accuse them of being ’emotional’ or ‘irrational.’ That’s silencing bullshit. Don’t do it.
5. Understand that women owe you nothing, be it a smile or sex.
6. Treat women like human beings and not a special interest group. Understand that misogyny hurts EVERYONE.
7. Don’t seek cookies. We don’t break out the confetti cannons for people who meet the minimum requirements of being a decent member of society.
8. Direct your anger/defensiveness at men who hurt women, not women.
As a society, we can:
1. Stop using ‘boys will be boys’ as an excuse for damaging behaviour.
2. Work to change the narratives in sexual education. Dispel the idea that sex is something one person ‘gets’ and the other person ‘gives up.’ Talk about consent and what it looks like. Talk about sex for pleasure. “When we don’t expect sex to be a mutually satisfying experience shared by two people, it leaves us vulnerable to some truly poisonous alternative ideas, including the stubborn myth that sex is a precious commodity that men acquire from women,” writes Jaclyn Friedman in this excellent Time post on sex-ed.
3. Stop putting the burden on women to change/modify their behaviour — whether that means asking them to accept responsibility for their sexual assaults or asking high school girls to change because their bra straps are ‘distracting’ — so that men’s comfort isn’t challenged.
4. Stop holding women personally responsible for changing systemic problems because it’s easier that way.
And the list goes on. Feel free to add to it in the comments below.
Change is hard. Change is slow. Change is uncomfortable. Change is scary. But change, in this case, is so completely necessary. Are you up to the challenge?