Since the Harvey Weinsten allegations came to light along with the Me Too movement, more women have been talking about sexual harassment and violence. The phrase and hashtag “Not all men” started in 2011 and has been many men’s favourite rebuttal to generalized statements about sexism or misogyny. For example, when a woman talks about being groped, catcalled, sexually harassed or worse, and a man may interrupt by clarifying, “Actually, I think I need to make it clear not all men are like this. I would never do that.”
Evidently, we know not all men are responsible for sexual harassment or violence, but a recent investigation led by UN Women UK found that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. Another survey in 2018 by a nonprofit called Stop Street Harassment found that 81% of women had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives. So no, not all men, but almost all women.
Women constantly live in fear of doing “normal” things such as going for a jog, travelling alone and even walking back to the car. Everytime we step outside, there is the perpetual fear and danger of sexual harassment. It is not just sexual harassment that has to be taken into account but the fear of it happening to us too, and numbers fail to show this. That is why most women choose to be prudent when going out by carrying a pocket knife or pepper spray with them. It is not because we believe all men we meet on the street have bad intentions, but as the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. For example, many people have a fear of bees, even people who have never been stung. Although not all bees sting, people still steer clear of them even if the chances of getting stung by a bee are only six million to one, while the chances of being raped as a woman (in the US) are nearly five to one.
There are various reasons why “not all men” is an invalid point and disrupts the conversation on gender equality. Firstly, it does not add to or develop the conversation in any way. It is a way for men to let women know that discussing misogyny makes them uncomfortable and that they would like to absolve all blame. All it does is derail the conversation and dismiss the experience of countless women and girls. Moreover, women undertook large volumes of emotional labour and relived personal trauma to share their experiences on #MeToo. It is unreasonable to ask women to hand out “Well Done for Not Participating in Sexual Harassment” badges.
Secondly, proclaiming “not all men” makes these movements about men and not women. For once, a movement does not revolve around men and it should be supported and celebrated, not shut down with insensitive remarks.
Thirdly, it proves how fragile masculinity is. If hearing a women’s experience of sexual violence or harrassement leads to a man’s first thoughts being “This is an attack against men!”, that contributes to part of the problem. Is masculinity so fragile that men require validation and eternal gratitude everytime they don’t sexually harass a woman?
Lastly, it shows how much men do not want to change. By saying “not all men”, it tells us that since not all men are abusers, they are not responsible for the everyday oppression of women. It is telling women that since “not all men” are like that, there is no need for change.
The Me Too movement focuses on sexual violence survivors and has had a large response because sexual harrassment impacts every woman, everywhere and everyday. By allowing women to share their experiences, it has been made clear how common sexual harassment is and how it can sometimes be treated too casually. The movement was originally founded in 2006, but it became prominent both online and in the mainstream in late 2017. It has provided a source of solidarity for all women who have shared the same experiences of sexual harassment, usually perpetrated by a male.
It is important that women are able to talk about their experiences and to educate everyone on sexual harassment. After all the effort women have made over decades to fight against sexual violence and misogyny, the argument “not all men” only serves to brush these important and “touchy” issues aside. So please, stop and pause to think before leaping to remind us, “not all men”.