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“Not all men are like that!”

October 9, 2013

It’s the new feminist pet hate: men who say “Not all men are like that.”

It’s a comment that does, indeed, get said a lot. It gets said in response to Tumblr posts on men taking up too much space. It gets said on videos about catcalling. It gets everywhere and it’s starting to tick people off, seen as over sensitive and defensive.

But before you get ticked off, the first question you should always ask yourself is “Why?” The reason why men feel the need to tell feminist women that not all men are like “that” (“that” being whatever character trait is under assassination by the original speaker) is quite simple: they do not know that this is not what is being said.

I don’t know whether you, the reader, are a man and woman, neither, both or somewhere in between. Chances are that if you’re a man and you’ve come across feminist points at all, the first thought through your head may have been “But I’m not like that…” which swiftly gets translated to the more general “Not all men are like that.”

There are two points at work here; one is that not everyone who writes politically is attempting to account for the entirety of human experience. They will pick the best (or worst) examples of a phenomenon they have identified to draw attention to a wider problem, in this case, sexism. Therefore, to say “Men aren’t all like that” misses that point and it sounds like it’s intended to stunt the conversation even if it isn’t.

If you have to say “Men aren’t like that”, then you must be reasonably inexperienced with the feminism, as otherwise you’d a) Know it was a pet hate and b) Get sick and tired of saying it, because you’d have to say it a lot. If you’re not familiar with feminism right now, you’re probably not fully aware of the issues regarding women’s rights in the West, because these are hidden issues. It is irritating to feminist women because it shows you are not educated on the subject, therefore making it difficult to talk to you on the right level. Plus, it confirms their fears that they are fighting an uphill struggle against widespread indifference and complete obliviousness.

Women live, currently, in the world of men because they have no choice. They get on with whatever they need to get on with, working alongside men. The old-fashioned idea of the feminist who shuns men and separates herself off so she doesn’t have to see them was always a fantasy; much of the most cringeworthy “feminist” comments you’ll hear will be from women who very much live in this unisex world and are venting their various frustrations with it, some of which are clearly more personal than they are political. Feminists (“They look just like you!”) don’t have to be told that “not all men are like that”, because if they genuinely thought that men were all like that, it would be impossible for them to function. Let’s disregard for a moment what people say about the opposite sex, using the old rule “Actions speak louder than words,” since people talk a right load of old crap.

OK, so I’m done addressing the perpetrators, now. Time to address the other side, the feminists themselves.

Firstly, it’s a tad peculiar to make a stink about concerns of this ilk. Some of the men who use the “Not All Men Are Like That” comment are not attempting a defence of themselves. There is an accusation that men who say this are “making excuses”, but that doesn’t make sense. To make excuses, you have to think of yourself as guilty in the first place. If you were to think that men are making excuses for each other, you’d be quite wrong – it is primarily a self interest that drives our defence mechanisms. They are actually disassociating themselves from those they know are guilty, because they feel uncomfortable, like they have been unfairly judged. That is the real psychology behind the comment. If there were truly no doubt as to who was being criticised (i.e., the individuals responsible) then by and large, men would feel absolutely no need to mention it.

Sometimes, it isn’t about the speaker’s thoughts about other men, but their thoughts about the women speaking; it is occasionally meant as reassurance. It may be unnecessary reassurance, but regardless, the correct response to reassurance is not to say “FUCK YOU AND YOUR DENIAL AND YOUR DEFENSIVENESS.” People tend to find that sort of approach… Off-putting. Let’s just say it does nothing to challenge the unhelpful stereotypes surrounding people who like to discuss women’s issues.

As I said earlier, you have to think carefully about why people all make the same comment and ask the same question over and over again. It is lazy to imagine that it’s just “misogyny” that drives behaviour that you detest. It suggests that you don’t know what misogyny is. Misogyny in our society is expressed, not as a bald and simple concept along the lines of “Women are inferior”, but rather in dribs and drabs, bread crumb trails of misinformation and cumbersome, insensitive self-expression. Rather than thinking that the men who say “not all men are like that” are attempting to derail a conversation by ignoring the problem, consider that the sheer number of men that express this thought reflects the amount of perceived need to express it.

Think about it. Most people are reasonable,to some extent If a large number of them follow one mode of thought independently of each other (indeed, oddly enough these particular men seem to be under the impression that their point of view is unique), then that suggests that they have good reason to think it. If men think it is necessary to suggest that Men Are Not All Like That, isn’t it conceivable that there have been far, far too many examples of feminist sentiment that suggests otherwise?

