Woman: I’ve been shouted at in the street, cat called in the restaurant, groped in the bus, assaulted in the train and molested in a party.
Man: Oh god! How bad these men are! However dear, not all men are like this. There are many men who do not behave in such a terrible way, at least I do not.
It is a fact that not all men are inherently abusive or dangerous. There are many men who support, respect, and care for women on familial, romantic, platonic and sexual levels. All men have not violated women individually. But within the power of privilege in patriarchy, socialization vb of men is such that harmless and trusted men have the potential to be harmful and dangerous. Even if all men are not perpetrators of sexual or familial violence, all men must share the shame for all episodes of rape. No innocent human should be harassed, irrespective of sex and gender, but it is social responsibility of each and everyone to be ashamed of incidents like rape. It is important to state that all the people have potential to be dangerous; however, this dangerous behavior of men is normalized within patriarchy. In a society of oppressor and oppressed, as a defence mechanism the former fears the later.
This behavior turns up its ugly head every time there are instances of violence against women in our society. One such incident is the #boislockeroom. Boislockerroom was an instagram group made by teenage boys in Delhi to share photos of underage girls and pass sexually explicit and brutalising comments about them, objectify them, and promoting rape culture. The chats were exposed by another instagram user by sharing screenshots of the chat room conversations. Boislockerroom exposes the rape culture that is real and present in our everyday life, in glorification of control and power – power as masculinity pervasive in media, culture, traditions, rituals and entertainment. It speaks at length about toxic masculinity and embedded sexism in our society. Much of the reasons groups like this exist is because men want a space where women’s sexuality is only for their pleasure and at their command. These teenage boys represent a very small percentage of men out there but after revelation of this chat room, many started using the hashtag not all men (#notallmen). This response is not an unexpected one, looking at past incidences, but it is not a helpful one either. #notallmen derails the everyday lived experiences of women and sexual minorities and exposes the inherent sexism, femmephobia, and transphobia of our society. #notallmen is just being defensive about one’s male entitlements and sidetracking the discourses on violence against women and other genders. The discussion is not about men who are not a problem, so being defensive is equally as harmful as misogyny.
#notallmen is alarming as it tends to dilute the problem and not fix it. All men are entitled. If we are quick to forgive or look past misdemeanors, we are normalizing toxic behavior. Brushing off bad behavior by saying “boys will be boys” allows men to believe that it is natural to objectify a woman. The state can hang all the rapists but numbers of #boislockerroom will continue to exist unless the root cause of patriarchy, entitlement, and toxic masculinity is addressed. Stop saying #notallmen, instead feel the necessity why you feel the need to automatically respond with those words. When we talk about sexual violence and gender based violence, the focus should not be on managing the ego but on supporting the survivors. With the #notallmen response, it derails the conversation to become about managing the discomfort while also silencing and invalidating issues of sexual violence and gender inequality.
As and when a man enters a public space, he being a man carries with him the threat of harm, albeit unconsciously. Most men do not move throughout public space thinking about being harmful towards women and sexual minorities. But (yes) all men are potentially harmful, (yes) all men are suspect in the eyes of women and sexual minorities, and this is for the reason that behaviors that violate women and sexual minorities have been normalized uncritically. (Yes) all men are socialized and benefit under patriarchy. So when we use #notallmen, we are normalizing social sanctions of violence of masculinity with or without intention, but not without consequences.
In the patriarchal Indian society, we all are socialized in a way where men hold more power individually and institutionally. We all have seen and learnt this as a norm that men deserve more than any of the gendered minorities – more money, power, resources, respect, opportunities, and also love. A system in the social script of patriarchy which disadvantages all who do not identify to be men in the axis of gender benefits men at the disadvantage of other genders. We internalize, we enact, and we socialize in this gender normativity often finding it uncomfortable to break the social script. Not to be a man in this society is to feel less wanted, less needed and less deserved. We have been taught since our birth through social conditioning and observation that we deserve less for being not a man. Therefore (yes) all men are complicit in accepting the rewards of male entitlements and privileges – the privileges which are invisible from the inside. And it is this internalized benefit that leads the society to believe in #notallmen.
All of us, irrespective of gender, – some as subjects and some as objects – are closer to heteropatriarchy. Pointing at the cracks of this structure is pointing at all of us. All of us have enabled it at some point in our life and some have abandoned it halfway and some no longer want it. And if here we are asked to locate an enemy line, then it lies between the structure that makes us and ourselves. To dismantle such a structure is to do some serious and uncomfortable self-reflection to dismantle what is deeply enmeshed within us. If one thinks #yesallmen is an unfair generalization, one must fight the affliction that compels his/her mind to think so and feels uncomfortable.
It is #yesallmen because all men benefit from the oppressive system of patriarchy. One many not be a bad man, but how many stop others from being the bad one? How many are doing anything to smash patriarchy and destroy misogyny? Many feminist social theorists explain how society has been fundamentally misogynistic and patriarchal. The length of our skirt matters in school, we are told to change into pants because there are male family members in the house, we are asked to wear body covering clothes else we would be labelled “asking for it.” Untied hair, balmed lips, kohled eyes are distraction for our classmates and colleagues: the list is endless. It is always the girls who are taught to behave, act, dress and speak in a certain way; it is the women who are responsible for the traumatic experiences since childhood because “boys will be boys.” Therefore #notallmen is falsified. Also, because the men who say #notallmen are not asked to not be the distractions to the girls nor are they the ones who feel unsafe in their own homes. No man is taught to stop making atrocious groups like these, but all girls are asked to not use social media because evidence suggests that they are most likely to be harassed, and it is the responsibility of the women to be safe in a world made unsafe for women. All women when stepping out of the house are asked to buy pepper sprays and use the best lighted routes to schools, colleges, offices and other public places.
This is a fact that not all men commit sexual violence, but it is male entitlement and privilege that have contributed to a culture that allows violence against women. By behaving exactly the way the patriarchal society has conditioned can lead one to do hurtful things unconsciously. For a sexual minority, effects of both intentional and unintentional harm are the same. With public unfurling of sexual violence and exigency to draw out the rebuttal of #notallmen instantly show how heteropatriarchy as a structure is in which we are all moving pieces. The ones who most benefit from this structure are least likely to dismantle it and that is where #notallmen is located. And like any habit or addiction, it is incredibly hard to break when deeply enmeshed into a value system. The language to deal with it must not be the absence of language to speak, and refrain and contempt. #yesallmen is a mammoth task as it asks to do serious, uncomfortable self-reflection and replace what has been the formative sexual, erotic, and romantic vocabulary till date.
To attempt to fight male entitlement and privilege is a choice as it has to be conscious and ongoing – a choice a man has to make in their everyday life in every instance. Men need to feel uncomfortable with their privileges, question and check their entitlements, understand that maleness distorts the fabric of an equal society – this is impossible if one is stuck under #notallmen. To make this society a level playing ground for all genders, it is also the responsibility of men to listen to all other gender minorities and accept the fact that power imbalance of patriarchy is real; just because one has not experienced or seen it does not mean it does not exist. And this can be made possible only if we all accept that #yesallmen is responsible for sexual harassment of and other forms of violence against #yesallwomen. #yesallwomen is a place by and for women to counter #notallmen to come out with what they have to deal with in real in their everyday lives. If “not all men” are genuine, then one needs to attack toxic masculinity rather than gaslighting the experiences of women and stopping people from talking about toxic masculinity. And we as a society have always covered up body shaming, objectification, and misogynistic remarks made every day. A lot of us have been witness to many sexist talks or chats. A few choose to confront these people and tell them how problematic it is. But most people simply choose to listen in silence and walk away and that is where we normalize it, make it seem like a normal thing to do. Choosing to be silent is rendering the continuation of the problem.
Every time one says #notallmen, one should remember that #yesallwomen have been subjected to sexual violence. #NotAllMen are the same but #YesAllWomen live in fear of not knowing the difference between a genuinely nice guy and a potential attacker. And most importantly, why is #notallmen used only in the context of sexual harassment, why not in any other stereotypes related to male entitlements like men are more intelligent, are better drivers, are best decision makers?
Note: Men here means the social superiors, not men as generic people. Men as social beings in a social set up that we associate with patriarchy, the same patriarchy does affect men differently based on intersectionality of other identities. This system although designed to benefit men, does dump on them from time to time, to be specific, on male survivors, or for free expression of emotion among men in general. Higher rates of certain mental illnesses among men, or suicide for instance are all linked to patriarchy and its side effects on men.