I am on the record as being a critic of both safe spaces and trigger warnings: in both cases I feel like what is going on is signaling, but particularly in the case of trauma no one can possibly know what is going to trigger someone’s experience. So just informing your audience what you are going to talk about and letting their memory take its course is a best policy. No place is safe because we do not have total control of either the world around us or our minds. Consider this my warning.
So, dudes, I am speaking to you. Four out of five closest women in my life have been traumatized by men. In three out of four cases it was men close to them; in all four cases it was men they knew and saw almost daily. Given the closeness of my relationship with these women–we are talking about my best friend, my partner, my ex-wife, etc–I sometimes have had to deal with trauma that I invoked that had nothing to do with me in origin. In the case of my partner, I have to work to control my temper because being angry around her can remind her of things other men have done to her.
Of course, in my insecurity and my love for them, I may want to say “it’s not me. I am different. I will try not to hurt you.” And you know what, every time I have done this, even lovingly, it is the wrong thing. Why? They already know this. And sometimes, if I am honest, I am doing damage because of carelessness. Forgetting that in the realm of the physical, I have a distinct advantage, and there is actually a rational calculus for responding in a particular way.
Now, this is all in the context of intimate and loving relationships–sexual and not. This principle, however, seems to come up on the internet a lot. I keep seeing men on the internet say “It’s not all men” or “It’s not all white men” or, I admit I have seen this only once, “It’s not all Asian men.” Now, the principle I am talking about above applies a thousand times more.
So, dude, listen to me, and shut up.
A writer over at Terrible Minds gets to the core of the issue, and since I don’t feel like speaking for others, I am going to quote it:
I understand that as a man your initial response to women talking about misogyny, sexism, rape culture and sexual violence is to wave your hands in the air like a drowning man and cry, “Not all men! Not all men!” as if to signal yourself as someone who is not an entitled, presumptive fuck-whistle, but please believe me that interjecting yourself in that way confirms that you are. Because forcing yourself into safe spaces and unwelcome conversations makes you exactly that.
Instead of telling women that it’s not all men, show them.
Show them by listening and supporting.
Show them by cleaning the dogshit out of your ears and listening to their stories — and recognize that while no, it’s not “all men,” it’s still “way too many men.” Consider actually reading the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter not to look for places to interject and defend your fellow men, but as a place to gain insight and understanding into the experiences women have. That hashtag should serve as confirmation that women very often experience the spectrum of sexism and rape culture from an all-too-early age. Recognize that just because “not all men” are gun-toting, women-hating assholes fails to diminish the fact that sexism and rape culture remain firmly entrenched and institutional within our culture.
So first off, many of the problems the writer is speaking about are institutional, and, of course, they are not about “all men’s motives” or “your motives” because such structures are beyond your subjective intention. Even if you disagree with some of the structures, and I sometimes do, saying “its not all men” means you do not get the point enough to really contribute to the conversation meaningfully anyway. I am not saying men can’t have something to say about this, but derailing the conversation with something like “it’s not all men” or, more perniciously, “women hit men too” is more than useless.
Yes, dude, but that’s tu quo que, which is a) a logical fallacy, and b) one that the fair heuristic reading is that you are being a git.
But there is a deeper reason for the suspicion, and it the same reason I love dog but approach them carefully. You see “not all dogs bite people.” In fact, most dogs that integrated in their community–your family– don’t bite people unprovoked. Yet there is a thousand years of dealing with wolves and dogs that indicate that you have to show caution at first. Dogs can rip your throat out.
And, while I know no one likes to be compared to dogs, it comes into play here. This comment from the above article cuts to the heart of the matter:
My father recently said he doesn’t like the way women “study” men, how we’re always trying to figure out what men are thinking and asking them what they’re feeling. He seemed to have the crazy idea that we do this for fun or because we’re just nMy faturally nosy. I scoffed and when he asked me, “Okay, WHY do women do this?” I responded calmly with, “Because you kill us.” That’s right lads, it’s just a good old fashioned survival mechanism honed by thousands of years of evolution. Being “tuned in” to you is, simply, a strategy to keep you from slaughtering us. Not always terribly effective, obviously, but since we got totally ripped off in the upper body strength department we work with what we have.
Sure, women can be brutal too, and women can be strong. Furthermore, as my conservative friends like to tell me, guns are an equalizer (however, at equalizer that in mass shootings and whatnot women in general seem to opt not to use). Still, I have known no women living in a city who have not be cat-called. The number of women who I know have been sexual assaulted in some way is ridiculously high. Most women know it’s at most 10% of men who would do these things outright. But let us be honest, there is a physical and social power dynamic here, and neither truly work out in a woman’s favor.
So let’s recap, whenever you feel the urge to say “it’s not all x” where that x is something that you are, shut up. Everyone actually knows that if they are not bigots or highly damaged–and if either is the case, you can not do much about that by merely asserting something anyway. You do more for yourself by realizing not everything is about you and meeting people where they are.
And particularly in these issues about violence against women: there are thousands of years of social and biological forces that are at play here. Be a grow-up, and learn for a minute, listen. After you have done that, sure, you can disagree about some theoretical or social point–although really you should probably discuss that at a different time and in a different context. But face the facts: most violence against women is by men. Sure, yeah, female culture can be brutal, and honestly women are just as good as perpetuating anti-female cultural traditions as men are at enforcing them. Perhaps even better, but specifically when it comes to violence, it is overwhelmingly male. Everyone knows that it is not all men; hell, it is probably not most men. That is not the point. Think about the way you approach a predatory animal that is pet that is also a beloved member of someone’s family. You do so with caution, or, at least, few would blame you for doing so.
We realize that Elliot Rodgers is to women in the USA as to what Anders Breivik to liberals and Muslims in the nordic countries. Rare and delusional, but symptomatic.
But it’s still not really about YOU except that if you mean what you say about it “not being all men,” be respectful and shut your mouth for a minute.
While we are talking about Elliot Rodgers and PUAs who want to be “Alpha Men.” The MRA/PUA conception of wolf pack hierarchies–which don’t apply to primates who have even more complicated social relations–is wrong. Sorry, as a friend on the internet pointed out to me, wolves are actually more enlightened than dudes who want to be “alphas.”