A group of women sit in a bar, lamenting the ills and dangers of manoeuvring within the modern world. Mentions of cat calling, cheating and unknown children abound. Further down the bar a man overhears this conversation and, his man-sense tingling, steps in. ‘Ladies, the thing is that not all men are…’
With that one phrase, the man seeks to erase the experiences that the women have had in the last ten plus years, mentally archiving and documenting every grab in the street, suspicious late night phone call and creepy ‘I could give it to you good’ comment.
The argument behind the #NotAllMen notion is understandable.
One cannot tar everyone with the same brush. We are all individuals, thus to make rash judgements about people based on one’s own experiences is problematic. However, one must look at the rules rather than the exceptions and the general rule is that, to some extent, this behaviour is allowed.
We live in a world where women are drugged in public places, where they visit male family members and are later found dead under the bed, where they are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know or physically abused by an intimate partner than a stranger.
#NotAllMen is the same as going #NotAllDinosaurs at Jurassic Park, it does not make the dinosaurs that will kill you any less scary or real. Even if one was to argue that ‘only’ 25 per cent of men are rapists there is still a good 75 per cent out there living their T-Rex predator life. This unfortunately makes the 75 per cent moot.
It may not be #AllMen, but it is enough men to make reality pretty damn frightening.
The same logic applies to other hashtags that have latched on to the #NotAllMen debate.
One can use the phrase #NotAllHumans when it comes to rhino poaching; however there are enough poachers out there to make it a real problem. One can use the phrase #NotAllReligions but it does not deny that we live in a time of heightened religious tensions coupled with the capability to drag us all into the next Crusades no matter where we live or what we believe. This is a framework that allows the actions of a few speak to the structural reality of many. It is not isolated but systematic in nature.
These #NotAll arguments ignore the system within which these broken cogs happily function. It also manages to erase the experiences of those who are consequently crushed in the mechanics of this system. To sit and say #NotAllMen implies that we do not live in a world where 1 in 3 women shall be sexually assaulted in their life time.
In light of current events another call has arisen namely #NotAllWhite people, speaking to open expressions of racism in the country. Unfortunately to say #NotAllWhitePeople is to act like racism and the ability to be racist is not still entrenched in our systems. The fact that Penny Sparrow can be selling real estate in a predominantly black area and the fact that Chris Hart, a leading economist in a country steeped in socio-economic inequality, can say what he said shows that the ideas these ‘single incident’ racists are fed from a grander paradigm. They are not isolated ‘shocking’ incidents but part of the back room chat and back bone of society. The fact that a white person feels they can call a black person ‘a monkey’ is not one borne out of thin air, it the consequence of decades and centuries of racial inequality that functions today. A man feeling he can rape a woman on campus and then return to the exact same institution saying he was ‘confused about their interaction’ is the result of a society that tells men they are entitled to women’s bodies.
We must stop treating these societal ills like spots of flu; they are a cancer, understand that they are deep within our DNA. Unfortunately until this is well and clearly understood we shall continue to circle the drain. It is less about going #NotAll (insert grouping here) and more about going what is wrong with our society where my peers feel they can do this? Why is it that some of us (even if it is a fraction) think we can act in this way? This is the only way in which racial inequality, gender inequality and all other ills will be sorted, by figuring out what in the system makes people feel they can act this way, because these actions are not isolated.
Racist remarks are part of a racist system and rape is part of rape culture, simple as that.
The phrase may be #NotAllMen but unfortunately there are enough. The phrase may be #NotAllWhitePeople but unfortunately there are enough.
Tiffany Kagure Mugo is a Open Society Foundation Youth Fellow co-founder and curator of HOLAA! an online Pan Africanist hub that advocates for and tackles issues surrounding African female sexuality . She is a contributor to the Mail and Guardian, Thought Leader and This Is Africa amoungst other platforms writing articles on the two human conditions: sex and politics. She dabbles in media consultancy and has also written a short story or three. She enjoys being a wine bar philosopher as she ponders the existential crisis the world is going through.
First published on Mail and Guardian.