I was following the online conversations about the UCD 200 story, and many feminists and female writers were complaining about the responses they were getting. Reading some of the comments, this was understandable, as some of the responses they were getting were very attacking and offensive in nature.
However, I have an issue with the #NotAllMen trope that attacks men who dare to point out that when women discuss sexism, they often implicitly indict all men, which isn’t fair. As a man who tries to be feminist, it can be exhausting constantly being condemned under the umbrella of other men who aren’t trying as hard and who are genuinely misogynistic.
I feel like if men make sweeping generalisations about women, they’d be called sexist. Why is it so wrong for men to point out that we’re not all like that, that there are some good guys left in the world?
Dear Letter Writer,
Simply, my dear, because we bloody KNOW.
We know that, yes, there are individual men that don’t go out and deliberately inflict harm and misogyny onto women at every opportunity – but we also know that it is, as you’ve seen, utterly impossible for women to talk about sexism and misogyny and patriarchy without getting a torrent of abuse. And still we try. Because we bloody have to.
We have to keep speaking out about sexism and harassment and abuse and assault and rape BECAUSE THIS SHIT KEEPS HAPPENING. And when we put our necks on the line, and speak out, and endure the torrents of abuse and threats and dismissals that go with that, up men pop like moles, whining, “But I’m not like that!”
As if that means ANYTHING. As if by telling us that, our experiences will disappear. As if it will make us feel safer, more supported.
In fact, it does the opposite. It shows us that every single time we share our experiences, you will stop paying attention. You won’t be able to even listen to or read the pain and injustice we experience on a daily basis, even though your discomfort at reading it is NOTHING compared to what we actually endure. And you will put your minor discomfort before our real pain and experiences.
Instead of listening, of trying to understand, you think that expressing your defensive reaction takes precedence over us communicating ours, and interrupt our testimony with a meaningless, “But it wasn’t meeeeeee!”
The irony, of course, is that women aren’t talking about men who AREN’T the problem, but when you cry “#NotAllMen” you’re forcing the conversation away from the men who ARE the problem, which is a fucking problem. You are becoming part of the fucking problem.
At its most basic, saying “#NotAllMen” means you’re interrupting women when they’re telling you their experiences. You’re not listening. Which means you’re not learning.
And yes, you say you’re trying to be a feminist, but you know what? You don’t get rewarded for that. You don’t get a free pass to only tune in when it’s convenient.
Being a feminist means believing women should be socially culturally, politically and economically equal with men. This is not a radical belief, it should be a baseline one.
So don’t go around saying, “I’m a male feminist!” as if it makes you special, instead of just a human being with the most basic sense of common decency. You don’t get a cookie for not being an asshole.
And if you genuinely are trying to be a good feminist, re-read this sentence: “As a man who tries to be feminist, it can be exhausting constantly being condemned under the umbrella of other men who aren’t trying as hard and who are genuinely misogynistic.”
Your exhaustion is nothing – NOTHING – compared to the exhaustion of women constantly fighting to be treated like equals, fighting for their right to be treated with decency, fighting for their right to speak.
So when we do speak, let us. Save the defensive interruptions. Stop crying “#NotAllMen”, and shut up and listen.
We need more men who do THAT.
I’m a straight woman, 27, and I’ve been very causally seeing a guy in his early 30s. We only see each other maybe once every week/fortnight but I’m only recently out of a serious relationship so that’s fine for me – he’s smart and funny, the sex is great and he’s trying to learn more about feminism which gets him all the brownie points. He’s also been open with me about being a bit commitment-phobic, and that he’s not looking for anything serious. I didn’t pry, mainly because we’re just casual and I’m happy with it, so it doesn’t matter.
The problem is his female friends. I’ve been to a few events with him and met some of his mates, all of whom seem like really smart women. And the ones I’ve spoken to are also outspokenly feminist, so again, brownie points. But they’re really nasty about him. The second they heard I was dating him, the started being really harsh about him, and passive-aggressive towards me.
