Photo of men standing in a gallery looking at nude art. The image is titled

Sure, ‘not all men’

But yes, every woman

Disclaimer: This article is part of the spectrum special addition on sexual assault awareness. As a result, this article covers content that may be triggering to some readers including sexual assault, rape, and consent. Please read at your own discretion.

I will start by saying that women know that not all men are bad. There are a few reasons why it is called “All Men.” It is a mix of not knowing which men are actually bad and taking the safer route of approaching them all with caution, as well as getting the men that consider themselves to be “good guys” to stop and listen instead of tuning out a conversation that is not about them.

The truth is, the conversation still involves you too. If women simply trying their best to stay safe bothers you, then you are part of the problem. And most importantly, all women have a similar, gut-wrenching story. While not every man is bad, every woman either has experience with a bad one or knows someone who has.

Yes, every woman.

Women have been taught their entire lives that it is all men; they are just starting to say it out loud. Every single woman I know has been made to feel uncomfortable by the presence of a man.

Even if you are not a part of the problem, you do not get to opt-out of being part of the solution.

The list of rape prevention tips is heartbreaking and long. Women are taught to keep an eye on each other’s drinks, taught to go places in groups (like the bathroom), taught to carry hidden weapons when they go on runs, taught to text each other when they go on dates to make sure that they have not been killed, taught to have keys between knuckles when walking to their car and checking the backseat and taught to dress a certain way in public (if your hair is up then someone can grab it, don’t show too much skin, etc.).

Women are sexualized from an extremely young age (considering how “schoolgirl” is a popular porn category), they are subjected to painful sex, they are ridiculed for demanding clear consent, they are denied their reproductive rights and marital rape was not even defined in the U.S. until the 1970s. Not to mention the countless times women are groped or slapped by a passerby or pursued or followed home, asked out repeatedly and given unwanted attention by a man that makes them feel threatened because of all the above. 

How about how women just do not report things because they will not be taken seriously, or because they initially gave consent and then things escalated or changed, and they were worried that they would be blamed or that they would be put in more danger because they are rejecting a man. Victims are never at fault. The only cause for rape is a rapist.

For the men that tell women to just say “no” when they are being hit on, it is often not a good enough reason as women are not taken seriously. “No” is a complete sentence. However, boys are taught from a young age that persistence is key, that it is romantic. 

If the only time you speak up about male suffering is when you are trying to silence women, then you do not really care about the issue.

In practice, it is often scary and inconsiderate. This is why girls will often say that they have a boyfriend to get out of those situations, even if they do not. They could have a girlfriend, or be single, but there is a real fear that the man hitting on them is not going to respect another woman or her decision to say no. The authority of an invisible man is more impactful than the presence of a real-life woman.

Gender-based violence is still alive and thriving in society today. Pretending like it isn’t will never solve anything. It avoids the root of the problem: misogyny. Instead of complaining about how the movement is targeting men as a whole, engage in the subject matter. 

Take a minute to think about the statistic that one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Engage in thought or conversation about the fact that more women have been killed by their male partners since 9/11 than all the Americans killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the 9/11 attacks combined. Talk about how this gender issue is perpetuated by the power dynamic of the patriarchy. 

Photo of men standing in a gallery looking at nude art. The image is titled
Men confront nudity.
Photo credit | Kevin Dooley

Sexual assault happens to men too, and no one is trying to minimize the trauma that male victims have experienced. However, if the only time you speak up about male suffering is when you are trying to silence women, then you do not really care about the issue. This issue is so much larger than any one of us.

I remember men in my life telling me from a young age that if I ever brought a boy home, they would talk to him while polishing their rifles because, “Boys only have one thing on their minds.” They would also say that not all men are bad but then sent me to college with a pink can of mace on my keyring. They also talked about how men have biological urges, so it would be the fault of the woman since the man cannot control it. This is completely false, as my dogs will not even look at the food that is at eye level with them if I tell them, “no”. You are men, not animals. This is just an excuse for men to not take accountability.

Now, in college, more women have been coming forward to share their stories. I have had friends come to me to share what had happened in a dorm under the influence, and I sat with her while we filled out a report. Others have reported on campus but were met with an uncaring authority figure who did not believe them. My heart aches for these brave women, and I stand in admiration of their strength. There is so much more that we can do for them.

Do not laugh and defend your buddies if they make a “locker room talk” joke. This just lets them know that you would be on their side if they ever went through with the real thing because you’re making it seem like the actual thought of it is funny and does not bother you.

Women need all men to care about how they have privilege. Equality feels like oppression if you have the privilege.

Brushing sexual harassment under the rug, especially if it is someone you know, is not acceptable. Stopping the small things, like jokes, can prevent someone from raping another person in the first place. If you know it is wrong, make sure they know too. They may think it is harmless, but that attitude downplays everything else that can come after it.

Shut down your toxic friends; they are more likely to listen to you than they would a woman, especially one they don’t know. Hold men accountable, even the ones that were raised right. Even if you are not a part of the problem, you do not get to opt-out of being part of the solution. Start caring about women now. You do not need to wait until you have a daughter; pay attention to the women already in your life: your mother, your sisters, your friends, your classmates and even strangers.

Yes, all men must start taking accountability and responsibility for their actions, as well as the actions of other men. They need to think about what the hell is going on in our society, why it is happening and how they can help to make it better. Women need all men to care about how they have privilege. Equality feels like oppression if you have the privilege. You might feel like you are being put at risk, but women are at risk every single day. If you talk to some of the women in your life, you might find that out.

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