Here’s Why You Should Stop Saying “Not All Men”

It’s more than just taking the focus away from the issue

Here’s Why You Should Stop Saying “Not All Men”
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

It’s more than just taking the focus away from the issue

Trigger warning: This article consists of discussions of sexual abuse and racism that might not be suitable for all readers. Please read with care, fearless community.

A few days back, I was having a discussion with a male colleague about the most frightening moment in our lives. He told me about a time when he was about to have an accident while driving his family car with his father. The terrain was hilly, and a recent shower had made the roads slippery. His heart started pounding in his ears, and he gave up attempting to control the car — he was so convinced that they were about to die. By sheer coincidence, the car swerved a full 180 degrees turn before stopping just ahead of a cliff edge. It took him a full two minutes to bring his breathing back to normal and drive back home.

When he asked me, an incident that happened a few years back came to my mind.

My #MeToo story

I was in New Delhi, walking back from a class.


A quick glance at my watch told me it was 10 pm.

The road to my home passed through a deserted alleyway — poorly-lit, with a few stray dogs looking up sullenly at me for a while, then quietly skulking away. There was a right turn ahead, leading into an even dingier lane. In it, a few paces ahead, seated on a parked motorbike, were two men.

Their heads turned in my direction as soon as they heard me; their eyes sizing me up.

It was difficult to see clearly in the darkness, but in my mind, I saw lust.

I saw craving, the intent to hurt.

My fist automatically clutched around the keys in my pocket, ready to snatch them out and poke them in the eye if they dared to come closer.

But a voice inside my head told me that if they did indeed decide to act on their whim, it would be like fighting a losing battle, even with my keys.

Even with that pocket knife hidden away inside my bag.

The voice inside my head told me that all was lost.

My terrified brain went overboard, already imagining the newspaper headlines for the next day —

“Girl from North East India found raped and killed in the capital of the country.”

It didn’t sound very pleasant.

I swore to myself I was going to do my best not to let that vivid vision become a reality.

Stealthily, I reached into my bag and slid my knife out. It was carefully wrapped in a piece of cloth, but I wouldn’t need that to dull the sharpness now.

My heart thumping wildly against my chest, I walked on.

The two men were only a few meters ahead. I didn’t dare look up.

I could feel their eyes on me — all the nudging, pointing and passing snide comments to each other they did strengthening my resolve that come what may, I wouldn’t go down without a fight.

I looked up and caught the eyes of one of them. He returned my gaze with a lascivious smirk.

The ordeal was about to begin.

I gritted my teeth and walked on, staying as far from them as it was humanly possible without getting off the road.

The stouter of the two called out to me in Hindi. “Aye Chinese Maal,” he said. “Hamari taraf bhi dekh liya kar.”

(Hey *insert degrading adjective* girl from China; look at us sometimes too.)

He called me Chinese because of the epicanthic folds in my eyes that is common in people from the North-Eastern part of the country. In New Delhi and its whereabouts, girls from my home town are viewed as “cheap” and “easy” because of our Mongoloid features.

The remark was met with guffaws from the other man — raucous, grating laughter that shattered the silence of the night into a million shards.

And with that, it was over.

I was past them, already breaking into a run to get away.

I could still feel their eyes on my receding form; my palpitating heart hadn’t yet calmed down. But the worst was over, I felt it. I pocketed the knife again and walked back home; hoping my face would not betray how shaken up I felt inside.

Only when I closed the door of my house behind me did I heave a sigh of relief.

Even now, more than three years later, I can’t help but be grateful to my stars when I wonder how different life would have panned out, had those two men decided to take advantage of my helplessness that fateful night.

The same argument

My male friend found this incident terrifying.

“Damn, that is scary,” he said. “I am so relieved you came out safe. But, you know, not all men are like that.”

There was it — the “Not all men” argument. And I am tired of hearing some form of it over and over again.

Not all men rape. Not all men pass comments. Not all men share nudes. Not all men break your heart.

YES! We get it.

Not all men are rapists. Of course, they are not.

But, every woman I know has faced some form of sexual abuse or another in her life.

What is your answer to that?

If you think your sister or your girlfriend is an exception, then I am sure you are not talking to them enough.

Here is an example to help you understand what women mean when they say they are scared of men (and why they cannot specify “Not all men” all the time).

My father is not a rapist

My father is a respectable man. He has lived a life teaching students at the university and has successfully raised two children. He has been married for 29 years with my mother, and they have carved out a happy life for themselves.

My father will never touch a woman without her consent. I know that because he is my father and I know him.

But, if a woman of my age entered an empty train compartment where my father was the only passenger, she would be scared.

That is not because my father looks scary, but, because she has lived a life that has taught her to be scared of strange men in empty train compartments. She has had experiences in her past that has taught her to be wary of entering empty spaces with unknown men.

She knows not all men rape. She is sure her father wouldn’t rape. But, she has no way of knowing my father wouldn’t do the same.

And that is why she would be terrified of my father.

Strawman’s argument

Wikipedia defines “Strawman’s argument” as —

A straw man (or strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent.

Do you get the picture now? When women say men have harassed them, they are not implying that all men rape. But enough men do, and that is the problem.

When a friend comes and tells you, “A stray dog attacked me on the streets today”, would you sympathise with him and hear his story, or would you tell him, “Not all stray dogs attack people”?

That is how insane the “Not all men” argument sounds like to us!

A life of privilege

As women, we understand that all men don’t rape. Neither are they misogynists and nor do they go around committing crimes against women. But here is one thing all men do — they reap the benefits of a patriarchal system.

Even if they themselves are not actively taking part in propagating patriarchy, they go around life wrapped up in the protective shield of the privilege granted to them by the gender they were born into.

Right from when they are in school, girls are always taught about how to protect themselves. Their hairstyles and clothes are “corrected”, and they are encouraged to dress in a way that is “not provocative”. Each time they go out, they have to worry about what they wear and will it somehow end up getting them targeted.

Men have the luxury of stepping out in whatever they wish. And still, most men do not understand the simple distinction between getting provoked and being provoked.

If a man gets turned on by seeing a girl in a short skirt, it only shows how fucked up his mentality is, and says absolutely nothing about her character.

The bottom line

“Not all men” is no longer an argument. It is an excuse for men to not let go of the privilege they are so used to.

All men do not oppress women. But, in a patriarchal society, women are oppressed. And the benefits of this society are reaped by all men, not a single woman.

This is what is meant by “Yes, all men”. And that is why you should understand that saying “Not all men” serves no purpose.

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