If I say, “White people enslaved Black people, murdered Native Americans, and interred Japanese in concentration camps” it is very obvious inherently that I’m not referring to “All white people”. It doesn’t mean it’s not a true statement. It also doesn’t mean it’s INTENDED to be a blanket statement that refers to all white people. And the least helpful possible response to “White people did this” is “Well, not me, man.”
The most helpful possible response is, “Wow, those were shitty things to do. Why don’t we do whatever we can to make sure they don’t happen again.”
And yet… when women say, “Men rape.” Or “Men beat women” or “Men are in a position of power in this culture that puts them at an inherent advantage.” Or “Men made my life miserable through much of my childhood”… one of the first responses they get is an indignant, “Not me! Not all men do those things!”
Which is a complete distraction.
It is true that men rape. It is true that men beat women. It is true that men have an inherent power advantage due to our culture’s biases.
That does not mean, OF FUCKING COURSE it does not mean that “all men” rape. Or that “all men” beat women. Or that “all men” abuse their privilege.
Except… when you use (or try to use) your inherent advantage to derail the conversation from “How do we stop men from raping, how do we stop men from beating women, how do we redress the inherent imbalance in our culture”…. you BECOME “All men”. It doesn’t make you a rapist, it just makes you part of the problem.
Do women rape? Yes. Do women beat men? Yes. Do men suffer because those things are invisible in a culture which assumes that because of men’s “inherent advantage” that those things cannot happen to them, that it is not physically possible for them to be victims? Yes.
The fact of the matter is that EVERYONE suffers from the bias in our culture. And the battle I am fighting, that most of the feminists I know are fighting, is one that not only lets our daughters fly and follow their passions and talents without false limits of gender bias… but one that lets our sons choose their paths as well, free of the biases that limit them too. I’m fighting for my daughter to have equal pay in the profession of her choice… and for my son to have equal access to parental leave if he ever chooses to have kids.
When we start saying, “We need to tell men not to rape” and someone says, “But not all men rape…” They’re derailing the conversation. And that conversation NEEDS to go farther. It needs to get from the basic, “We need to tell men not to rape” and get all the way to “We need to teach all our children about true and enthusiastic consent because otherwise we’re setting traps for our sons and destroying our daughters at the same time.”
When we start saying, “Men catcalling women on the street makes me feel unsafe and angry” and men pop up and say, “But we never catcall on the street” or worse, “We don’t mean anything by it, what’s your problem?”
They’re derailing the conversation. If you don’t catcall women on the street, fine. You’re not the one who makes me feel unsafe. I’m not going to pat you on the back for not being a douchebag, especially if you start being a douchebag by derailing the conversation before it can get to where it needs to go. You want kudos for not being a dick, get all the way from neutral into positive ally territory, and say, “I’m not sure I understand why that is so upsetting, but it is clearly very upsetting. So if I see someone doing that. I’m not going to be silent about it when I know how upset it could be making someone. Or even better, acknowledge that having random people invade your space uninvited because they’re acting like you’re their personal sex toy when they’re bigger and stronger than you is annoying at the least and terrifying at the worst.
That conversation needs to get from “Don’t catcall women on the street” to “Tearing other people down in order to impress the people you are with is a bad idea which makes you less of a human being and which hurts everyone involved far more than you think. Treat people with respect, no matter who you think they might be or what you might want from them.” It needs to get to the point of “Hey, women don’t LIKE being thrust onto a sexual pedestal when they’re out and about and minding their own business, because sometimes it’s just harmless and sometimes it could be a prelude to rape and we don’t KNOW until we’re safe that we are safe.”
(Hint: Not one man who ever catcalled me ever got the time of day. The ones who did? Treated me like a human being.) And if people are jumping into the conversation with “Not all men”, THE CONVERSATION CANNOT GET WHERE IT NEEDS TO GO.
If you have heard. If you understand. If you have listened…. that is what we’ve asked. If your response to that is, “But I don’t….” You haven’t understood. You haven’t listened enough.
I can say, “Men do these things” and be correct, without that meaning that I think “all men” do these things. I don’t have to spell that out. I’m not wrong for saying it.
And if at this point, you’ve already reached that conclusion… you can give yourself a gold star and move on. Not my job to pat you on the back, not my job to reassure you that you’re not “tarnished” with the “stain” of all men. You either already know you aren’t, or you need to figure it out, or you are, in fact, part of the problem. I respect you enough to believe that you can, in fact, figure out where you are at in this equation and figure out where you need to go, or at the very least what questions you need to ask.
We *all* find ourselves at one point or another sharing a broad Venn diagram with others who do shitty things. The question is, are you in the overlapping circles? Or just happen to have a few shades in common without being in the problem area?
I happen to share “white” and “feminist” with some crappy ass people who treat women of color badly in feminist discourse. They do shitty things that I do not condone. I know where I fall in that Venn diagram, and the last thing I need to do is ask some Black lesbian to tell straight white me that I’m doing a “good job” at being an ally. I’d much rather take my time to actually BE an ally, and not derail her conversation from the fact, that yes, some White Feminists do some shitty clueless and downright offensive things that they need to stop doing (Hint: Don’t hold retreats at slave plantations when women of color are asking you not to.)
Anyway. I’m not mad at you, but you asked for a mediator and clarification. It took me a half hour to write this. I’m giving you that time be because you’re a friend, and trying, I’m willing to give the clarification. I’m also going to paste it out to my blog because I don’t want to spend the time again, which I could spend sleeping, or fighting the patriarchy instead of educating people who are already supposed to be on the same side.
Note: these arguments have been spoken by many others before me. I honestly don’t think I”m saying much that is new here, hopefully I’m saying it in a way that makes sense, since clearly the deluge of other sources hasn’t yet sunk in enough that I don’t still have people on my list saying, “But not all men!” or “I don’t!” as the response to “Men did….”
There are only a handful of men in my life who have mistreated me. I have some amazing men in my life, I chose to marry one of them. Don’t tell me you don’t mistreat people… tell me how you’re going to work to make sure that no one is mistreated where you have any power in the situation at all.
addendum for the blog: if you know of a cartoon, article, tumblr or blog post that addresses this issue well (or made one of these points first) please do link in the comments. I’m sick right now and don’t have the energy to track down the links to the amazing works that have helped shape my thinking on this.