We know it’s #NotAllMen

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Following the release of a survey from UN Women UK, it was revealed that among women ages 18-24 in the UK, 97% reported beig secually harassed at some point in their lifetime. The hashtag #NotAllWomen was created in reference to the survey, as a means to explain that while it is true that not all men are attackers, nearly all women have had experiences with sexual harassment. Photo courtesy of Zuley Kazevallos.

“Not all men”: The ultimate defensive argument against the triggered feminist. The phrase is a viral hashtag and internet meme that often comes up in discussions of feminist ideals and women’s issues, meant as a rebuttal to generalizing statements regarding gendered violence. When women express their fears of walking home alone at night, or going to parties or being attacked by a man in general, skeptics can simply say, “But not all men are like that,” to derail the conversation.  

Sometimes, the phrase circles social media, countered by the “Yes all women” hashtag. Lately, this is a reference to a survey from UN Women UK, which found that among women ages 18 to 24 in the UK, 97% reported being sexually harassed at some point in their lifetime. Obviously, this number is extremely high, and that’s just it. “#YesAllWomen” explains that, while it is true that not all men are attackers, nearly all women have experiences with sexual harassment. If such an overwhelming majority of women (or any women, for that matter) have a story, there is clearly a problem somewhere. 

““#YesAllWomen” explains that, while it is true that not all men are attackers, nearly all women have experiences with sexual harassment. If such an overwhelming majority of women (or any women, for that matter) have a story, there is clearly a problem somewhere.”

When women discuss being afraid of men, even just in certain situations, or use the colloquial phrase, “men are trash,” it’s a generalization. And there’s a lot of other generalizations out there that people do not have such an issue with. Think of the concept of defensive driving. You have no guarantee of what other drivers are going to do on the road, so you make sure that you’re the one looking ahead, keeping your eyes moving, checking your mirrors and leaving an appropriate distance between yourself and other cars. In the same sense, women don’t know exactly which men may pose a threat. So women are taught to not to walk alone at night, to carry their keys between their fingers and to watch their drink like a hawk. No driver says that defensive driving is an offensive term, citing that “not all drivers” are dangerous or unpredictable. So why the default to #NotAllMen?  

“women don’t know exactly which men may pose a threat. So women are taught to not to walk alone at night, to carry their keys between their fingers and to watch their drink like a hawk. No driver says that defensive driving is an offensive term, citing that “not all drivers” are dangerous or unpredictable. So why the default to #NotAllMen?”

The statement isn’t false; it’s true that not all men are attackers. But the sentiment behind #NotAllMen isn’t searching for the truth, it’s searching for permission to continue living the way things are. All men benefit from patriarchal structures, whether it be hiring and promotions, being praised for doing the bare minimum in a relationship or not having to actively protect themselves from women. But do all men work for gender equality regularly? (Do all men even think about gender equality regularly?) Do all men call out their friends for making misogynistic jokes, or refrain from making those jokes themselves? Do all men make a point to believe survivors rather than resorting to victim blaming? While not all men are a threat to women, I’d guess that a lot of men are more complacent in the world of gender inequality than they’d care to admit.  

Painting the men as the victims in the situation, by making the idea of rape culture sound like a misandrist’s witch hunt, discredits everything women experience on a daily basis. There isn’t a need to specifically point out that not all men are dangers to women; women know this. Getting defensive stops the overarching conversation regarding women’s issues in its tracks. Such a refusal to see or acknowledge violence against women just because every single man is not a perpetrator of said violence sweeps the whole issue under the rug. Automatically defaulting to #NotAllMen separates individual men from the issue, but it does not resolve it. If anything, we should be worried about why women are taught that not all men are harmless.  

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