Society has constructed us to often respond to certain issues in ways that that illustrate how much we have perfected not listening to the experiences of others if it doesn’t resonate with, or relate to, us.
Take, for example, an LGBT person who speaks about homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia. It’s only a matter of time before hearing one of our counterparts exclaim “but we aren’t all like that.” Thanks? Or, consider a Black person speaking about racism. It may take .5 seconds before hearing a White person cry a dangerously similar statement to distance themselves from ‘bad’ folk. Bravo?
Here’s the thing: marginalized communities understand that not every White person is racist, and we also recognize that not every straight person hates the LGB community. Thus, the “but I’m really good!” statements are not only unnecessary, but it presumes that lines of delineation must be created between nice/good and bad.
By now, I’m sure everyone is familiar with Elliot Rodger, the man who killed seven people, including himself, allegedly because he didn't receive the attention from women he thought he deserved. These killings raised eyebrows, especially after reading Rodger’s 141-page “Manifesto” where he gives specific and scary details related to women as flat, faceless characters who rarely have names and never any personality. Their only significance is their relationship to him. Rodger’s thoughts on women can unfortunately demonstrate less of how women are viewed, and more of how society raises boys and men to treat girls and women. But let’s be clear, the two can rarely, if ever, be separated.
The tragedy in Isla Vista, California sparked a debate of whether the killings were about Rodger’s obsession with sex and his entitlement of it by the women he desired, or if women were just being used as a conduit to him receiving attention of men, specifically white men. Surely there is a societal pressure of men to define their masculinity, and yes, this is often determined by using women as objects, and not recognizing them as humans.
But there is a clear root of Rodgers' actions. It is something that all men experience no matter how much we reject: our (often unchecked) misogyny. And as much as we attempt to fight, all men are raised to be misogynistic. Misogyny brings deadly consequences and it is important that we as men listen, instead of react out of our hurt feelings because “we aren’t all like that.” That isn’t the point.
These killings, rooted in misogyny, inspired the hashtag #YesAllWomen for women to share their experiences of rape, sexual assault, the imbalance of power between men and women, and how we raise boys to treat girls, which, in turn, lead to how men eventually treat women. #YesAllWomen encounter individuals like Elliot Rodger’s everywhere they go. No, this doesn’t always result in their untimely death but many times it can result in rape, catcalling, street harassment, and other forms of physical and verbal abuse.
Almost immediately, naysayers took their disdain of #YesAllWomen and began a hashtag of their own, #NotAllMen, to
complain express grievances with #YesAllWomen, throw dirt on women’s experience of rape, and use the nice/good guy rhetoric to not be lumped in the same category as those other men. According to #NotAllMen, all men aren’t the enemy and male victims of sexual assault exist too. As someone who recently disclosed his own childhood sexual abuse, I know this to be true. But this doesn’t mean misogyny doesn’t exist—in fact, it means misogyny hurts men too.
There is no such thing as a “good guy,” and even if there were, he would be capable of rape, too, unless we tackle misogyny. Being ‘good’ is rooted in our subjective understanding of what it means to be a decent human. This mantra is often used as a way of distancing ourselves from those other, less worthy men, but it ends up ultimately being rooted in entitlement to women when, in fact, no one is entitled to women or their bodies.
In a TIME article, “The Shame of the Male Virgin,” the author noted: "In a culture of casual sex, [Elliot Rodger] was a virgin — at 22. He was lonely, angry, humiliated, depressed, and also likely struggling with mental illness. He couldn’t understand why others got to have what he didn’t; why girls always seemed to go after the “obnoxious jocks,” not the nice guys like him; why he had to see it all around him — from porn to campus party culture — as if taunting him. He was always missing out.
The nice/good guy rhetoric is problematic especially because we tend to define what ‘good’ means to us and force others to accept this logic. But what happens when someone disagrees with our definition of ‘good’? And what happens to our subjective understanding of ‘good’ when a woman rejects advances? I’ve witnessed men turn real…un-nice when rebuffed."
Anchor TJ Holmes added to this rhetoric: "Yet there is a huge gap between the man who catcalls a woman walking down the street and the man who opens fire on her. This is probably where #YesAllWomen has done a disservice. It makes no distinction. While it has allowed women to share their experiences and legitimate fears and concerns about how society views women, it gives the sense that all sexism is created equal."
I question the necessity of this distinction—is it for men who are offended with being “one of those guys”, or for women sharing their experiences of victimization? Seems like the former. Again, this isn’t about us.
Although people like TJ Holmes don’t feel “all sexism is created equal”, there are many women who witness this ‘unequal’ sexism and personally experience the nice/good guy treatment quickly turn into violence when their gentleman tendencies are rejected. And since this article is limited in space, I will only say five words when it comes to this: benevolent sexism is real, too.
Bottom line: calling yourself a ‘gentleman’ or a ‘nice/good’ guy does not diminish the fact that society has constructed us to be misogynists. #YesAllWomen, or anytime women share stories of sexual assault, it is not about our hurt feelings or distancing ourselves from bad men. However, it is about listening to women, standing in solidarity with those we claim to support, understanding the world in which we live, and acting accordingly to ensure that #YesAllWomen will no longer be necessary.
Instead of attempting to distance ourselves from bad men and proving some ‘good’ ones exist, maybe we should raise boys in a way that rejects unhealthy displays of manhood and masculinity. Because when we continuously interrupt the conversation and derail discourse in an effort to say “all of us aren’t like that," we are actively proving we don’t get it. Not only that, we are demonstrating the tweets behind the hashtag are not only dangerously accurate, but that they will occur for years to come.
And we end up saying much more about us than we realize.
Preston Mitchum is a civil rights advocate and legal writing instructor in Washington, DC. He has written for The Atlantic, Huffington Post, theGrio, Think Progress, and Role Reboot. Follow him here.