An Open Letter to #NotAllMen //TW: Language & Violence

Dear #NotAllMen,

You think you’re being sincere. You think you’re proclaiming your innocence and the innocence of the men you deeply know to be just as virtuous as you. These words pour out of your mouth or your fingertips because you want to be heard and you want to be seen as the good man that you are. You do not want to be seen as some violent stereotype, because you are a “real man” and a “nice guy”. I hear you when you say you don’t deserve to be labeled a sexual offender if you tell a woman she is pretty on the street. And that you don’t see the problem with gendered derogatory language. Or the jokes you tell to your buddies “all in good fun”. I understand you think you’re being sincere.

It’s just, I don’t.

I don’t think you’re being sincere.

Don’t misunderstand my frustration, I believe you when you say you would never rape a woman, or you would never abuse a woman. I believe you when you say you love and cherish women. But when you say things like “Not all men”, you undermine every courageous person who has come forward with their story of abuse and you have turned it around and made their struggle about you.

All feminists are accused of hating men at some point in their lives. And, you know what, some feminists probably do hate men. To be honest, I think back to the interactions I’ve had with many men, and I frequently question why I don’t hate ’em. I’ve been abandoned, sexually assaulted, emotionally abused, lied to, called stupid, mansplained to, frequently interrupted by, etc., etc. all by (some times really important) men in my world. Yet, with special thanks to #NotAllMen, I remember that I shouldn’t make a vast generalization based on gender or ideology or race or sex…

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Oh wait, no. That was feminism. Feminism taught me that.

Feminism has even taught me that there are virtuous men, and I’m lucky enough have fallen in love with one. But let me tell you, those men don’t say things like, #NotAllMen.

Regardless, is it really that difficult to believe some women hate, or at the very least deeply fear men?

Imagine you were attacked by a neighbor’s dog. For years, it came up to you and sniffed your butt and gave you wet, slobbery kisses right on your face. You were buddies, and you packed around treats in your pockets just in case you saw him on your evening jog. He remembered you and he came loyally when you called him over to the fence. He was gentle and fun and you really cared about him. And then one day, out of nowhere, he lunged at you. This spunky little dog you loved fucking attacked you. It ripped open your jeans with it’s sharp teeth and tore into your flesh until he drew blood. His jaw clenched to your leg, you couldn’t get free. And when you screamed for help, no one was around to tear the dog off of you and no one was around to witness the attack at all. Finally, he let up his fierce grip, and you informed the owners and the police and you shared your story with your family. You insisted the dog be put down, and it was. To this day, that breed of dog triggers something in you that you can’t shake. Seeing one makes your heartbeat quicken and your fingers feel numb and you distance yourself as quickly as you can. That’s called fight or flight.

Can’t you see, then, how women who have been victims of violence and sexual violence might fear men? How some women might even hate men? Can’t you also see the power dynamic here? If a dog attacks you, a human holds more credibility. Your scars are enough evidence. You are believed. The dog is put down. No questions. Yet, when women are attacked, their male attacker still holds more credibility. Victims’ scars are often invisible or require invasive procedures or are even accused of being self-created. Victims are rarely believed, even by their loved ones. And their attacker is often let free. Victims are forever questioned, and they forever question themselves.

Take a look at these statistics drawn from the Canadian Women’s Foundation:

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I’ve read elsewhere that nearly 60% of aboriginal women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. SIXTY per cent. As seen in the figure above, 60% of women with a disability have experienced some form of violence. What interests me – and actually deeply disturbs me – is that already vulnerable groups are seemingly targeted. Children, women with disabilities, aboriginal women, homeless women, trans folks, women of colour, sex workers…. The list goes on. So, not only are men abusing women and young girls at astounding rates, but they are abusing women who are already struggling; who are already disadvantaged; who are already far less powerful in comparison.

And on top of this, all y’all are shouting #NotAllMen from your omnimous social media accounts creating LESS safe and accepting spaces for victims to actually come forward.  LESS THAN 10 PER CENT of sexual assaults are reported in the first place, and you stomping your feet and pounding your fists about something that doesn’t involve you is absolutely making that worse. When you say things like #NotAllMen (or #WhiteLivesMatter, because I just know y’all are the same people) you are not only disrupting victims’ stories of courage and survival and requests for support, you are actively turning attention to yourself for literally no reason with zero benefit to anyone.

Consider the following dialogue:

Judge: You, Mr. Smith, have been accused of 3 counts of sexual assault. How do you plead?

Mr. Smith: Guilty.

You, spectating from the gallery: NOT GUILTY.

Like, we know, buddy. You weren’t there. You didn’t do it. You “love and cherish women” (until they friendzone you, of course, then they’re “sluts”, “teases”, “whores”, and “prudes” somehow at the same time…) But, until then, you definitely love and cherish them.

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I want you to know that I hear you. Of course not all men are rapists. Of course not all men are violent. Of course not all men should be feared. But there are other ways of expressing your love and support for those who have been victimized around you – and it’s by shutting the f&#% up and listening to them.

Let me leave you with an example of how to appropriately respond to someone opening up to you about a potential assault.

Friend: There’s something I want to share with you, because I feel safe with you. A few months ago, I was at a party and I got really drunk with some girlfriends. I woke up in a strange bed and I have no memories of what happened that night, except I got a text message from a number I didn’t recognize and he told me I should get the morning after pill because apparently we had sex. I really don’t remember what happened, I was too embarrassed to ask anyone else from the party. I still feel on edge about everything, and some nights I can’t even sleep.

How Not to Respond to Someone Expressing Vulnerability:

You: NOT ALL MEN SEXUALLY ASSAULT PEOPLE.

How Also Not to Respond to Someone Expressing Vulnerability:

You: Honestly, you sound like you’re being a bit dramatic You really shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. Besides he was probably just as drunk as you were. Where were your girlfriends when this happened?

Why this is wrong: If someone is drunk, they cannot give consent. Let me repeat that. If someone is drunk, they cannot give consent. Sure, the dude she had sex with might have also been very drunk, but if he was coherent enough to send a text message about the morning after pill, chances are, he was far less drunk than she was. Further, by accusing her girlfriends of not being there for her completely denies any responsibility on the person who very likely sexually assaulted your friend.

How to Respond to Someone Expressing Vulnerability:

You: Thank you for feeling safe enough with me to open up like that. I imagine that’s been difficult for you. Have you considered talking to a counselor about how to best deal with this? I can go with you if you’re nervous.

Why this is right: You do not have to – and should not try to – be a hero. Your role is to be supportive, provide direction to resources, and to listen. That’s it. Don’t make it about you. Don’t give advice you don’t know to be true. Don’t make false accusations. Just listen to what she wants to share with you and what she says she needs from you, and respond accordingly.

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Anyway, that’s all I have to say. And I really hope you actually took the time to read the whole letter, because so many of you have made it clear that, “if someone like [me] doesn’t teach me, then how will [you] ever learn?” So, consider that lesson one.

BYYYYEEEEEEEEE.

Love/from,

Feminists everywhere.