The other day, I posted an article about Elliot Rodger to my Facebook page, and immediately deleted it. I’ve spent the last several days taking in everything that I can — articles about the shooting, #YesAllWomen posts, reading his manifesto — but I couldn’t actually go through with spreading the information myself. It wasn’t because I haven’t been consumed with the tragedy, because I have.
It was because I couldn’t bear the thought of any of my friends swooping in with the Not All Men brigade.
A close friend posted about misogyny, which sparked a conversation between a couple of women. Out of nowhere, a male friend jumped into the conversation, writing, “I feel like I am being indirectly attacked.” Because when women have a conversation about the things some men do to make us all feel unsafe, that is obviously an attack on every man. Right?
It must be, because I have seen this scenario played out again and again and again. And again and again. It’s almost comical in its predictability.
The tragedy here is clearly that Rodger hated women so much for not jumping into bed with him that he decided murder was the only possible ending to his story. The less obvious, but no less important, tragedy is that every single woman I know has heard notes of his symphony in songs played by other men — in undeniably horrible ways such as assault and in much more insidious and mundane ways like the fact that nearly every woman knows how to carry car keys like a weapon just in case. But there is a third level of awful to this story, beyond Rodger, beyond the shared horror of our individual fears and victimizations, and into the realm of your average guy.
I have been spending the past few days trying to understand where the “Not All Men” response comes from. At what point in any other story does it become appropriate to listen to somebody talk about a tragedy that has touched them and say, “But that’s not true for every instance of X”?
If I post something about a terrible car accident, nobody ever pipes in with, “Not all roads are dangerous!” When a friend’s child was attacked by a dog, not one person had the insensitivity to say, “But some dogs are nice!” When a colleague mentioned being sick with strep throat, not a single person butted in with, “Actually, some bacteria are beneficial!” Nobody brings up the “not all bacteria” because it is obvious and not relevant, insensitive and tone-deaf. And yet, I see it again and again, “Not all men not all men not all men.”
We know that. We fucking know that. Do you think if anybody out there thought that all men were misogynistic narcissistic murderers they would allow those men to be friends with them on Facebook? Be married to them? Allow them in the lives of their children? If all men were Elliot Rodger, would any woman anywhere at any time interact with any man unless forced to?
“Not all men” assumes that a) women are incapable of understanding such simple distinctions as “murderer” and “not murderer,” b) women are so stupid as to include hundreds of monsters in their circle, both on social media and in real life, and c) if a man doesn’t swoop in and explain it, it will be impossible for it to be understood.
“Not all men” is so disheartening. If you’re friends with a woman, and you have to explain to her that not all men are monsters, why do you think she was friends with you in the first place? Because she’s an idiot?
We don’t talk about Elliot Rodger because we want to point fingers at all men. We talk about Elliot Rodger because he targeted every last one of us, and it’s scary, and it feels like there is nothing we can do to stop this line of thinking, except to make it clear that misogyny literally kills. We want men to hear how some men make it more difficult for the rest of them, because we don’t know whom to trust without a lot of vetting. We want other women to commiserate with each other about how fucked up it is that we each take measures every single day, measures that we don’t even think about, to protect ourselves from men. Not all men. Some men.
I’ve seen it said that “Not All Men” absolves men of responsibility for rape culture, and it does. To me, though, the real insult with these comments is the assumptions that the commenter makes about the women he is interacting with. Men who say “Not All Men” assume that women are not capable of making very simple, very clear judgments. When a man jumps in with this comment, it tells me absolutely nothing about Elliot Rodger, or about all men. It does, however, tell me everything I need to know about that man.