An Open Letter: Not All Men

This morning, Democratic senator Al Franken resigned from his senate seat amidst allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior.  I listened to his words, about how he is not admitting fault, and my heart hoped that it wasn't true, but at this point, hope is pretty dingy.  I nearly cried as he gave up his senate seat.

I was talking to a friend a couple of nights ago about how angry I am, and how disappointing it continues to be that people are surprised by how utterly shitty our patriarchal, misogynistic culture is for women to live in.  It started with us talking about the fantastic Welcome to Hell video from last week's Saturday Night Live, and this is what she said:
I know it's nothing new and I've known all this shit for a long time, but sometimes I get so so so mad about it all.  Like the keys in the parking lot thing.  I hate that we have to do that.  I have done it since I could drive, and like, planned what I would do if someone attacked me... ...men on my Facebook are like, oh shit did you guys know about this?  YES AS A MATTER OF FACT.  And of course now that men are learning about it, it legitimizes everything.  Like millions and billions of women throughout history wasn't enough.
I've been feeling so unsettled and aggravated because of the atmosphere of the world at large, and this morning, I posted something on Facebook about it.  This is what I posted:
I'm so fucking disappointed.  Because Al Franken's resignation is an example before the blind eyes of people like Roy Moore.  Because it is so frustrating that no matter how many women come forward there are still so many men in power, and other men who refuse to hold them accountable.  Because change is happening but it isn't and we still live with this fucking rape culture misogynistic BS that makes me glad I don't have daughters but scared I won't be able to negate the lessons it will try to teach my sons.  I'm just... ANGRY. 
Several hours later, I got a private message from a male friend about my post.  I've removed any identifying information, but here are some snippets of what the message said:
"I understand what you are saying, however, this post comes off as a blanket statement against men in general.  It was a bit hurtful."
"I have never nor would ever coerce or offer inappropriate remarks to any woman.  I've been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments and ACTIONS from women in authority and yes occasionally from men.  Could it be nurture over nature?"
I'm not posting this to shame anybody.  I sat there at my desk for at least 10 minutes, typed in and erased about 10 different replies to this person.  I took a step back because I knew that it wasn't going to be civil, then my mind went where it always does - to writing down how I feel and why I feel this way, and backing it up with the words of some other smart and succinct women and men.  So, here's my open letter to this man, and to any other men who read my post this morning, or any woman's post about the current climate, #yesallwomen, or #metoo, and felt the same way, or who have been tempted to talk about how not all men are bad.


Kind Sir,

I want to apologize for the fact that you felt hurt by my post, but I just can't bring myself to do it.  It's nothing personal.  I don't dislike you, and part of me doesn't blame you for your response because I think a lot of guys really don't know better.  I’ve had a really hard time responding at all because I feel like you’re missing the point entirely.

First of all, my post was not a blanket statement.  I didn't write that "ALL MEN ARE IRRESPONSIBLE SEXUAL PREDATORS."  I wrote that there are a lot of men in power who abuse that power.  That's true.  I'm not entirely certain why you chose to take it so personally.  If you haven't abused your power, or taken advantage of your inherent male privileged to oppress women, there is nothing for you to feel hurt about.  However, now that you have told me it made you feel bad, let's talk a bit.  Let me ask you a few questions.  

When you learned to drive, did you learn to hold your keys between your fingers as you walked to your car at night in case someone tried to grab you? 

I did.  

Have you been sent random photos of men’s penises because somehow this has become an okay thing to do in our culture?  

I have.  

Have you been flirted with, then when you turned someone down, been told they didn’t want you anyway because you are fat/ugly/a whore?  

I have.  

Have you made less money because you are a woman?  

I have.  

Have you been discounted at your job because you have the wrong genitals, and had someone needed to hear the exact same answer from your male boss?  

I have.  

Have you sat in the ER and held a woman's hand while she has a rape kit done, and is given antibiotics to try and make sure she doesn't catch anything from it?

I have.

Have you ever thought how it's lucky you never got raped, because really, that's all it is is luck?  

I have.  Often.

This isn’t a question of nature vs. nurture.  This is a question of whether you care enough to try and understand how exhausting and scary it is to grow up as a woman in this culture.  There is a systemic issue of power and sex which involves men.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen in reverse but that is not systemic and it’s also not what I’m bringing attention to.  

