This Post is About All Men

I’ve been reading, trying to digest everything that’s being said in the wake of this Elliot Rodgers mess. I had to explain it to my dad, that a man killed some women for not having sex with him, and that other men on the internet thought he had the right idea. I had to see his face as he connected the dots about the world his daughter is living in. Then I had to explain the “not all men,” the ones who refuse to see what’s really happening because they’re too busy trying to exonerate themselves.

The “not all men” defense is a man’s plea for you to tell him that he’s “one of the good ones,” absolving him of his own questionable behavior, asserting that his nice guy-ness gets a pass, and reassuring him he still deserves the entitlement fantasy. It’s the “Some of my best friends are black” card in the misogyny debate–the guilty conscience sleight-of-hand meant to draw attention away from whatever very real and harmful actions one is committing.

I picked two movies at random to watch on Netflix last night. One was Paranoia with Liam Hemsworth, the other The Frozen Ground with John Cusack and Nick Cage. This pair of 2013 releases accurately portrays both ends of the male entitlement spectrum–Paranoia features an ambitious young man willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, including breaking the law and betraying family and friends. By engaging in bold (and illegal!) acts of corporate espionage and deceiving the woman he comes to love, he wins a successful career, a happy family life and gets the girl, in spite of the fact that he spends the majority of the movie lying to her face. In The Frozen Ground, John Cusack plays a middle-aged white male with a family and successful business. He is well-liked in his community, but feels emasculated and threatened by women, so he kidnaps, rapes, and kills approximately 17 women and girls in a twisted display of his own power. The kicker one of these is based on a true story.

So go ahead and tell me that “not all men” are misogynists, and “not all men” are serial killers; I’ve met men and lived to tell about it, so I already know that.

Don't worry, strawman, you'll always be one of the good ones.

Don’t worry, strawman, you’ll always be one of the good ones.

Why is it not helpful to say “not all men are like that”? For lots of reasons. For one, women know this. They already know not every man is a rapist, or a murderer, or violent. They don’t need you to tell them. Second, it’s defensive. When people are defensive, they aren’t listening to the other person; they’re busy thinking of ways to defend themselves. —Phil Plait

I shouldn’t have to justify my credibility in this debate with anecdotes about the time a guy followed me to my car in an empty parking lot at 3am (even though I parked under the only light-post like I was taught), or about the guy who licked my tattoo because it looks like it has some visible vagina action, or about every time I get called a bitch or slut for ignoring catcalls in the street (they’re compliments, slut! How else can you interpret, “I’d like to shove my dick in that juicy ass”?), or about how I can’t simply say I’m not interested when a guy is too forward at a bar–he won’t back off until he hears I’m married, someone else’s property (“It’s a shame you have a husband.” It is?). Or how about the time a guy offered to let me taste his beer three different times, all while not drinking from it himself (probably not roofies!)? Or times I had to call my husband because I felt unsafe and wanted to be on the phone with him as I walked to wherever I was going? And these are just a sampling of my own encounters, and I’m just one of billions of women dealing with these issues.

Obviously not all men are serial rapists and murderers. Obviously not all men dehumanize women and treat them like objects or commodities. But the fact that some do irreparably tarnishes male interactions with me, and with the majority of other women. This is in your control, “not all men.” If you don’t want to be lumped in with misogynists and crazies, take a stand against them. Start by acknowledging that they exist and are very real threat to the women that you know and love, or want to know and love. Your voice matters. Using it to say that not all men are dangerous is a waste. Use it to make certain, otherwise your voice is just one more in a string of defenses that don’t make women feel any safer walking to our cars at night.

“Not all men” isn’t just hostility against women, either–it’s hostility against men too. By trying to flaunt “Alpha male” superiority and being unable to acknowledge the value of other men, these OKCupid-level nice guys are demonstrating explosive vulnerability. It’s not the kind that leads to intimacy, but rather the kind that leads to hostility, like a cornered animal lashing out.

In less tangible but still damaging instances, this can take the form of rants about the “Friendzone,” suggesting that once a man finds out a lady isn’t going to sleep with him, it retroactively makes all the time spent being friends a waste of his time. The implication  is his time holds more value than hers, because she has time to make friends just for the sake of friendship. It also clearly defines that what’s of value in women isn’t their personality or companionship (things we’re supposed to salivate over in “nice guys”), but rather their ability to provide sex on demand. Because he’s been her shoulder to cry on every time “some asshole” hurt her, the self-anointed “nice guy” has proven his worth, and when it turns out basic human decency isn’t the coin of the vaginal realm, he grows angry at the dumb sluts who reject him, and the stupid assholes she’s fucking instead.

