“Yeah, but not all men are like that.”
I am sitting in my kitchen across from a good friend, one I consider myself to be fairly close to. We have embarked on a long-winded discussion about the struggles women are enduring all across the world. Struggles that include anything from a crude remark at work to rape at the hands of a stranger. Issues that nearly every woman I know has dealt with at least once in her lifetime. And this is the comment that comes. The following feeling is a familiar one, not only to me but to women everywhere. Exhaustion, disappointment, sadness – the list goes on. If you consider yourself a feminist, it is almost certain that this scenario has played over in your life (perhaps many times). You muster the strength to debate your close friends and family, dive into the facts and statistics, passionately share your personal experiences. Then this all too familiar counter-argument stops you dead in your tracks.
Not all men.
It is a deceivingly simple argument. In fact, it’s very hard to argue with at all. As it stands, without context, it’s true, and as an optimist, I tend to cling to statements like that. However, instead of being a light at the end of the tunnel, it shuts the door to all further discussion. It negates everything you have shared and experienced with men who have committed acts of violence against women, and is meant to shut down policies that fight those acts. Employers can’t possibly eliminate physical contact in the workplace because ‘not all men’ are perpetrators. Colleges can’t possibly enact stricter campus policies because ‘not all men’ would take advantage of an intoxicated young woman. We can’t possibly expect men to hold each other to a higher standard of conduct because ‘not all men’ need to. You get the picture. As women, we should simply count our blessings with the men that don’t commit violence against us, regardless of whether they hold others accountable or not.
Within the last few months, I have begun to hear this argument wrapped in a different package. I have seen women who claim to be feminists using this argument in disguise, pretending it has different connotations. Within the BlackLivesMatter movement, many are having the same conversations we as women know so well, simply from another angle. So many of these conversations are ending the same way.
Not all police.
This realization truly struck me. For as long as I have heard “not all men,” BIPOC have been hearing not all police. The exhaustion I feel after hearing it is only a fraction of the exhaustion the BIPOC community feels after centuries of dealing with this same issue simply framed a different way. In order to be the best ally I can be, I had to confront this parallel, which we must be conscious of if we are to claim that we fight for women’s rights. Intersectional feminism is non-negotiable. Right now, our sisters of color are crying out for our help, and all some can respond with is ‘not all police.’ This statement simply translates to the idea that, as BIPOC, they should count their blessings with the police that don’t commit violence against them, regardless of whether they hold each other accountable or not.
We cannot accept this. We cannot allow this rhetoric to thrive in our communities; it is designed to shut down policies that could lead to real change. This deceptively simple argument that has crept back into our discussions thrives on our fear of change. It is our ability to empathize that can turn into our biggest strength.
During this month, so many of our communities, including BlackLivesMatter and LGBTQIA+, are standing proud in who they are, and we must help carry that past just one designated month. These movements are not a trend; the struggles these communities deal with every day are not a trend; their cultures are not a trend. It is now our duty to understand that we may never understand, but we stand together today and every day.