written by Hebah A. (Contributor)
TW: mentions of rape, assault, harrassment and rape culture.
Yes, all men
Disclaimer; when this piece mentions ‘women’ it is referring to anyone who has had lived experience as a woman, presently, or in the past. When this piece mentions ‘all men’ it is referring to all cisgendered men.
I originally wrote this piece in March during a worldwide conversation about the safety of women, as a way to process what I was feeling at the time. However, every time I return to it, it only feels more pertinent. On March 10th, Sarah Everard had been missing for about a week until her remains were found and a London police officer was arrested for murdering her. I was finding it really hard to stay focused on anything, especially with the conversations Sarah’s case unearthed globally about sexual assault and violence perpetrated by men, towards women.
Naturally my first reaction was to voice my thoughts on my thirty follower Tik Tok account. I spoke about ‘not all men’, why the phrase was being used and why it was incorrect. The video was thrust into Tik Tok’s unpredictable algorithm; it kept growing and now has 250 thousand views and a thousand-ish comments worth of discourse from people who agree and disagree. Of course, a sixty second tik tok is not nearly enough to unpack a topic as dense as sexual violence, so the following piece will attempt to do so with a focus on why the phrase ‘not all men’ is simply incorrect.
The idea that a woman must be killed before we can believe that there is something deeply wrong with how society is conditioned to view women has not left my mind. I write ‘society’ and not ‘men’ because I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences with harassment and assault, and I haven’t been able to register some of these experiences as such until others came forward with stories similar to mine.
Casting my mind back to primary school, I can think of moments where I was physically assaulted or groped by boys in my school, and how I excused their behaviour by blaming myself for causing it. Even as a child, I had already begun to assume the responsibility of ‘not being assaulted’ rather than understanding that assault should never happen in any context. My child brain would excuse assault as ‘boys being boys’, ‘I was getting on their nerves’, ‘they’re just having fun’, ‘I shouldn’t have worn that’- a victim-blaming sentiment I have seen carry through to sexual assault cases that have made the news. How did we get here? How did we excuse sexual harassment and violence- even in its most extreme manifestations?
Violence against women and girls manifests so insidiously that we often seperate explicit acts of violence like murder, rape, and battery from implicit micro-aggressions like catcalls, ‘locker-room talk’, and slut-shaming. We treat the two as if they are independent of each other, when they are all interlocking pieces of a much larger problem.
These ‘smaller’ issues that we have been socialised to view as normal, desensitise us to gender based violence, and so hearing of rape and murder in our own communities is received as an anomaly. If we were to unpack that thought; do you think that a man who has raped or murdered a woman has done so without feeling comfortable making ‘locker-room talk’ and rape jokes?
The gap between how acts of violence are addressed is so apparent when we unpack the phrase ‘not all men’. It’s often used to derail and redirect conversations back to men, when women come forward with their stories of assault. When someone uses ‘not all men’ as a line of defence; they might mean “Not all men rape women,” which is largely true, but would they also comfortably say “Not all men have made (or laughed at) rape jokes,” or “Not all men have made women feel unsafe,”? That’s where we fall short as a society. We fail to recognise that rape culture runs so much deeper than just rape; it’s in the jokes we make, the unwarranted non-sexual touching, the catcalls, the stalking, the conversations that are had when it’s ‘just the boys’, it’s in the movies, music, and porn we consume, and it’s in the upbringings of young children when they see how women are treated.
Young boys are inheriting the license to disrespect and hurt girls and women because of the culture they’re born and socialised into. All the while, young girls are learning that they must endure mistreatment because they ‘have it better’ than the more unfortunate girls and women who have been killed at the hands of rape culture.
The truth is, it is all men. Because men do not get to decide if they have never made a woman feel unsafe or uncomfortable. The phrase ‘Not All Men’ is speaking on behalf of men; when it is women we should be listening to. How are we going to see a stat like 97% (of women in the UK experiencing sexual harassment/assault) and continue to say ‘Not all men’, when it is nearly every woman?
Other flawed discussions surrounding gender based violence include the passive language we use to discuss it. Jackson Katz addresses this in his Ted Talk; ‘Violence against Women - It’s a Men’s Issue’.
“Even the term violence against women is problematic. It’s a passive construction. There’s no active agent in the sentence…it’s a bad thing that happens to women…nobody’s doing it to them. It just happens. Men aren’t even a part of it!” (Katz, 2012)
We’re all familiar with stats about how many women go missing, experience sexual assault, or are murdered; but we never get a stat on how many men kidnapped, raped or murdered women. In an aim to get men not to rape; we are always having to humanise women as ‘someone’s mother/sister/daughter etc. Yet when we discuss rape and assault, we hardly talk about the perpetrators often being the people closest to us; dads, uncles, brothers, friends. This is the surreptitious nature of rape culture. The passive voice which anonymises abusers, allows for a chorus of ‘not all men!’ when women speak about their experiences, making it impossible to imagine the reality of rape culture that is upheld by every man.
I know that saying all men are responsible for perpetuating rape culture can be interpreted as inflammatory, and if you feel upset or angered by that statement, take the time to analyse why you personally feel attacked by it. Ultimately, we must understand that all men uphold systems that hurt and oppress women, just like all white people uphold systems that hurt and oppress POC. All men benefit from the systems set up for them, that simultaneously harm women.
If you are a man who has never cat-called, spiked, groped, raped (etc) a woman- or even laughed at a rape joke- then you have just achieved the bare minimum of what is required in being an average human being. Your ‘good behaviour’ does not absolve you of the crimes your gender commits against women. Not being a part of the problem does not mean you are already part of the solution.
Women have been shouting about their experiences for years and it continues to fall on deaf ears. Even in the age of social media, I see women bearing the brunt of educating men, sharing their own stories, and amplifying survivors’ stories. The men that exhibit the behaviour we need to eradicate, will only listen to other men. Talk to your boys, your brothers, your dads, your sons. If a woman is brave enough to tell her story; listen to her, support her, believe her, and do not silence her. All men can work towards the liberation of women.
Katz, J. (2012, November). ‘Violence against Women - It’s a Men’s Issue’ [Video]. TED Conferences.
APPG, 2021, Prevalence and reporting of sexual harassment in UK public spaces, viewed: 30/07/21, <https://www.unwomenuk.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/APPG-UN-Women-Sexual-Harassment-Report_Updated.pdf >
Header reference; @slay_wid_slaw