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Why “Not All Men” is a Damaging Phrase

By mid-March, the “not all men” hashtag had grown popular all over social media.

The phrase was used as a response to the “me too” movement back in 2017. Many men felt personally attacked by it, rather than focusing on the actual issue: violence against women.

Now, a new phrase is trending: #notallmenbutallwomen. The “not all men but all women” phrase acknowledges that not all men sexually assault women, but that every woman has personal experiences with misogyny.  

This response comes after the body of 33-year-old Sarah Everard was discovered.

She disappeared on March 3rd when she was walking home from the capital’s streets of South London. A week later she was found in woods 50 miles away, in a bag. Her body was so damaged she had to be identified from dental records.  

Women from around the world have since taken to social media. Some sharing intimate stories of sexual assault and harassment, with many expressing that they have lost count of the times they’ve had uncomfortable or traumatic experiences. Other women have also shared the precautions they take when they walk alone. Also, many have highlighted shared anger that these practices even need to be employed.  

The terrible buildup between Sarah’s disappearance and the discovery of her body drew worldwide attention to the case.

With the eyes of the world on the case intensifying, they were able to identify and charge a man with Sarah’s murder; he was a serving police officer. CCTV footage shows Everard did what many women are “supposed to do” when alone at night. She called her boyfriend on the walk home and dressed in bright clothes – a green raincoat, white-and-blue patterned pants, green headphones, and a white beanie. Unfortunately, this still did not protect her.  

When police told women in the neighborhood to stay safe by staying indoors, this sparked women in London and the world to respond with outrage. Viral posts have since caused a frenzy that is growing into a movement. There is an increasing demand that the police and government stop blaming women for violence against women, and rather focus on violent men.  

The hashtags, #TextMeWhenYouGetHome, #ReclaimTheseStreets, and #NotAllMenButAllWomen, call attention to the fact that women must adjust their lives and control their behavior to stay safe. Advocates and allies all alike are asking: Why do we accept this? While it may not be all men, it is all women. A majority of women can speak of a time where they have felt uneasy. Whether this was having to hold their bag a little closer, having to grip their keys a little tighter, or having felt that sinking racing heart feeling.  

Again, not all men commit acts of sexual violence.

However, a lot of men have victimized themselves during a moment where people are in the streets begging not to be raped and killed. Many male voices are pointing out the violence and sexual assaults men endure as well. And yes, men experience violence and sexual assault too, no one is saying that they don’t. Moving past that instinctive reaction to undermine women, let’s consider what would happen if men recognized the way that our structural and political reality hurts all of us.  

All men may not be violent, but without active and ongoing action and advocacy for women, they are complacent and in turn, insidiously perpetuate rape culture

The refusal to see and acknowledge the prevalence of gendered violence against women and how actively it’s perpetrated by men is exasperating.

This isn’t a case of women asking for attention or validation, it is the very real need for male acknowledgment and accountability. This is a call for all genders to work together on solutions in order to stop the violence. This again includes men recognizing and in some cases stepping away from the table to create space for women to speak on their experiences.  

After the disappearance of Sarah Everard, Green Party peer Baroness Jones suggested a curfew for men. She told the House of Lords that: “I would argue that at the next opportunity for a bill that is appropriate, I might actually put in an amendment to create a curfew for men on the streets after 6 pm, which I feel will make women much safer, and discrimination of all kinds would be lessened.”  

Although the proposal was meant to be sarcastic it draws attention to the fact that women are not the problem, but that men are primarily responsible for violence against women and girls. They are (for the most part) the reason why women are told from a young age to stay home at night, have a male chaperone, travel in groups, dress modestly, avoid certain parts of the city, wear a wedding ring, be careful and mindful when drinking, going to pubs, or meeting up for romantic liaisons.  

But this can change.  

All men, including those who are not responsible for violence or abuse, have a responsibility to play a part in helping end it. Men need to reflect on their own role in the problem and on how to tackle it. If we are going to stop violence against women and girls, more men need to engage. This must start with an honest reflection of men’s attitudes and behaviors. Sexist ideas and stereotypical gender norms are so deeply rooted in public discussion that no one is untouched by them.  

This is not about blaming individual men, but recognizing that for change to happen each and every man needs to participate in it. It’s important that men explore what the consequences of violence against women are and the role they can play in shifting harmful masculine norms. It is time that people address these issues openly and honestly, engage with one another, and work towards a society that is free from violence against women. 

Loyola University Maryland '23
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