It’s time to stop saying ‘not all men’: You are part of the problem

The ‘not all men’ narrative is highly inappropriate, now so more than ever

Upon asking male students ‘What will you do differently to make women feel safer?’, the number of responses that were appropriate could be counted on one hand. One theme that stuck with many responses were “well it’s not all men”, something women have been subject to hearing too often this past week in response to them sharing their experiences of sexual harassment.

The ‘not all men’ narrative is highly inappropriate, now so more than ever. We gave you the opportunity to speak up, and the majority of you remained silent. Disappointed, of course. Surprised? Never.

A week in the life of being a woman – celebrated, criticised, murdered

International Women’s Day. The criticisms on the Duchess of Sussex’s claim to have suffered with her mental health. The tragic news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance, and subsequent discovery of her body. The hashtag ‘not all men’ trending on Twitter. The appalling and distasteful appearance of police officers at the vigil held for Sarah. This has been the descent into chaos watched by us all in the news this past week.

Women and minority groups have been warning us of how unsafe they feel on the streets for years. And only now has it seemed to have caused a serious discussion about the inexcusable behaviour some individuals commit upon us. I want to remind anyone reading this: this is not an issue of women versus men, but rather an international crisis that should see all of us rally behind the notion that people who consider themselves worthy of attacking women and minorities (whether that be verbally or physically) is a vile thought and should not be tolerated.

Even if you’re not a direct problem to women – you still benefit from those who are

Those who claim to be part of ‘not all men’ fail to realise that most women are brought up to be afraid of them. We understand very early on how a simple no is not enough, and in worse cases can result in physical harm against us. Consequently, as women, we have created whole lists of phrases and gestures that politely excuse us when we are unwantedly approached.

These are phrases that we use on all men, since it is impossible to tell the good from the bad, often until it is too late. So yes, you may not be a bad guy, but you are still benefitting off of the fear that other men have instilled in us.

This doesn’t even bring into conversation the issue with by-standers. These passive onlookers are happy to raise their hand and say that they would ‘never touch a woman’ but are quick to look the other way when it’s their own friends who are committing the crime. It’s no wonder why “97% of young women experience sexual harassment” was met with so much criticism and surprise.

When everyone turns away, we have fewer witnesses who can help verify the crime, which only creates more distrust between women and men. Your silent compliance is just as much of a crime, and don’t think it goes ignored. We are scared of you too.

Why should women have to ‘do everything right’?

It’s common knowledge amongst women and minorities that there is a sort of checklist when it comes to ensuring our safety. Some of these points may seem obvious, like never walking down dark streets alone, or make sure your phone has its location switched on if you are travelling (both alone and in a group – you really can never be too sure).

Others, like checking underneath your car to make sure no one is going to grab your ankles, or the slightly puzzling ‘avoid public transport, but don’t get a taxi’, maybe seem a little far-fetched for those who have never felt intimidated as a consequence of simply existing.

I often wonder, and talk with my friends, about why we are taught these things. Why should I have to tell my friend to text me when they get home? Or why is it when my friend goes on a tinder date, I have to have them text me at regular intervals to make sure nothing has gone wrong?

Partly, the issue lies in the education of these matters. From the start, these things are described as ‘women’s issues’ (which, firstly, completely neglects the fact that this is actually a problem for minorities and men too) suggesting that it is our fault, our existence is the reason for our attackers to act out.

Which is, I’m sure everyone can agree, not the case. It’s important that we all start changing these ideas, especially as they perpetuate the ‘not all men’ as a defence. Since it’s presented as a female issue, men can feel comfortable standing by as these crimes continue.

In response to the current issues in UK, the Home Office have reopened the survey on Violence Against Women & Girls. Meanwhile, here are ways to make you feel safer when walking home alone, and ways to support women from home in the current climate.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

‘To help make women feel safer, men need to listen’: A conversation with UoL’s Feminist Society

‘It almost led me to drop out’: Lincoln students open up about sexual harassment

All the best signs from this weekend’s Reclaim These Streets protests and vigils