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.
5 replies on “Not All Men”
When it comes down to it, I see the situation as a personal situation rather than a gender oriented one. The motives of said man were his and his alone and if anything, he serves as a malevolent example of the side of man that should never be.
I can see the sensitivity other men might take from this but that doesn’t change who those men are: comparatively better men than that single man.
This frame of mind I feel is the way women think of situations like this and the men in ear shot of their conversation shouldn’t be effected for this reason.
Women aren’t talking about all men, just the small sum of them. If it was all, that’d be rather ignorant on their part.
An informative topic that makes you think, great blog!
One for the ‘Not All Men’ meme files:
I tried to explain this to a (male) friend, and I just couldn’t understand why even for feminist leaning, sensible men, “NOT ALL MEN” is such a knee-jerk reaction.
… Because they’re not used to having to explain themselves? Because they live in a bubble that makes them think that if THEY don’t have personal experience like that, then surely no one does?
It’s the only reasoning I can come up with off the top of my head.
Oh, absolutely – but this particular (white, cishet, middle class family) guy is well versed in being incredibly left wing, which is why we love him so much. He is very socially conscious and supports more social programs to help even the playing field, etc – politically he is an amazing person to have a discussion with and I consider him a great friend. But when it came to a discussion about how often we get harassed, it’s like he didn’t want to believe that men as a whole are such entitled asshats. I think he wants to believe that most men are like him: sensitive, understanding, and kind – and not deal with the reality that most of them think that catcalling is a compliment, and sexual harassment is just some bitches being way too uptight.