Why the phrase “#NotAllMen” is harmful and problematic

June 14, 2021 2:08 PM

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Photo of the author (right). Photo courtesy of the author.

Photo of the author (right). Photo courtesy of the author.

The term “#NotAllMen'' has been circulating throughout the internet since around 2011. 10 years later, it's still as controversial and insensitive as it was a decade ago. Somehow, these “#NotAllMen” men have yet to realize the impact of their words, which are so fallacious and inaccurate that they’ve become an internet meme amongst women and feminists. Still, the jokes won’t take the hurt the words cause to survivors away. The phrase “#NotAllMen” is problematic and harmful to survivors because it is used to downplay the experiences of women and used to argue against women’s stories, and because all women are affected by men’s choices. 

The phrase “#NotAllMen'' is problematic because it is used to downplay the impact of sexual assault on women. A 2021 article in “The Daily Targum” by Meredith Maclean titled “Listen up men: Saying “#NotAllMen” is incredibly insensitive to survivors” highlights this, when Maclean states, “When men see women sharing their fears about going outside, or the story of their assault or misogyny they have faced in their fields and refute with “not me,” they’re centering themselves in a survivor’s narrative… these men set out to center themselves as one of the ‘good ones.’ Absolving themselves of guilt, gaining appreciation or attention from women and maintaining the fact that they, on a personal level, would never do something like that become more important than the women sharing their pain.” This indicates how “#NotAllMen'' men use the argument in an attempt to make the situation about themselves and prove that they’re “one of the good guys” rather than acknowledging the suffering that women go through. Rather than taking a step back and understanding that women go through these kinds of hardships on a daily basis, they project their insecurities onto them by proving that “not all men” are like this. This is only one example of the kind of harm that the phrase “#NotAllMen” cause for survivors. 

Another reason why the term “#NotAllMen” is harmful because it is only used to argue against women who share their stories. In a 2021 interview with a 16-year-old Revere High student named Aolani Nova, when asked what the term “#NotAllMen” meant to her, she responded “Men say it to protest ‘all men’ — It feels like an attack to women who try to put their stories out there.” When asked if the phrase makes her feel invalidated, she answered, “Yes, because we’re not saying all men .. If you feel attacked by it, then you’re part of the problem. You use the phrase just to say ‘well I haven’t done that’ and it’s disgusting.” Men overall only use the saying “#NotAllMen” because they feel attacked by the idea that men harm women in such disgusting ways. 

In the article “We Know It’s #NotAllMen” by Madeline Papcun from “The Daily Campus,” Papcun explains “Think of the concept of defensive driving. You have no guarantee of what other drivers are going to do on the road, so you make sure that you’re the one looking ahead, keeping your eyes moving, checking your mirrors and leaving an appropriate distance between yourself and other cars. In the same sense, women don’t know exactly which men may pose a threat. So women are taught not to walk alone at night, to carry their keys between their fingers and to watch their drink like a hawk. No driver says that defensive driving is an offensive term, citing that ‘not all drivers’ are dangerous or unpredictable. So why the default to #NotAllMen?” Papcun’s metaphor puts the entire debacle into perspective by using a simple everyday example, and comparing it to the current situation. If being cautious and defensive on the road isn’t offensive, why is the idea of women being cautious and defensive so insulting and wounding to men?

The term “#NotAllMen” is problematic because it is “#AllWomen.” In a study conducted by UN Women UK, researchers found that 97% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, 96% of those cases going unreported because of the doubt of anything changing if the issue was to be reported. Sure, not every single man in the world has mischievous and impure intentions, however, clearly, enough to create a problem. There are about 3.82 billion women in the world, and most of them have been put through some form of sexual harassment. In fact, it is so common that many women describe their experiences with cat-calling and harassment as “normal,” or “an everyday encounter.” This problem has gotten so out of control that women have been conditioned to believe this is normal, when in fact women shouldn’t have to fear they’ll be attacked, whether it's physically or verbally, simply for being a woman. Again, while not every single man has malicious intentions, and has directly and intentionally targeted women, chances are they know a man who has. Although not every man has consciously and intentionally hurt a woman or woman-identifying individual, enough women have been affected for this to become an issue that needs to be addressed. 

The phrase “#NotAllMen” is problematic and harmful to survivors because it is used to overshadow the experiences of women, used to challenge women’s stories with sick men, and because, yes, it is in fact “#AllWomen.” Remember, if you have to prove and argue that you are “one of the good guys,” there’s a chance you’re not as pure and supportive as you think. Actions speak louder than words.

About the author: Yelitza Leon is a writer, musician and activist. Yelitza was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up all around Boston before moving to Jamaica Plain. In 2020, she graduated from the Steppingstones program, and now attends Boston Latin Academy as a seventh grader and rising eighth grader. She spends her free time writing fictional stories based on her own experiences with things that happened in her life. 

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