So you’ve made a statement about gender-based violence, rape or sexism, and the response you received was ‘not all men’ do xyz. Why is this problematic? Is it problematic at all? I’d argue yes, and if you read this and think that it’s exceptionally obvious why it’s problematic, then I’d think we read similar things, follow similar people and subscribe to similar discourses and what I say here won’t be anything new or extraordinary to you.
But if you read this and feel confused, angry or annoyed at movements like ‘men are trash’ or agree with ‘not all men’, then this may be something new to consider. That being said, I am only sharing my own views in a limited space and I fully recommend furthering your reading beyond anything I may say.
My obligatory disclaimer, well … disclaimed, let’s get into it. Who are we referring to when we say ‘men are trash’ and ‘not all men’? I think it’s safe to say the large majority of people using these terms are referring to cis-gendered, straight men, so I suppose in some ways, it really isn’t all men. But I am willing to bet that the people using ‘not all men’ as a defence to ‘men are trash’ aren’t defending groups aside from cis, straight men, so I think it’s safe in the context of this editorial to refer to ‘not all men’ as meaning ‘not all cis, straight men’. To question why ‘not all men’ may be a problematic response, it’s important to understand what ‘men are trash’ means. I can only speak from the perspective of a white, cis woman, but to me ‘men are trash’ is a direct reflection of the fear women live in and are subjected to throughout their lives. But it is also a protest statement against the patriarchy and the privilege that comes with being a straight, cis man – and this is largely where I find issue with the defence of ‘not all men’.
Gender-based violence and sexual assault are things women fear every day and can do little to escape. Living with this fear and being on constant alert for our safety is exhausting and we get angry at the unfairness of having to live this way. Of course, the basic argument of ‘not all men’ is that not every man is guilty of rape or gender-based violence and many (hopefully most) men would never physically harm a woman. But rape and sexual violence have existed since the dawn of humanity, and in 2021 the world is still plagued by these atrocities. While many men and women fight against it, rape continues. (Men are raped too, but the way rape is used as a tool of violence and oppression against women across the world is why this discussion is about men raping women). We live in a male-dominated world and a society of patriarchy, and yet the men in the world do not do enough to stop rape and other forms of gender-based violence (and sexism, and femicide and inequality – the list goes on). And this is on all men. Rape culture, locker room talk, inequality between genders and everyday sexism is perpetrated by huge portions of the population and not only by rapists and sex offenders. We can’t tell which man will rape or hurt a woman, but we also can’t tell which man laughs at a rape joke, or which thinks a woman belongs in the kitchen, and this is why it becomes ‘all men’.
‘Men are trash’ is a protest against the power and privilege men exercise to justify not dismantling the patriarchy and not doing more to stop men from raping, killing or abusing women. Yes, not all men rape. But all men are guilty of not challenging the system that allows other men to rape. All men are automatically privileged and benefit by the fact that they are men, and live in a world that favours men. ‘Men are trash’ because they accept and benefit from a system that oppresses women (many more groups are negatively affected by this system, such as queer people and people of colour, but that extends beyond the scope of this editorial). The infrequent man that is a true feminist does not counter the impact and message of ‘men are trash’ nor does it substantiate ‘not all men’. I also think that the men who are true feminists would never say ‘not all men’ as to be a feminist they’d understand what ‘men are trash’ means and why ‘not all men’ isn’t a justifiable response.
Why is it upsetting to hear ‘not all men’? Well to me it’s upsetting because it sounds like ‘not all men’ care, or care enough as a collective. It dismisses the systemic problem and makes ‘men are trash’ sound like an overreaction when in reality it’s an under-reaction. Perhaps instead of angrily protesting that ‘not all men’, we should ask ourselves why ‘men are trash’ became a thing, and address those reasons instead of being against the phrasing itself. ‘Men are trash’ is an idea, a protest and a cry of oppression. We should care more about the root of this than the ego bruise of calling men trash. Make it ‘all men’, and make it that all men will challenge the problems and strive to change them. It’s also important to understand that ‘men are trash’ doesn’t mean you hate your father, brother, boyfriend, or male friends. It means you understand that all men play a role in either allowing the problems to be perpetuated or actively working to challenge them.
If you feel strongly about any of what I’ve said, I’d like to hear it. I am only one perspective and one experience, so broaden the discussion with a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find our letter policy below.