For a long time, whenever I listen to or engage with news about gender-based violence, rape, acid attack, or harrassment, committed by men on women, it invariably ignites complex feelings of fear, prejudice and sometimes sharp hatred in me towards that particular gender. The general argument and defense that we often come across when such feelings are expressed is, ‘not all men’.
Even if I try to accept that for argument’s sake, when I am in public spaces like metros where the majority of the people present are men, most of who make me uncomfortable with their gaze, ‘not all men’ becomes a very unacceptable, problematic thought in my head. When women or individuals from oppressed gender minorities enter a room full of men, we instantly feel uncomfortable, vigilant and worry that something could go wrong. However, this seldom happens when the scenario is reversed.
I try hard not to feed this kind of feeling, but as the days pas, and I consume more news about gendered violence and converse about the same with my friends in general and male friends in particular, it rekindles my fears leading me to burst out and frequently criticise male privilege and entitlement. The consequence is that like in the case of every ‘feminist killjoy‘, the deviates to ‘how I communicate and carry my emotions’, while the problem at hand remains unaddressed.
Knowing that men and women have different lived experiences in the same situation in a patriarchal society intensifies these emotions. Male privilege allows men to walk freely at any time, use public spaces, express opinions and exercise agency without the fear of violence or threat. Many times, I have heard fellow women say with a sigh, “I wish I was a man“, because then, rights would have been easier to exercise. As Kamla Bhasin said, “social, religious, legal and cultural practices privileges them as men, and consequently, accord them more rights in practically every area.”
Why ‘not all men’ is problematic
One of the most common arguments received from men when a woman or individual from a marginalised gender identity recalls a traumatic incident about harassment is, ‘not all men’; and these are not very comforting words to hear. They just add fuel to fire when uttered in response to a person’s narration of gender-based violence or sexual assault.
We all know that not all men are violators or abusers. But if your first concern and reflex after listening to an individual’s account of harassment is ‘not all men‘, it completely deviates the focus of attention from the problem to you defending yourself when in the first place, nobody has blamed you. It is always easier to defend than to listen, acknowledge and take responsibility for the abuse influcted by members of a privileged group, without having it trigger individual male ego.
‘But what about men?’, ‘They are abused too’, is another kind of response that is frequently meted out in instances like this. Men’s sexual abuse is an issue which is extremely concerning, but if you are reminded of these arguments only at a time when a woman discusses their trauma, it is a very insensitive, problematic approach to the situation.
Issues against men, though lesser in proportion are equally significant. But using them to trivialise or counter narratives of sexual abuse suffered by women and members of marginalised genders is deliberatley deciding to not address the elephant in the room. On engaging with personal experiences or news pertaining to gender-based violence, if the immediate tendency of a person is to take it as a personal attack and prove that some men are ‘nice’, it is a part of the problem that we are trying to resolve. Nobody has a right to expect gratitude from anyone for not engaging in sexual assault.
Survivors of systemic and gendered abuse do not have to take the onus of narrating their experiences with the caution to pamper the egos of those who listen to them.
One thing that eats me up most of the time is that many men hide under their defense and are not willing to change, but want to continue the endless fight and defend themselves at the cost of invalidating the trauma of survivors of sexual abuse. When one constantly engages with news about how many sexual assaults have been committed in the country, and becomes privy to the defensive, privileged responses of the perpetrators of violence, it becomes impossible to not develop such feelings of despair and unrest towards the privileged gender.
The feeling keeps on exacerbating and I really want it to dwindle with time. We will be able to address the problem holistically only when there is acceptance about it from the oppressor group, and a willingness to reverse it individually, as well as systemically. What survivors of sexual abuse need is empathy and solidarity. ‘Not all men‘ is a very trigerring response in this scenario and this fact must be recognised.
Featured Image: FEM Newsmagazine