Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Not all men!

Recently there seems to have been a lot more discussion of feminism, sexism and misogyny online than usual. This is partly due to stories in the press; these include the trial of Oscar Pistorius for killing his girlfriend, the rapist Ched Evans reportedly being offered a £3m contract with Sheffield United Football Club before he’s even released from prison and the murder of numerous individuals by Elliot Rodgers after posting hate-filled and misogynistic videos online.

It’s also due to more and more women speaking out about their experiences. The Everyday Sexism Project has shocked a lot of people, featuring as it does the uncomfortable, unpleasant and often harrowing experiences of millions of women and girls across the world. In addition to this, several recent hashtags on Twitter have also been eye-opening for many – I suggest you have a look at #Grabbed and #WhyIDidntReport in particular.

According to the World Health Organisation over a third of women (35% to be exact) worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lifetime. A third. In some countries girls are more likely to be raped than they are to attend school; whatever country you live in I can pretty much guarantee that you know at least one woman, probably more, who has suffered rape, sexual assault or physical violence.

When I started university I shared a flat with 4 other women. Of the 5 of us, aged just 18, 2 of us had been raped and 1 had been sexually abused by a family member. And we’re not unusual. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in England and Wales an average of 85,000 women are raped every year while over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted. Of course, these figures are only for those cases where the victim reported the attack; it is widely understood that there are many more cases that go unreported, as this well-known graphic shows:


In addition to this, 2 women per week in the UK are murdered by their male partner; in the first 4 months of 2014 over 50 women in the UK had been killed by men. That’s one every 2.5 days, roughly. In addition to this there’s the harassment – being groped, having comments made about our appearance, verbal abuse when a man’s advances are declined. It’s not just adult women who experience this either; a survey for Girl Guiding UK found that 70% of girls aged 13 and over report sexual harassment at school or college.

So why am I writing about all of this again? It’s because I’m increasingly seeing the phrase “Not all men!” cropping up in discussions about male violence against women. It seems that many are insulted by the perceived implication that all men are violent, evil, rapists and murderers. It’s those people that I really want to read this post. Because you see, when we’re talking about issues like male violence and I refer to “men” (and obviously I can only speak for myself) I’m not saying that all men are the same. That would be ridiculous. What I’m doing is referring to men as a sociological group, in the same way that I might refer to the middle-class or the white population. And men, as a class, are a threat to women, as a class. What I’m not saying is that any individual man is a threat. With me so far? Good.

When women talk about instances of misogyny, their experiences of rape, sexual assault and harassment, the “not all men” should be implicit. Obviously not all men rape, assault, grope or harrass women – do we really have to say it every single time? Seriously? Because the fact is, although the men who abuse women are the minority, they are the ones under discussion. Not the good guys. And if we have to qualify every single discussion of misogyny and abuse with “Not all men” for fear of offending someone, then the discussion may well stall and be stifled. And it’s a discussion that needs to be had by everyone, whatever their gender.

Some men find it hard not to feel personally insulted when “men as a class” are being discussed. I get that, I really do. I sometimes feel the same when I see discussions among the trans* community about how they’re treated by cis people, or discussions by people of colour about their experiences at the hands of white people. But do you know what? It’s a group of people relating their experiences at the hands of the dominant group as a class. It’s not an attack on me personally. Similarly when we’re discussing misogyny, abuse and male violence against women, it’s not an attack on any of the good guys either. So please stop yelling “Not all men!'” and join in the conversation instead.


Comments on: "Not all men!" (9)

  1. Very well written piece! Men who act defensive and yell “not all men” are completely missing the point of the conversation. They should be working to put a stop to misogynistic acts rather than chastising women for expressing their experiences. The fact of the matter is that all women have experienced harassment/assault of some kind -at the hands of men.

    • “They should be working to put a stop to misogynistic acts rather than chastising women for expressing their experiences”. Yes, exactly. And of course many do, but equally many genuinely believe that they are personally being maligned by women who talk about misogyny.

  2. Sarah Jane said:

    As usual I think this is very well argued and has made me think again about the issues but … I still don’t agree with you.
    “Men, as a class, are a threat to women, as a class.” I don’t think this is right. Men are not a threat. Rapists, as a class, are a threat, and they’re a threat to men and women.
    It reminds me of whenever I see insults about ‘white people’ on Twitter, which never fails to make my blood boil. Grouping people by race, making generalisations based on race, implying that a particular race is guilty of a negative behaviour … that’s racism and I find it really hurtful and divisive. Equally I think some of the language around men on Twitter, though not this post, has been divisive too. We speak as if men are the enemy. Sexists, misogynists and attackers are the enemy, and they can be anyone.

    • Rapists are a threat. Men who grope, who are aggressive towards women, who see nothing wrong with treating women as their sexual pick and mix counter, are a threat. Individual good guys are not but that’s my whole point – I shouldn’t have to say that every single time, it should be obvious.

  3. P Wooding said:

    “And men, as a class, are a threat to women, as a class.”

    The reason men will say this comment because of utterly ridiculous statements like this, who will use our gender as some sort of complicit membership to the rapists we both view with utter hatred.

    “Not all men” is a mark of frustration because of small mindedness to women who have had awful experiences and then lump the good, honest, caring men in as some part of “class” membership, like we have aspired to be in the same group as sexually violent men.

    You have defined men as a class, and its based on nothing. It has no substance and you can right well, but you have no arguement – all you’re hoping for is men to feel guilty for what someone else with a penis has done. And, I’m sorry to break it to you, but as a white male, I cannot carry the crimes of my gender and my race upon me every day, and will not keep quiet when I’m generalised.

    • I don’t want men to feel guilty, I want them to be aware and to speak out every time they see misogynistic behaviour. I know plenty of good men (I’m even married to one, which may surprise you as you think I’m small-minded). And you seem to have missed the part where I point out that “Not all men” doesn’t need to be said because it’s implicit; it just derails what is an extremely important discussion.

  4. […] and men, certain groups of men, hold power, for more discussion and a great blog on this see Candour. At some point last year I felt there was a resurgence of feminism, of young women rising up and […]

  5. If I said “Women as a class are responsible for deliberately ‘forgetting’ to take the pill and forcing innocent men into fatherhood and financial strife” – You would rightly be outraged. It’s the same thing and more rapes are reported than that particular behaviour because it isn’t criminalised. The real crime in most cases being against the resulting child anyway.

    As someone else already said – emphatically argued but I disagree that the ‘Not all men’ reply is implicitly obvious. There are plenty of men who have been berated for being responsible for “The patriarchy” among other things, whilst having caused no offence at all personally. To be expected to not resist someone having carte blanche to target a very, VERY damaging accusation at ‘men as a class’ is obscene. Truly.

    If you want the discussion to take place around the real issue then be specific in your words, as you obviously can be. Prodding an incendiary issue with blunt words and assumptions like “You know we don’t mean all of you” is at best going to obfuscate the real issue and at worst will CREATE a new issue as younger women hear that ALL men (as a class/whatever) are to blame for the actions of a despicable minority.

    I like your writing and I wouldn’t take the time to respond if I didn’t respect what I know of you. That SHOULD be implicit, but I have no way of knowing if you would understand that. I’m not you.

    All the best,

  6. To clarify – When I say ‘younger women’ I mean of course, children – Who’s understanding, like most men’s, does not benefit from the assumption that when someone says “Men X” they actually mean “Not all men, not even most men but a small minority of men who are guilty of X,Y and Z”

    All the best,

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