It’s a lot easier to do that you might think. You see, after a certain point, you might think that you can feel free to never again add the words Of Course Men Are Not All Like That to the end of your blog writing or vlog. Unfortunately, the wonder of the internet brings in new audiences every day, tidal waves of people who do not know you. They cannot possibly know that you do not think that Men Are All That Way, and will generally judge you by the first piece they see. If they do not like what they see, they will not seek out another, so will never receive clarity on the nature of your views. It may seem boring to highlight that Not All Men Are Like That every time you write or film, but if it does, then something fundamental has not been understood.

You would have to lack imagination to not know how to make it obvious how you feel about men when you write about them. I would have thought it would be intuitive, as I believe prejudice will out and reason will out. It’s not a question of simply saying the words, any more that saying “I believe in equality for women” is about saying the words. You have to prove that you don’t think that Men Are All Like That, every single time you make a piece. Not because you should be concerned that your reader will automatically assume that you are misandrous if you don’t, but rather because if you don’t find some way of expressing the point, your work will suffer.

It is simply not the symbol of a well-reasoned piece when it appears to be prejudice. You must be able to account for the eventuality before it comes, and in the particular instance, there is not excuse. Whereas you can easily offend a group of people you have no experience with, once you know that your work is likely to rub a group of people up the wrong way, it should not only be standard but quite easy to avoid doing so; you know what they think and how. Those who refuse to adjust their speech so as not to offend are usually nothing but stubborn people who think there is some value to righteous anger, even though it always does more harm than good, steadily eating away at diplomacy. While radical ideas, and the stout expression of them, may be fun to debate in your feminist society, posting them online as facts just looks… Mad.

There are numerous ways of proving that you do not have a prejudice with words: a male example contrary to your general point; a male perspective; a counter-argument against yourself; acceptance of the validity of a counter-argument from someone else; details of particular groups and circumstances that may mitigate / make specific and more accessible the issues at hand; historical or cultural context; or a basic understanding / ability to speculate on the psychology of those you perceive to have behaved wrongly. If your piece does not come with at least one of these elements, it is likely to be lazy, second rate, knee-jerk, one-sided speculation. There’s too much of that as it is, and it’s so easy to avoid.

In the case of a feminist, obviously the easiest way to avoid this is to write the alternative point of view; the man’s view. If you can’t, you’ve no business writing or speaking in public, let alone calling yourself a feminist. There’s no way to legitimately claim that change in gender politics needs to happen if you don’t even know why things have gone wrong in the first place. The only way you can do that is to appear to understand men, the way they think, and why. Largely, our differences are cultural and we soon separate off into our different gender groups, widening the gap with every passing year. The less time we spend talking about why men and women behave the way they do, the more insurmountable that gap gets.

I can’t stress enough how important it is not to alienate your opposite sex audience before you have so much as begun to make your point. The most common manner in which I have seen this happen is when someone casually drops some wild theory into the conversation without bothering to elaborate, then hastily retracts when questioned. If you’re going to make a unique and controversial point in public, you’d better be damned sure you know it inside out, including all the things the other group might take umbrage at. It isn’t that difficult to empathise with the opposite gender because it usually involves nothing more onerous than listening.

Listening involves not shrugging off the complaints of men who say “Not all men are like that” no matter how plaintive they seem. It’s worth embracing the possibility that if people start to say “Not all men are like that”, then you’ve missed something, because it should be obvious that you know this. No academic book on gender studies, no well-researched Guardian article and no scientist guest speaker on Woman’s Hour has needed to be told that Not All Men Are Like That, because they have already made it clear, indirectly, that they know this, by being obviously well-informed.

However anonymous I am and however hidden my gender is online, when I make a feminist point, no one ever tells me that Not All Men Are Like That. The obvious reason for this is that the way I naturally write is not likely to make it seem that I think this, because I don’t. Unfortunately, I have noticed on Tumblr in particular that the same “feminists” who claim that they know that “Not all men are like that” and that it’s boring to keep having to be told this, on their very next post reblog something which stands out in stark contrast to their insistence that they know.

I want to turn it all on its head. If you have to say “I know not all men are like that,” then you’ve probably made a mistake somewhere. Go back and check you haven’t let your rage hijack your work. People don’t make criticisms for no reason, they make them because they think there’s something to criticise. A comment on the work itself, as opposed to a personally abusive comment intended to scare you off, should be taken seriously even if you don’t agree because it is an observation on your work that may be legitimate – all the more so if it is a view shared by many. You can’t please everybody, but if you can only ever please one half of the world’s population regardless of how popular you get, being the one to cry prejudice is as ironic as it is cloistered. Not to mention overly sensitive and defensive.

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