In rarer but more severe cases, we end up with Elliot Rodgers, taking it a step further by deciding these men and women deserve to die at his hand for failing to recognize and fulfill his entitlement.

The fact that it’s necessary to include the risk of hostility against other men in order to get men to care about the situation is a big part of the problem. I’ve been confused for years about whether your garden-variety men have wives or daughters or sisters or mothers–any woman in their life that they have ever cared about on a nonsexual level. How can so many not see this affects us all.

It’s oversimplifying to say that men lashing out must have a bad family life, or no good male or female role models in their homes; with school and larger social environments, the opportunity for culture to shape behavior is prevalent. We need to ask what that culture is telling young men and young women. The movies I referenced earlier reinforce the same problematic messages: men, it’s okay to lie to a woman and pretend to be someone you’re not in order to be successful, because she’ll forgive you in the end. Be persistent, and you’ll get the girl. When she says she’s not interested, she’s just playing hard to get. If she doesn’t honor your entitlement, move to a small town in Alaska, where the cops will defend you as a standup guy while you rape and kill to your heart’s content (because it’s not like you can rape prostitutes anyway!).

Overhauling media tropes is a long-term project, so in the interim change falls to us. Women need to keep having uncomfortable conversations with the men on our lives. Men need to hold each other accountable for their behavior, because sexism isn’t cute or funny or manly. #yesallwomen deserve to be safe; we are independent people deserving of respect and dignity and the right to live in safety.

Some further reading, by other people saying it better than I am:

3 thoughts on “This Post is About All Men

  1. Robb says:

    As usual Fission, you’re being too modest – you covered many angles of this topic, deftly, without distracting from your points (except through humorous images and subtitles). I, however, will proceed to craft my comment with general disregard for logical structure or continuity. I also am going to forego the use of a thesaurus and instead commit the rhetorical crime of overusing a certain word, with a few morphological variations. There ought to be very little difficulty identifying which word.

    And you’re right – too often, when news of an act of misogynistic violence is linked to the cultural contributors that cultivate such behavior, at least one response attempts to dismiss that link by suggesting (inaccurately) that such link is itself committing the fallacy of generalized oversimplification.

    Or, as you and Slate, put it, “not all men…”

    There are two countervailing cultural movements at work: the historically more ingrained “rape culture” or “culture of misogyny”, and the newer movement that struggles against the historically ingrained culture primarily by calling it out when it appears. And this is a very effective tactic – most people who act misogynistically do so either unwittingly, or because they think it is funny or in some other way socially encouraged. The best way to address ignorance is education (perhaps coupled with shame), and the best way to address the mistaken belief that ones actions are socially acceptable is with clarification (definitely coupled with shame).

    So, men (and women) are, at any given moment, acting either as members of the misogynistic culture, members of the anti-misogynistic culture, or neither. It is impossible to be a member of both. (NOTE: women can certainly be misogynistic by defending the culture and behavior of their misogynistic male counterparts, among other ways.)

    But the clash between these two cultures is what creates this defensive, meaningless, potentially harmful response. Many of the misogynists will immediately jump to deny their misogyny. and those who were non-participants in the discussion before encountering the condemnatory editorial may indeed feel the need to defensively preclude themselves. Even those who condemn the rape culture may accidentally invite the “not all men…” response if, in offering their edifications, they fail to include sufficient quantifiers by using phrases such as “some men”.

    Much of the problem arises from fear of rejection, fear of being “the bad guy.” Those who expect women to invite aggressively sexual male attention certainly don’t want to consider themselves among those who offer/force unwanted attention. And when such attention is not eagerly accepted, it is difficult for these men to accept the blame for the uncomfortable situation (or violation of the law) that has arisen as a result. And of course, those who have never been a part of the conversation fear being swept into the conversation on the wrong side of the issue – they will eagerly insist there exists a realm in which they can maintain their neutrality, the home for nice guys who “respect” women (or at least who manifest respectful behavior, regardless of the motivation behind it).

