Gender-based violence and #NotAllMen: I’m tired

This week, the world blew up with the news of Uyinene Mrwetyana’s rape and murder by a male post office worker. This has sparked a much-needed conversation on violence against women, particularly in South Africa. But as with any triggering incident, and feminist conversation/ movement (see #MeToo, #MenAreTrash), the #NotAllMen association are out in their numbers, and I’m tired!

Dear men and women, here are 6 reasons why you should stop saying #NotAllMen

1. Thanks, Captain Obvious. Obviously not all men. We would be silly and inaccurate to claim that all men verbally abuse, sexually assault and/or murder women. But the fact of the matter is that violence against women in most countries is overwhelmingly by men (source). In South Africa, almost 60% of women murdered were killed by an intimate male partner in a 2009 report (source).

2. Saying “Not all men” reduces women’s lived experiences. If hearing women’s accounts at the hands of patriarchy (a system built to benefit and give power to, surprise surprise, men) makes you uncomfortable, and if instead of furthering the discussion, you whip out the not-all-men-card, then you are a part of the problem my friend.

3. Generalisations may seem unfair, but PSA: they are helpful.  We generalise to make sense of the world. Statistical generalisation is an accepted scientific method for research and analysis where entire populations cannot be sampled.  Generalisations also, by virtue of being generalisations, suggest exceptions. So while I see where #NotAllMen Inc. is coming from, it is actually redundant to say “not all men” (see point 1 above)

4. It is necessary to use collective terms in difficult discussions. Whenever there is a mass shooting in the US, most people are OK with statements like “America has a gun-violence problem”. However, mass shootings actually make up less than 1% of gun-related homicides in America (source). So one might argue that “America has a gun-violence problem” in light of mass shootings, is actually a fallacy. But we know it would be highly irresponsible to ignore the conversation around mass shootings of tens of people a year under the veil of “not all gun owners”, “not all gun-deaths” and “not all states”, when it is an issue that undoubtedly affects/involves the American people.

The use of collective language forces all relevant populations to be involved in, and take collective control of pertinent issues. Gender-based violence has been labelled a public health issue by some. This is a collective issue. Avoiding collective language is lazy and cowardly.

5. “Not all men” is a cop-out on allyship. If you are part of #NotAllMen and Co., I fully expect you at the vigils for victims. I expect #NotAllMen LLC to participate in constructive Twitter threads. To listen to and validate women’s experiences. To hold men accountable. The irony is that in saying “not all men”, you are not demonstrating allyship, despite suggesting that you aren’t like THOSE men.

6. So, you’re not one of THOSE men. Well, you don’t get a gold star for not violating other human beings. Saying #NotAllMen as a defense suggests that violence against women would only be worth tackling if all men were perpetrators. This would be a misconstruction because i) obviously not all men (see points 1 and 3 again) and ii) what a sick world that would be. The next time you get the urge to say “but not all-“, please bite your tongue. It’ll be better for everyone that way

Now that we’ve got out of the way why it is not okay to retort “not all men”, here are some things you can say/do in response to women’s rage and hurt:

  1. Call out violent culture in your circles. This includes rape jokes and sexual entitlement. If it makes you uncomfortable, call it out. If in doubt, call it out. If you would be embarrassed to laugh about it in the presence of women you claim to love and respect, it’s likely offensive and harmful, call it out. If you know a woman would call it out, call it out. If it violates human dignity, call it out.
  2. Listen to women, and validate their experiences. Something as simple as “I am terribly sorry for your experience. What happened was not ok” can go a long way
  3. Provide safe spaces for these conversations,  instead of stifling them with “but not all men”.

The above applies to any form of systemic oppression/ -isms. But today, my heart is heavy for women. My heart cries for you, for us. For every Uyinene there are hundreds, thousands of women whose names we will never know. I pray for healing in every society, nation and state.



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