Not all men? Actually, Yes, all Men.
By Rose Collard
#notallmen might be one of the most vexatious, thoughtless social media campaigns since the dawn of Twitter. Assuming complete ignorance on society’s part, it is passive-aggressive, snide, and wrongfully accusatory. Much has been written, deliberated and disagreed on about this most divisive of hashtags. What I would like to offer here is not another opinion piece on why it is utter reductive, misogynistic bullshit, but to highlight examples from my own experience of this type of #notallmen micro-aggression - and try to offer men a consolatory explanation as to why they do not deserve their hashtag.
When #metoo exploded onto the scene at the tail end of last year, in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, reactions from male friends did not offer the expected assurances of support, but hurried alibis of personal innocence dressed up as sympathy. "I just feel so terrible” said one. “I had no idea” exclaimed another. “I really didn’t think it was so bad” one more commiserated. The common thread in all these, that of the personal pronoun, speaks volumes about the kinds of reactions men are having to these global anti-sexist and anti-misogynist campaigns. Indeed, as #metoo grew, so the hashtag #howiwillchange was spawned; an encouragement tool for men to share plans for changing their daily behaviour in order to be better feminist allies. Again, the issue with this worryingly echoes of those individualistic responses by my male friends to #metoo – a way to excuse oneself from a wider, social problem that, like it or not, does involve #allmen.
For this I have a perfect example from a recent situation involving a group of close friends. Picture the scene: a warm summer’s evening; a pub quiz; a wobbly table bearing over-priced pints; three men and five women. One man: a self-professed non-feminist; loud, outspoken and opinionated. The other two: self-professed beta males; woke, sensitive and vocal feminist allies. As the questions poured in, the non-feminist (we’ll call him male A) began his usual unstoppable tirade of opinions, anecdotes and interruptions. The women in the group, used to – but not accepting of – this behaviour, rolled their eyes – as they always did – and got on with the evening. This was not an uncommon situation for this group of friends. What differed this time, however, was that one of the beta males (for the sake of congruence, male B) took it upon his altruistic little shoulders to save the womenfolk from their oppressor. For every interruption male A made, male B retaliated, pointing out to male A which woman he had cut short, and kindly (patronisingly) asking said female to repeat her point. As the evening progressed, these kind (patronising) allowances of speech diminished. Male B simply shut down male A at every juncture, asserting his authority, knowledge and, most crucially, his ability to enact said shut down without hindrance. The two did verbal battle, vying for their right to dictate the evening’s conversation. The women were, naturally, silenced. What was extraordinary about this situation was that despite male B’s intentions being good, his method was to fight patriarchy with patriarchy; shutting down one pillar of male dominance with one identical to it – albeit a pillar covered in graffiti that reads ‘this is what a feminist looks like’. It does not matter how honourable your intentions are, however. You cannot fight fire with fire. For this reason I implore you, O men: please do not take it upon yourselves to rid the world of patriarchy. In doing so, you relegate a gargantuan social epidemic into an individual quibble; reducing it to an ego battle between two men at a pub quiz. Stand by us, please, but not in front of us. Get behind us; next to us if you can’t bear to be out of the spotlight. We need you – but we don’t need you to take control. It’s #heforshe, not #heinsteadofshe.
Another stupendously irritating anecdote I would like to share in this vein involves another pastime of #notallmen; that is, their personal rejection of patriarchal social norms. I once got wind of a man’s retort to a female friend’s complaint about painful leg hair removal. It was, simply, spectacularly: ‘but I like it!’ Well, cancel my waxing appointment and burn all the razors, your narcissistic declaration of approval for bodily tresses has single-handedly erased the last 70 odd years of hair-(e)raising (see what I did) social oppression. THANK GOD FOR YOU. One of the most infuriating pseudo-feminist crimes men commit is to think themselves allies by asserting their personal preference for feminist causes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant that so many men like leg hair. Really, it is. But when they expect it to elevate them to a heroic status – like some sort of patriarchy-fighting deity burning down the Veet and Venus warehouses with his fire-blowing dick – then instead of being supportive, all they do is take our oppression and make it their own. Probably it’s a sub-conscious reaction to try and assuage their male guilt. Woke, modern men are, after all, well versed in the inequality of the sexes. But in claiming our oppression to be something they personally must eradicate, they overstep that fine line and enter occupied territory.
What I think #metoo and #howiwillchange perfectly encapsulated was what men’s relationship with feminism ought to be. It is, simultaneously, not about them personally – so don’t preach your ‘not all men’-ness by telling me how much you like leg hair – yet requires individual effort in order to exact change – just get on with liking leg hair. Don’t comment on it. NEVER make your girlfriend think she has to remove any hair for you. And when a female friend expresses her frustration at the social convention, say “that sucks, it’s shit, what can I do to help?” Because – listen up men, here’s the explanation for your bullshit, self-serving hashtag – you don’t deserve a medal for thinking about something or acting the way you ought to – and the way everyone in the world ought to – anyway.
Image sourced via www.etsy.com