    Because there are many men who need that home in which to reside. A lot of guys don’t recognize any misogynistic behavior on their own parts, in some cases because they actually don’t exhibit any and in other cases because they don’t want to acknowledge the misogyny flowing forth from them. And even a lot of women need to maintain that home for the men in their lives – the men those women know to be respectful, because each of those women has finally caught herself a decent man. It is a symptom of the insecurity that surrounds this issue, the fear that others might perceive one as part of the problem. Note I did not say, “…that one might actually be part of the problem,” but instead, “…that others might perceive…”. Because this response is, as Fission points out, one borne of defensiveness, not correction. It is pure narcissism.

    And that narcissism is the underlying problem, both in the issue of misogyny as a manifestation of feelings of sexual entitlement and the matter of those who complain about being friend-zoned. it is all about the misogynist, disregarding the women hurt thereby. The self-identified sexually entitled feels that his attentions ought to be accepted – nay, invited! – by those on whom he wishes to lavish them, so any who reject his advances are wrong. Not justified, not understandable, and certainly not exercising their own respective rights to have any say in the matter of with whom they develop an emotional and sexual relationship. They are simply wrong. And this is a necessary truth, the wrongness of those who do not accept the advances, because the contrary, that those individuals might be justified, means there exists a very real reason to reject the one making the now justifiably unwanted advances.

    And a reason to be rejected is a difficult thing to face.

    The friend-zoners hit the same wall, if perhaps from the opposite side: they behave as they are told they should, but don’t get the results they want. It must be the fault of the object of their desires, because otherwise, there was a legitimate reason for them to be rejected, despite their efforts to the contrary. And that is also very difficult to face.

    In both cases, it is easier for the one being rejected to blame the source of the rejection rather than oneself for the existence of the rejection. I wonder briefly if, had it been more often the cultural norm throughout history that women were the pursuers of relationships with men and men the ones pursued, perhaps we would have developed a culture of misanthropy instead of misogyny, but further exploration of that thought goes well beyond the scope of this already lengthy and rambling comment.

    I guess, perhaps, one solution might be for us men to “man-up”, or more accurately, to be a little less afraid of rejection. It happens. In theatre, in job interviewing, in relationship, people get rejected. Because both sides have to want it. And sure, in pursuing a relationship and getting rejected, maybe the other side doesn’t know what she is missing, doesn’t see the man’s true worth, would truly be better off in the relationship rather than rejecting it, but that argument has already been made, and it too has been rejected. Better to accept the hurt of rejection rather than become hurtful by blaming the source of rejection.

    Misogyny does not defend the value of a man; misogyny diminishes value of the misogynist and damages the self-perception of maligned. It hurts everyone.


    • fissionerror says:

      Thanks for the incredibly well-considered reply (and the compliment!), Robb! You’re totally right on with the notion that rejection is difficult, especially when it makes us wonder if there’s something wrong with us meriting such rejection–so much easier to think the fault lies in the rejecting party, for failing to realize our greatness! When did we as individuals (male or female, regardless) decide to take things so personally when they’re really not?

      I know literally dozens of amazing and incredible people–some are funny, some are smart, some are attractive, some are really unfair combinations of the above and more! I think they’re just awesome, but I’m not viscerally attracted to them, through no fault of theirs or mine; it’s just the way things go, just like not everybody is attracted to my blue hair and tattoos and indiscernible combination of sarcasm, social issues, and whimsy.

      And I think the incredibly gendered nature of challenges and insults is also keenly felt on both sides of the gender divide–men are told, as you noted, to “man up” when they’re perceived as not being tough enough, because men are historically supposed to embody toughness and eschew ‘weaknesses’ like tenderness and feelings. Conversely, they’re also told not to “be a bitch” or a “pussy,” as though there’s something inherently wrong or undesirable about exhibiting female qualities (and by extension something undesirable and lesser about being a woman). It renders strong women as being “mannish” and sensitive men as being “effeminate,” allowing no deviation from rigid stereotypes and denying both groups from reaching their full potential as well-rounded individuals who are able to be both strong AND sensitive.

      Here’s a good example of women perpetuating misogynistic behaviors (and one I’ve been guilty of myself in the past)–the “dude chick,” the girl who’s “not like all those other girls.” As though there’s something wrong with being female that we desire to set ourselves apart from our own gender in order to seem more appealing. In retrospect I understand what I was trying to convey–that I’m not interested in a lot of the things that stereotypically interest women, like fashion and shoes and reality television, and instead prefer roller coasters and rock music and video games and beer. I see what I MEANT, but could I have picked a MORE offensive way of conveying that? Honestly who the hell did I think I was?

      So here’s to taking a step back, acknowledging our bad behavior, apologizing for it, and moving forward with better intentions and hopefully better execution.


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