One of them started telling me (when he was out of earshot) that he’s really immature and misogynistic, and makes woman fall in love with him before bailing, and two other women started chiming in, saying he had a really bad reputation, saying, “Good luck in trying to date him,” all this stuff. I met another woman a different night and the same thing happened. But it didn’t feel like they were looking out for me, they were being a bit aggressive, and also patronising, as if I was a stupid girl for even trying to date him. None of these women, I should add, have dated him, some of them have been friends with him for years, and he speaks really highly of them.
I don’t know how to feel about this, because on the one hand that’s a lot of warnings about misogyny to ignore, but on the other hand, I like him and don’t see that in him, but am casual enough about it that I’m not going to be devastated if it doesn’t work out. And there’s also something about 30-something women immediately selling out a guy who’s meant to be their friend that feels really uncomfortable to me. Do I ignore them? Ask him why people would say he’s misogynist? Tell him his friends are all talking shit about him?
Let’s do a little exercise. Imagine I’m your best girl mate, I’ve been dating around for a long time but haven’t found any guy who I like enough to get serious about. I tell people I have a touch of commitment-phobia, but I keep dating, not because I’m planning to hurt anyone, but because I’m hopeful.
However, being self-aware enough that I know my own pattern, and considerate enough not to want to hurt anyone, I’m open with the guys I date that I don’t want anything serious. In spite of this, sometimes they develop serious feelings for me, and I leave, because I don’t feel the same way about them, don’t want to string them along, and I don’t want the situation to get more complicated to the point where they’ll get badly hurt.
Then I start dating a new guy; he’s fun, not looking for anything serious, and we respect each other. I even introduce him to my best guy friends, thinking they’ll get along. Then, the second I’m not there, my guy friends – who I’ve never been with – start telling my date that I’m a whore, that I sleep around, that I manipulate men into falling for me then leave them.
They don’t say this in a, “We love Roe, she’s great, I hope it works out between you two, but maybe take it slow because she has some stuff she’s still working on” way. No, they say it in the, “Dude, she’s trouble and sleeps around and you’re pathetic if you stay” way.
Then I return to the conversation only for these men to put on their best, “We’re your friends!” smiles and wonder why my date is suddenly looking at me like I’m a Venus flytrap waiting to snap down on his testicles.
This, my dear, would be slut-shaming, pure and simple. And I don’t think what these women are doing to your guy is that far off.
If your date was constantly surrounding himself with younger, less intelligent women, and he had a clear and explicit history of cheating, of taking advantage, of emotionally abusing women – I’d tell you to find yourself another hook-up. But that’s not the situation.
Your guy actively surrounds himself with smart, outspoken feminists – you included – and simply has a reputation for dating a lot and not settling down. That doesn’t make him a bad person, or a misogynist.
And sure, he could be a major misogynist in other ways – but I have my doubts. Even if you weren’t smart enough to have had some alarm bells go off by now, I don’t think all these other smart, feminist women would be sticking around if he really was such an ass.
I think this guy is being harshly judged for his dating history, and maybe his female friends are a bit exasperated with him, and having to meet a different girl every month. But I think if they had more proof of his alleged misogyny, they would have laid it all out, or simply have friend-dumped him. And they haven’t.
They may be a bit territorial, and – yes, I’m going to say the thing I’m not meant to say – maybe a little bit jealous. After all, he apparently dates everyone and has never dated them. Maybe that’s a complicated feeling for them. The fact that women in their 30s are talking behind the backs of their friend while he’s respectful of them is also pointing at much more immaturity on their end than his.
I’d stick around as long as you’re having fun with him. And don’t indulge the gossiping, it’ll only make you paranoid and drive a gap between you and him. Kill them with kindness – the next time they start talking shit about him, simply tell the truth, and walk away.
“We’re both happy with keeping things casual, and he treats me really well. I’m surprised you want to talk badly about him to near-strangers – he always speaks incredibly highly of you. Please excuse me.”
Then go have sex with him. Win/win.
Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe