Why #NotAllMen Misses the Point
To my fellow men,
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I’m sure you are as heartbroken as I am about the killings at UC Santa Barbara by a troubled young man with a misogynistic manifesto. Heartbroken for the community, for the families who lost loved ones, and even for the young man who felt like there was no other way.
Now I’m not much of a “Tweeter” (is that the right word?), but I heard that a group of us has taken to defending ourselves on Twitter with the hashtag #NotAllMen. They want to say that that #NotAllMen sexually assault women. #NotAllMen expect a date to be reciprocated with sex. #NotAllMen harass women for the way they do or don’t look at us. They want to say that we’re not like those other people, that we respect women as equals, not demean them as prizes or products.
Let me ask this: When did it become normal to congratulate ourselves for not doing something horrific and degrading? When did it become appropriate to prioritize our reputations over the well-being of others?
How was our first reaction not outrage at any hate speech towards women? How are we not ashamed if just a few of us act with less than even basic decency and respect toward another human being? How do we not mourn for those whose lives are broken by hate?
#NotAllMen misses the point for a lot of reasons, but the point I find particularly disturbing is that its intent is to distance most of us as far as possible from the atrocious behavior of a few. That excuse has been used before. We’re not like those other people. We’re better educated or more well-informed or particularly enlightened, and we want everybody to know it.
Of course, we know it doesn’t work that way. It was and is the deafening silence of white churches as much as anything that continues to hinder the work of racial justice in the United States. The lesson we are still learning is that silence can be a powerful assent to injustice.
By distancing ourselves with a simple hashtag, we’re trying to place ourselves just far enough away that we might avoid accusation. Yet we still stand close enough to be witnesses. Our words of self-defense reveal our complicity. Would we say #NotAllMen if we didn’t already know that #YesSomeMen and maybe even #MoreMenThanWeThink partake in a culture of violence against women?
You might accuse me of lumping us all together in one group falsely, and you probably should. The experiences of a straight, white man like myself will be radically different for those of a gay Latino. I bear a deeper responsibility, knowing that people with the sort of privilege that I have assault and harass women and go unchecked. But even that misses the point.
The point is that we have now found it convenient — all of us — to wash our hands of the responsibility for anything we do not directly contribute to. I bear no responsibility for the homeless woman who lives in my neighborhood. The folks who are being forced out of their homes due to gentrification are not my problem. I don’t own a gun, so the thousands who die from gun violence are somebody else’s worry.
We find it easier to retreat than to step up. It is easier to live behind a wall of limited liability than to face the pain in the world.
I am not willing to accept that the most we can expect of ourselves is the bare minimum. If we believe we are bound by a common humanity, that we are linked in “an inescapable network of mutuality,” as Dr. King told us, then absolving ourselves of the sins of others isn’t enough. Avoiding blame isn’t enough to heal us. Distancing ourselves won’t end cycles of injustice, whether in the form of sexism, racism, or any other division. #NotAllMen can’t break an oppressive culture towards women.
It is a tale as old as human history. Cain asks the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And yet ever after, our sisters’ and brothers’ wounds cry out to us. The implied answer is of course, “Yes, we are!” By distancing ourselves from the pain and suffering borne by others, particularly women, we are saying loud and clear that “you’re on your own, and we’re of no help.”
By refusing to distance ourselves from the pain of misogyny, we run the very real risk of having to look into ourselves and confront our own complicity in a culture of violence. We will have to examine the ways in which we unknowingly benefit from a system that causes pain for millions. Refusing to distance ourselves can only be messy, but it is also the only way to seek reconciliation. Jesus knew well that it is only by entering into the suffering of another, not by avoiding it, that healing and wholeness are possible.
So it’s time to take responsibility, not duck blame. It’s time to seek wholeness, not avoid brokenness. It’s time to love and accept the mess that comes with it.