Your message smacks of the “not all men” argument, and the thing is that we already KNOW it’s not all men, of course it's not.  That's missing the point though, the point is that it IS all women.  ALL women in the US are growing up in an environment where this is commonplace behavior that happens to them every day.  Where I'd conservatively estimate that 80% (at least) of my women friends have been raped, sexually assaulted, or harassed.  Where I get called babe, honey, sweetie, and dear by men who don't know me.  Where my best friend's male coworkers put their hands on her leg, or got close enough to rub up against her in the copy room when there was plenty of room not to.  Where the idea is alive and well that women somehow invite rape when they choose to look pretty or wear a skirt or some makeup.  Where articles and news channels continue to use the phrase "non-consensual sex" when we all know what they are ACTUALLY talking about is rape.  Where a pedophile is in the senate, and a rapist is in the White House.

As soon as “not all men” gets thrown into conversation, it’s shutting down a valid conversation that could be used to make things better.  Here’s a good explanation of that:
“If I’m talking about rape statistics and you say, "not all men," we’re no longer talking about the horrifying amount of people raped. We’re talking about whether or not everyone is a rapist (spoiler alert, we both know they’re not). 
If I’m talking about catcalling and you say not all men, we stop talking about how men on the street feel entitled to talk about my body, we’re talking about how sometimes men that I walk past don’t harass me.  
It changes the conversation from something that is happening to women that shouldn’t be to the fact that not every man does this, so we shouldn’t be talking about it. 
Maybe not all men do these things, but enough do these things that I feel comfortable saying "men" when I talk about these issues. 
Because it’s not just a single man or a few men, it’s a lot of men. 
And it might not be every single one of you, but it’s enough that these are consistent problems. If there are just a few shitty men doing these things, catcalling and talking down to and assaulting women, why is it such a universal thing that most women can relate to? It might not be all men, but all women experience these kinds of things. 
If the first thing you choose to do when a woman talks about how men have treated her in the past and how it seems like a systematic problem is to say, "not all men," you’re enabling men to keep doing that. 
Saying "not all men" makes you as much a part of the problem as the men she’s talking about.” source

Part of the problem with that argument is that as a part of the group who engages in the coercive and inappropriate things, you can’t be the one deciding what is coercive or inappropriate.  Are you really asking to be recognized for the fact that you have managed to act like a decent person and NOT assault anyone?  That should just be a given.  You are a man living in a patriarchal society, so you’ve been told you’re right and you’re entitled.  This isn’t your fault.  It’s a function of our society.  But you can still recognize it as a problem, and if you don't do anything to change it or make it better for our kids, that part IS your fault.
"Some men rush in immediately to remind us all that not all men are rapists and harassers. And of course they aren't, but that doesn't change the fact that toxic masculinity exists, that rape culture exists, that we live in world where sexual harassment and abuse of women at the hands of men has been normalized. It doesn't matter that not all of them do — it matters that too many of them do. Why isn't that enough?" source (and an excellent article I'd highly recommend.)
Imagine if you are a woman who has been raped, and instead of hearing "I'm sorry that happened to you, we need to work to make sure that never happens again" what you hear is "Well, not ALL men are rapists."  How do you think that impacts the healing process? 

There is an inherent problem with your response to my anger and outrage and pain being that YOU have never done anything wrong or said anything inappropriate.  Aside from the fact that you are taking my feelings and making them about you instead, you are coming from the standpoint of being part of the group that has experienced privilege and entitlement, and benefited from the culture that tells boys and men that all of this is okay, even expected.  Boys just being boys. I don't think you've ever done anything on purpose, but I also think that it's not always easy for men to identify behavior that wasn't okay, especially when outside forces have been telling them it IS okay for their entire lives.

I have been in a similar position when a friend who is a person of color has told me that my comments were problematic.  I felt angry, and I felt accused and I felt like defending myself.  But do you know what?  It was not my place to do that.  It WAS my place to listen to her, to examine my behavior and attitudes and language, and to figure out how I could do better for people who are being discounted, marginalized and treated poorly instead of somehow making it about me. 

Now is not the time for men to speak and to cry out "not me!"  Now is the time for men to listen, and for good men to reply with "I hear you. I see you.  I believe you.  I support you."  To ask the questions that need to be asked - what can I do to cultivate change?

The mere fact that you chose to private message your feelings to me shows me that you didn’t feel comfortable saying this in a public comment, which is probably because you knew that it would not be well received.  Perhaps there is a reason for that, and that is something to think about.

I hope that you will take this not as an attack, but as an effort to explain to you why your response was problematic.  I hope that instead of choosing to get defensive, you will take this opportunity to do some reading and some thinking, educate yourself, and decide to offer your support to women instead of just defending yourself against an accusation that never happened.



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