Libby Mayfield is back to discuss why the phrase “not all men” completely misses the point. Reminder that we are always looking for blog submissions! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your words!
“No, I know it’s not all men, but that’s not the point”.
It’s a phrase I’ve had to say too many times, to too many people, when I’ve told someone that I felt intimidated on the street by a male stranger.
Everyone who’s ever heard someone say, “but it’s not all men”, will know what it’s like to be stumped, trying to explain to someone you know, someone you might care about or trust a lot, that if you didn’t know them and saw them on the street at night and you were on your own, you’d be as wary of them as you would be of any stranger.
Sometimes it’s hard to explain how you know it’s not all men that may hurt, frighten or harass you, but there are situations where it feels like it could be.
I find it interesting that whenever I say something that apparently requires this response, the person, nine out of ten times a man, says not “all” men – never not “just” men. Women and non-binary people can also attack or harass vulnerable people of any gender, but for some reason the rhetoric, the line everyone hears and knows, is “not all men”.
Everyone knows that not all men are the “problem”, as it seems so often portrayed, but such a high percentage of women of victims of street harassment, and every few months there will be a news story on a kidnapping, mugging, or attack on someone walking late at night. The average woman walking down a poorly lit street to get home at night, even upon seeing a shadowy figure across the road, will know that these incidents are not all that common – but it won’t feel like that in the moment.
Of course, some people will be of the belief that if you don’t feel safe walking down the street, then you should call a taxi, get a lift, or walk another route, but as a human being, I see no reason why I should sacrifice my freedom just because street crime is so high. Again, it’s not all men, but on a dark night, it feels like it could be.
This happens up and down the country, and throughout the majority of the Western world. It’s at such a level that it’s not a personal issue that only a handful of victims are having problems with, but a social one. It’s not a bout of paranoia caused by a story I heard from a friend – it’s the fact that every time I’ve waited for a lift in the early hours of the morning on my own, I’ve been intimidated by someone on the street. Sometimes approached, sometimes groped, and sometimes threateningly. Unfortunately whenever this happens , it’s been a man who’s intimidated me, so forgive me if I sigh and say, “I’m sick of drunk men’s attitudes late at night”; because I am. But I also know that not all men are to blame.
If I tell you a story about an incident where I’ve felt unsafe at night, and you respond with, “yeah, but not all men are like that”, you’re undermining the purpose of me telling you. On almost every occasion when I’ve spoken to men my age about the street harassment I’ve received, they’ve been surprised. I talk about it to make more people aware of how scary it is, and to have my story swept aside by telling me “not all men are like that” is insulting.
Stop using the phrase. No one has ever said all men are the problem. In future, instead of leaping to your own defence, try to help the victim – offer to wait with them if you’re both out late, or offer to call so that they might be less likely to be approached. But don’t dismiss their story by trying to clear away an accusation that was never made.