Not All Men
Not all men.
I think that phrase has become something of a joke – a byword for people crashing into conversations that are tangentially about a group they belong to in order to deny that they had any involvement in the wrongdoing at hand, no sir, not a chance, no thank you.
But when it started, it was as a response to the yes all women campaign – a campaign which set out to show that pretty much everyone who identified as female had been subject to some sort of violence, harassment, or misogyny over the course of their lives. The not-all-men response was defensive, an attempt for the Good Ones to distance themselves from the people who committed these kind of acts. It was roundly criticised at the time, accused of acting as a deflection from the real conversation at hand.
But it’s still something I think about a lot, Not All Men. It’s something that pops up in my head when I’m out for a walk alone, and when I feel that jolt of fear when I see that a solo man is on this quiet path with me and wonder if he’s going to start trying to touch me. It’s there when a guy I’ve never met before starts talking to me on a train, and I wonder if he’s going to follow me off and back to my house. It’s there when I feel the panic when I make eye contact with a random guy for a second too long, and I’m worried he’s going to think that it’s a come-on and follow me down the street yelling at me for two hundred yards for being an uptight bitch.
Not All Men pops into my head because I feel guilty for having these reactions. I feel guilty for being scared. Because I know that not all men are like that – I know that the majority of men that I meet in my day-to-day life are perfectly decent people who aren’t going to make my day substantially worse. And yet, I’m projecting this on to them, retreating into myself to try and shut down what I think might happen but what probably won’t.
And I understand why that might be confusing and even upsetting for those people. Because I can’t imagine what it must be like to know that a portion of the population is on their guard for one reason or another when you’re just trying to live your life. Fuck, I hate that I do it, and it’s theoretically meant to benefit me.
But here’s the thing: every single one of those situations that I described above has happened to me. And a million other things, too, and a million million other things that have happened to my female friends, their friends, and on and on ad infinitum. A few times a month, a situation will turn sour, and that’s the one that sticks with me. All the innocuous stuff? I file it away, but it fades, because there’s no reason for it to stay. What stays are those encounters that make me want to crawl out of my own skin and never leave the house again.
What I’m trying to say here is: I get it. I get why it must be hurtful to think that a lot of people are out there fearful of you for reasons that you never gave them. And I find it frustrating, too, that my first reaction to being approached by a man I don’t know for any reason in almost any circumstance is fear. Not all men. I know that. I believe it. But for now, the memories that remain are the ones that had a big enough impact to stick with me – and most of them aren’t good. I want you to know that when I hear the phrase not all men, I do believe it. But, after everything that has happened, my gut makes it hard to act on that.
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