For #BlackLivesMatter, there’s #AllLivesMatter. For #Pride, there’s #Pridefall. And, of course, for #MeToo, there’s #NotAllMen.
Why is it that, for every twenty-first-century equality movement, there seems to be an equally branded anti-movement?
For this article, I’ve chosen to focus on the infamous ‘not all men’ phrase, mainly because it’s easier to understand why it exists.
With both people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community there’s a clear minority, with the ONS reporting that, in 2018, 94.6 per cent of the UK population aged 16 or over identified as heterosexual or straight. The 2011 census, also conducted by the ONS, found that 86 per cent of people in England and Wales are white.
However, women have never been regarded as an overall minority, with the same 2011 census finding that they made up 51 per cent of the population in England and Wales. Personally, I find that this makes the opposition to women’s rights more interesting.
Do people feel more justified criticising pushes for equality because they think that women already have an equal footing in society?
Before looking at the topic more thoroughly, it’s important to talk about what #NotAllMen is. Despite what it looks like, it’s actually used ironically by feminists as a critique of male deflections when presented with cases of sexual harassment /assault.
When describing anything from the minor inconveniences to traumatic incidents, women online find it easier to refer to their oppressors as men in general (this might have something to do with Twitter’s cap on a word count).
This isn’t usually meant to criticise every man in society, but many seem to take personal offence to this minor detail in a woman’s story, calling attention away from the issue at hand and likely sneaking in the phrase ‘not all men’ somewhere.
Although its use as a hashtag is usually satirical, #NotAllMen reflects a very real sentiment. But why do some men feel a need to defend themselves when they haven’t been personally called into question?
Some surface-level analysis would probably point towards most of these men being quite young and, as a result, being quick to anger and slow to understand that they aren’t on trial. However, a deeper look leads us back to the way that women have been treated by society since the beginning.
Where racism may have been avoided through lack of contact with other continents, and variable sexuality could easily be denied, every culture throughout history has had a past with sexism, with most opting to place men above women in practice. Whatever the reason for this, women quickly became known as property to be owned rather than as people with their own aspirations. Although this presents an archaic world view, it only really stopped being the case legally a few decades ago. As a result, many sexist ways of thinking still exist, and have so far proven difficult to shake.
The idea of women being self-governing and, in turn, accusatory of men may subconsciously trigger resentment. This may be enough to manifest itself in the need to comment online when another man is accused. After all, with the benefit of anonymity, what is there to lose?
Similar things can be said of both people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community, but what makes feminism a fascinating example is the sheer number of examples of men coming forward to needlessly defend themselves. In my experience, it’s not quite as common to read ‘not all white people’ or ‘not all straight people’ online. Men specifically feel a need to react because it’s primarily men who are accused and convicted of sexual assault and harassment.
Speaking as a man myself, there is likely a more personal reason for this kind of reaction.
When vulgar assaults are carried out by powerful men against vulnerable women, such as those accused in the #MeToo movement, it can force a horrible moment of introspection. In other words, a question arises; what separates me from the men in the news?
Similar introspection isn’t necessarily evoked from an attack on people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community, probably because these attacks are something that we’ve sadly become used to hearing about for decades now. On the other hand, the movement for women’s suffrage happened way back in the early twentieth century, so for it to return with such a vengeance in such a short space of time against people we’ve held as idols for years is definitely going to cause some men to question themselves and their conduct.
I know I have.
And even when you conclude that you haven’t done anything to be guilty about, it’s still a harrowing thought that you could have done. You could have done those things, so why didn’t you? Scientifically, there’s no real difference between you and the people who committed those crimes. They’re made up of the same atoms that you are. Sure, they might be rich, but plenty of poor men have been rapists as well. A lot of them are old, but you could just do those things later on.
Imagine someone coming back from the future to tell you that you became the next Harvey Weinstein.
This kind of raw introspection can be too much for some so, instead of voicing their concerns with the women in their lives, and instead of trying to understand more about what their world looks like, they lash out. They take these accusations personally because, to them, it is personal. They have to be right because, if they aren’t, what does it say about them as an individual?
It all comes down to a question that’s plagued humanity since the beginning. What does it mean to be a good person? Followed immediately by … Am I a good person?
The truth is that there really isn’t any fixed barrier between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people. All it comes down to is whether or not you’re willing to be better. But, ultimately, if we continue to put the feeling of being right over actually doing right, we’ll just keep making the same mistakes.