Dixie Gillaspie goes straight to the heart of the controversy around whether #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen belong in the same conversation.
Who would have guessed, back in high school typing class, that the lowly numbers sign would ever come to indicate anything more controversial than “We’re #1!”
But since twitter users morphed it into the theme tracking hashtag, it’s kept us connected to things that matter, and things worth arguing about.
Most recently, it’s kept us connected to the conversation around male entitlement and how all women have experienced the fear of saying “no.”
#YesAllWomen started after a 22 year old man decided “if you can’t date ‘em, kill ‘em” was going to be his new motto.
His killing spree left seven dead, including himself, and opened a Pandora’s Box of stories from women around the world. Stories previously told, but ignored as “just the way it is.” Stories never told, because of fear, not only of retribution, but fear that no one would really care.
It’s clear that yes, if not all women, then an overwhelming majority of them, have been subjected to threatening behavior because they had the audacity to “just say no.”
In the wake of these stories, and the resulting generalizations about why men feel entitled to everything from a women’s attention and affection, to their sexual favors, men, and many women as well, felt the need to defend themselves, and the good men in their lives and in the world.
And so the hashtag #NotAllMen was coined to remind us that there were exceptions, that the generalizations and accusations being bandied about did not apply to all men.
For as many people as agreed with this differentiation, there were those who argued that #NotAllMen has no place in this conversation. That men are, as usual, just trying to make it all about them, when this conversation is supposed to be about women.
But how can a problem that involves both men and women be about only men or women?
How can it be solved without both men and women working toward the solution and benefiting from the ensuing change?
The problem with #NotAllMen is not that it makes the conversation male-centric. It’s that it puts the focus on the wrong part of the conversation.
Of course not all men. Not all men were raised to believe that anything they are or anything they do entitles them to any sort of treatment from any woman.
Not all men have been unable to overcome that suggestion from their elders and their peers.
Certainly not all men take action, any kind of action, let alone deadly action, on their belief that they deserve something that they aren’t getting from women.
But I don’t think anyone can argue that male entitlement is not the cultural norm.
Our cultural bylaws are reflected in our entertainment choices. Books, movies, TV series and reality shows all send similar messages.
They’re reflected in the news media. They’re reflected in the gossip in the lunchroom at school and at work, and they show up on social sites like Facebook and twitter and in the pictures portrayed on Instagram.
“This,” they say, “is how the world works. This is what you should expect. This is the time-honored role of men, and of women.”
If you aren’t watching for the messages you’ll probably miss them.
But the stories we’re told are built on a framework created long before a #YesAllWomen conversation could have even been considered. These plots are only modern in the way that West Side Story was modern – a retelling of an old, old tale with a few details changed. I’m sure Shakespeare would have recognized his Romeo and Juliet in the characters of Tony and Maria.
How can we expect that cultural outcomes will change, if cultural norms do not?
Which is exactly why #NotAllMen is wrong. Not because it’s untrue. But because it’s irrelevant.
It speaks to the wrong problem, answers the wrong question.
It’s a rebuttal to the generalizations tossed about to explain the misogyny that led to Eliot Rodger’s attitude and choices.
It says that some men have seen through the cultural programming, that some men have embraced a world where women are not required to trade their attention for a few empty compliments, or sex for dinner and a glass of wine.
It says that some men see women as more than property to be won or taken by force. That some men value character and heart over beauty and sexual availability.
Yes. True. And that was my first reaction to the generalizations as well, “Not all men are like that! Fewer now than ever before.”
I still believe that. I’ve always have a lot of male friends, and I’ve worked in industries where my peers and clients were nearly all male. And I can see minds opening and beliefs shifting.
But the question is not whether all men feel entitled. Or whether all men act on that entitlement.
The question is #WhyAnyMen believe in male entitlement.
The question is, what can we do to change our world into a place that, #YesAllMen value and respect women.
Those are the questions we’re trying to answer at The Good Men Project.
You only see what we write, I wish you could hear what we talk about. Because in the conference calls with editors, the conference calls with contributors, and the threads on our private Facebook group for writers, the conversation is centered squarely on this question; “What can we, as thinkers, as writers, as voices in the world, what can we do for #YesAllMen so that #YesAllWomen becomes a lie?”
Because, the cultural norm of the alpha male, the superior male, the entitled male – that culture is no more allows men the freedom to fully express themselves and embrace their lives than it allows women to do the same.