The problems with “not all men” have been reasonably well articulated — to start, it’s a strawman, because clearly no one beyond the most radical vanguard of feminism is really suggesting that within every man lurks a rabid misogynist killer, just waiting to get out. And it’s a way of derailing conversations about the role of men in female oppression, because it immediately swings the spotlight back onto you: hey, I’m not like that, thus your entire argument is invalid, see?
But no, actually, it’s the “not all men” argument that’s invalid — or, at least, disingenuous. Maybe it’s not all men — but it is men and only men, and it’s that’s something that we as men need to accept.
And maybe, just maybe, it is all men. Or, at least, it could just as easily be. Because who’s to say that if you weren’t raised in an entirely different environment, you mightn’t be violent too? Not Elliot Rodger — or, shit, at least I hope not — but it’s a propensity that is in all of us. Whether this is biological or cultural is the subject of some debate, but ultimately, that’s kinda beside the point — the fact remains that by pretty much every metric you can think of, men commit more acts of violence than women.
No one wants to think about the fact that underneath all that culture and refinement, men retain within them a possibility for violence, or a possibility for mistreating our fellow humans. Civilization is a comforting concept — it allows us to put some distance between us and our genes, a way of viewing ourselves as somehow better than those who are violent and aggressive, to rise above our baser instincts. To some extent, it’s true — but it’s important to remember that the idea of civilization wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fact that we have baser instincts that we need to rise above.
Gregory David Roberts, of Shantaram fame (and as masculine a man as you’ll ever meet), likes to talk about the difference between what he calls our “animal nature” and “human nature.” I’m going to quote him at length here, because he’s one of the most thoughtful voices on the nature of masculinity I’ve encountered:
We have two natures. An animal nature and a human nature. Our animal nature is derived from 40 million years of ape history. We are 98.9 per cent chimp DNA. Chimpanzees are territorial, hierarchical, patriarchal and they are competitive-aggressive. We, as social beings, are territorial, hierarchical, patriarchal and competitive-aggressive. But we have something else. The chimps can’t break out of that… [but] human nature breaks boundaries. Our human nature says, You know what, I am going to be free… We are constantly pulled between our animal nature and human nature. We are torn between the two. And it is not resolved in anyone’s lifetime.
Indeed it isn’t, but the first step toward some sort of resolution is acknowledging the conflict. Clearly, this isn’t something exclusive to men, but this is most definitely a gendered problem, and trying to pretend that it isn’t means that you absolve yourself of any responsibility for being part of the solution to it.
One final point here: perhaps the most frustrating thing about the hijacking of the MRA movement by extremists is that there are some valid points that get lost in the noise. There is definitely a discussion to be had about the way family courts handle paternal access to children after divorce, and the distribution of settlements and alimony, and the cultural invisibility of rape and abuse perpetrated against men, and etc.
But here’s something to think about: these are also manifestations of patriarchy. Men don’t talk about violence against them because our culture, shaped by millennia of male dominance, tells them not to, because to do so is unmanly. Men are denied access to children because of gender roles imposed by patriarchy — that the man is the provider, and the woman the carer. And so on.
In other words, if MRA types really want to address the issues that bother them, they should be enthusiastic feminists. This may sound counter-intuitive, and on the off chance that you’re an MRA who’s actually read this far, you’re probably about to leave an excoriating comment. Don’t. Think about this: gender roles are destructive to everyone. And think about how they affect you.
As Socrates, or Thalon, or whoever else it was, said millennia ago: know thyself. Understand how your actions reflect the centuries of patriarchy that have shaped the society in which you live. I read this story on Tumblr yesterday, one of a bazillion #YesAllWomen stories to emerge over the last few days. It’s called “My First Customer of the Morning Just Called Me a Cunt,” and it relates how a man asked the author, who works in a coffee shop, whether the first customer of the day “gets a hug or squeeze or something.” When she told him, “It isn’t such a good idea to tell women you’ve never met to hug or squeeze you when you’re a customer at their place of work,” he sat and stewed for five minutes, and then he started yelling at her.
Put yourself in his position, in isolation, and you might see how he felt the way he did — to his own eyes, he was no doubt making mildly flirtatious small talk with a girl who, to his eyes, shut him down with unnecessary emotional force. And now he feels like a victim. He didn’t deserve that, he thinks to himself. What’s up her ass, anyway? Why didn’t she enjoy the attention? If you’re a woman reading this, you’re probably shaking your head and saying, “Fuck that guy.” And of course, you’re right. If you’re a guy and reading this, don’t be that guy.
Understand that your actions don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in the context of a society where literally every woman you will ever meet has a similar story to tell, if she feels safe enough to do so. Understand that society is a large-scale representation of this. Understand that you are owed nothing. You don’t get a gold star for being a good person. It’s the minimum standard of human decency that anyone should be able to expect.
You don’t get taught this stuff. But you can work it out for yourself. Pay attention. Recognize misogyny when you see it. Don’t be an asshole. Listen to women. Believe them. And most of all, understand that they are your fellow humans and deserve to be treated as exactly that: people who share this planet with you. We’re not going to fix society’s ingrained misogyny overnight. It will take generations. But we won’t make any progress until we acknowledge that it exists.