Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily represent those of Maryville College or the Highland Echo staff
There is nothing that I like less than a conversation stopper, and I am writing today about the father of all conversation stoppers: “We’re not all like that.” It can be pulled out in any occasion when someone is talking about oppression or especially about violence, and it is a great way to make someone distrust you.
Let’s start out with an example.
A woman decides that she trusts one of her male friends enough to tell him about a time she was sexually assaulted. He’s a great guy on all accounts, and he reacts reasonably, but the first or second thing out of his mouth is, “You know not all men are like that, right?”
She did not need him to remove culpability from himself. Addressing the subject of her assault was not an accusation. The first thing that came to his mind, though, was to distance his own identity from that of anyone who might do something like sexually assault a woman. Inherently, that’s at least a little selfish, taking the focus of the conversation away from her feelings to his.
I’d say that this hypothetical woman, who is based on many stories that I’ve read and heard and is not all that hypothetical, might not go to her friend with things like this in the future.
When talking about subjects like rape and misogyny, saying something like “we’re not all like that” or “men aren’t all like that” is unnecessary and unhelpful. It doesn’t matter that all men are not like that because enough of them are and, also, all of them are living in a system that enables them to commit acts of sexual assault and domestic violence and face little punishment.
Sure, all men aren’t like that, but all women still know how to hold their keys between their fingers so they can use them like a weapon. All men aren’t like that, but all women know the right places to kick and gouge if somebody tries to assault. They teach us in high school. They gather groups full of girls out on gym mats so they can learn how to pull out of a man’s hold like it’s an inevitability.
When a man is faced with the story of a woman being assaulted and his first reaction is, “but we’re not all like that,” she isn’t comforted. All that statement basically says, regardless of intention, is “I’m sorry you were raped, but let’s remember that I would never do that!”
It isn’t about what you wouldn’t do. It’s about the fact that so many men do. The overwhelming statistics regarding the frequency of sexual assault against women do not point towards a handful of repeat offenders or serial rapists.
It points towards an epidemic, one mainly focused within homes and relationships. It is likely that the woman telling you her story was assaulted by someone she never thought was like that.
I have known men who have become upset when women cross the street to avoid them or when women act suspicious towards them. I have known men who have acted like being treated as if they might be a rapist is equal or worse to being constantly on guard about being raped.
These facts don’t color my opinion about men as a whole, but they certainly color my opinion about that type of man. Sure, they would never assault a woman, but they also don’t want to acknowledge how many are being assaulted regardless of their actions.
They’re not as dangerous, but they are part of something dangerous, an undercurrent to a conversation that they refuse to have when they claim that all men aren’t like that.
Women know that all men aren’t like that. What they need to hear is that you are more concerned with what was done to them than your own comfort or feelings. What they need to hear is not that this was some isolated, freak incident, one lone maniac in a world full of nice guys, but that they aren’t alone.
Rape is a common crime. It’s not a shocking twist in a horror movie that nobody could see coming. It is reality, and men need to step forward to address that reality before they come to their own defenses.