It’s a pretty normal morning. I’m online, cruising through my social media feeds, just getting my feet wet before I start working for the day. I click open an article with a headline announcing that yet another man has been removed from his high profile job due to multiple allegations of sexual harassment. I roll my eyes as I read through the story, muttering expletives about creepy, entitled men and the damage they cause. Before I move on, I leave a comment under the news outlet’s post that contained the article.
Men need to do better. This shit is getting ridiculous.
My appetite for news and friends’ status updates satisfied for the moment, I dive into my freelance work. Later, when I come up for air, I see that someone responded to my comment on the article. It’s a man, of course, and his reply is so cliched, I actually chuckle under my breath as I read it.
I think what you meant to say is that some men need to to better.
Spoiler alert: I meant what I said the first time.
And, anyway, there are certainly many instances where its imperative that we speak with measured precision, but Twitter ain’t one of them.
Now, I could respond with my usual snark (and I have, falling down a deep, dark rabbit hole that burns through precious minutes of my life that I will never get back, though I’m often laughing hard enough to send tears streaming down my face at how upset my little old vagina-fueled opinions are making this random male stranger), but my newly drafted 2018 protocol instructs me to immediately delete comments and/or block accounts, because who needs that kind of negativity in their lives?
If y’all have Twitter accounts older than a few years, you’ll remember the first time a movement similar to #metoo swept through the online platform. It was called #yesallwomen, and it felt pretty powerful to read through the stories of women who had faced sexual harassment and abuse and to have an opportunity to share my own tales. The point of the hashtag was to illustrate that all women had these kinds stories, and though it didn’t cause quite the widespread cultural upheaval that we’re seeing today, it did give a name to a new kind of argument: #notallmen.
What does this often used, but rarely delineated tactic mean, you ask? Honestly, this is classic re-centering, pure and simple.
Here’s how it works:
Instead of discussing my actual concern–the culture of men using their physical strength and professional or social influence to harass, assault, brutalize, and rape women–the dude decided to take issue with a matter of semantics in a blatant attempt to turn the focus away from a worthwhile conversation, and onto a much less important matter. We then start arguing back and forth over my choice of words instead of talking about the issue at hand. Well, not really, since I now block with unadulterated glee, my maniacal laughter waking my dogs from their mid-morning naps. Come at me, faceless, fragile bros of social media! See how many fucks I don’t give!
Spoiler alert: it’s a great deal.
What’s endlessly interesting to me is how many men feel the need to interject in this way the instant a woman utters the shocking statement that men have a lot of work to do to reverse the damage toxic masculinity has wrought on our culture. And, honestly, this tendency perfectly proves my point that men–including the one above who just attempted to school a female he’s never met before–need to do better.
Re-centering an argument is a way to silence an opinion you don’t want to hear. That’s the motivation behind a #notallmen argument that insists we focus on the shiny object produced out thin air instead of talking about rape culture, rampant sexism, and how we can make this country a safer, healthier place for women and girls.
In other words, fellas, if your response to a legitimate concern is to whip out your trusty #notallmen retort, you need to reassess…unless of course you also take issue with the flagrant overuse of other generalizations. If I said, for example, dogs don’t like cats or Americans like watching baseball, would you find a way to condescendingly respond with not all dogs or not all Americans? I’m guessing probably not.
We tend to speak in generalizations, and we rarely find a reason to slow our interlocutor’s roll, unless we don’t agree with her. And when the discussion centers around sexism, you can expect to be called out for daring to besmirch the collective good name of men, the poor darlings. But knowledge is power, and now that we see #notallmen for what it is–a way to silence speech men don’t value or want to hear–we can keep on keeping on with our bad selves.
And, seriously, use the hell out of those delete and block functions, ladies. You will not believe the absolute joy it brings…