Why #NotAllMen is not women’s problem

In conversation with someone I respect today about the #YesAllWomen issue, I mentioned the “M&M” analogy (imagine a bowl of M&Ms. Only 10% are poisoned. Grab a big handful. No? What’s the problem? Not all the M&Ms are poisoned….) as a counter to the “NotAllMen” response to #YesAllWomen. I was informed that viewing every male I encounter as a possible threat, as potentially hostile, and as a potential rapist/attacker/abuser/harasser was “not a productive way to establish relationships,” and a “poor way to move in the world.”

No kidding, ya think? Tell me something I don’t know!

While this person is someone I respect tremendously both in terms of intellect, reasoning, ethics, and all around decency, to get this response from him(yes, he), was painful and disappointing. He was, however well-intentioned, speaking from inside male privilege.

It is true he was not in my life when any number of relationships went bad, and I feared for my safety, feared getting hit, was hit, was stalked, was verbally abused either in the relationship or for ending it; but he has heard all these stories.

He was also not in my life when I needed to have my car towed 135 miles through the middle of nowhere. The tow truck driver, with whom I was riding, since my car was hitched up on his truck, spent most of that time telling me in graphic detail what he could do to a woman (and most definitely wanted to do to me), with the hand from which he’d lost the outer two fingers. How does one respond in that situation? I had no escape had he decided to demonstrate without my consent. I reported it of course, and was assured that man would never drive for AAA again. Ha!

That friend was with me three years later, though, when I next needed a tow in Chicago and the same man showed up, easily recognized by that hand. I consider myself a brave person, but I quite literally ran and hid. Seeing that man from my nightmares walking around free, still working for AAA, and still having access to women in potentially vulnerable situations told me just how cheaply my experience was valued. Although, come to think of it, my friend told me then he’d never really believed me until he saw the man himself. Surely, he had thought, I was exaggerating, I took it the wrong way, I blew it out of proportion. And anyway, not all men are like that!

He was, however, in my life when I was almost driven out of my Master’s degree following rumors of impropriety between myself and a male professor with whom I had dared be friends. He was in my life when I woke up in the middle of the night to find a stranger with a knife and a flashlight standing over my bed trying to pull the covers off of me.* I never knew who that intruder was; and I never felt comfortable in that neighborhood again; I moved two days later. That man had obliterated not only my sense of security, but my financial security by forcing me to move.

That friend was also in my life when my elderly and disabled mother was traded by her roommate to a drug dealer to rape in order to pay off a $50 drug debt.

So it was a shock to me that he could still protest, almost 20 years into our friendship, that approaching every male I meet as potential threat was a problem *I* had, a flawed approach on MY part, failure of MY reasoning skills, and yes, unfair to men. As enlightened as I otherwise find this person, he pounced on MY approach to men as a problem; because Not All Men. *sigh*

Yes, of course I know that this dynamic is a poor way to begin relationships, be they personal, professional, of transitory. EVERY woman knows this. But, as #YesAllWomen has so poignantly shown, we also know the price for rejecting this approach. We are told as young girls to be careful of every man we meet. We are told not to do a thousand things that will put us at risk. And I’m not talking about sex without a condom or skydiving, here. I’m talking about all the things large and small that women calculate all the time.

Don’t talk to strangers. If a guy at a bar asks for your number, give him a fake one, because it’s dangerous to just refuse outright. If you leave work (or anywhere) late, find someone to walk you to your car. Be sure to let a friend know when you leave somewhere, where you’re going, and then call them when you have arrived safe and didn’t get raped going home a few blocks at night. Give a friend the name and number of your date, and a time you will call to check in, so they can give police the info if you never come home from that date. Pay attention to how you walk if you’re alone at night; remember, don’t walk like a victim. Don’t wear a ponytail because it makes a convenient handhold for an attacker. Keep your keys between your fingers so you have a weapon at the ready. Yell ‘fire’ if you are attacked, because you have a better chance of actually getting help than if you yell ‘rape.’ This is a woman’s reality, every day. We all know this drill.

And let’s not even start talking about the professional world. I have never, in any of the jobs or careers I have had, been assured of fair treatment as a woman. I have been harassed, marginalized, underpaid, “gal-Friday’ed,” propositioned, threatened; the usual litany. All women have experienced some kind of misogyny or discrimination. That’s what #YesAllWomen means!

That is the reality that men cannot ever truly grasp; no more than I, however much I may care and want to make it better, can ever really grasp what it is to be a person of color. It’s just not my reality, and the best I can do is accept that it is a reality in which I will never participate, and accept that I do not deserve to be above suspicion in terms of my behavior on race until and unless I demonstrate that I’m not racist. I don’t have the right to co-opt the discussion of race by defending my not-racism. And I sure as HELL don’t have the right to tell a person of color that viewing all white people with caution is a “poor way to move in the world.”

Not that I haven’t done just that. I have “but not all white people’d” with the worst of them, with the best intentions. I have been guilty of this as surely as I have been guilty of racism, in ways I could have understood had I been paying attention, and in ways I probably could never understand because I live inside white privilege. But that’s just it. If you live inside a privilege, you don’t get to tell those who don’t share that privilege that their fear, caution, or misgivings are a “poor approach.” Very few people wear signs identifying them as racists. No one wears a sign identifying them as a rapist, an abuser, or a misogynist. And like racism, sadly for both, misogyny can be dangerous, even fatal. So yes, women do—and at present, have to—assume that because 10% of the M&Ms are poison, this M&M could, in fact, be poison.

And no, that doesn’t mean I hate men, or view them all badly. Is it unfair to men? Hell yes, it is. Misogyny hurts men, too, I don’t think anyone is arguing that. But it hurts men differently. And I’m not going to bet my life and safety to assuage the butthurt of a man who is offended because I regard any male I don’t know as a possible threat. Don’t like it, my male interlocutor? Be the change.

There was a kerfluffle a few years back about a police department that had lost the trust of the community because they had not acted swiftly and decisively to remove corrupt officers. I think this is much the same situation. Nobody WANTS to live in a world where they can’t trust the police, and of course, no one thinks every police officer is corrupt. But as long as you know that some are, you just can’t know. As long as some are, this one *might* be. And as long as people who report corrupt officers are ignored or disbelieved, do you really feel comfortable trusting any random officer with your life? Now replace ‘officer’ and ‘the police’ with ‘man/men,’ and ‘corrupt’ with ‘a rapist….’ Now do you get it?

But remember, only 10% of the M&Ms are poisoned. Eat up!


* Just to be clear, while this was a terrifying incident that stayed with me for years, I was not physically harmed. I woke up, and with all the good temper I usually show when awakened in the middle of the night, began cussing the guy out and demanding the get the &*^% #$@! our of my house right the hell &*^%$ now. Not the response we are taught to have, I know, but in this case, it clearly derailed his power fantasy, and after backhanding me across the face, he fled into the night, letting out my four cats in the bargain. And it does not escape me that had I followed the advice women are given for how to handle such circumstances, which is “don’t fight back, just survive.” I would very likely have been raped….