“But we’re not all like that!” Part 2

Warning: Sexual harassment and assault

Yesterday, I wrote about how “not all like that” is often code for “I don’t like something about you but I’m trying not to be a jerk.”  Today I’m going to talk about a different sort of “not all like that”–the kind that gets defensive when there are people “like that.”

Every day, women put up with (often in silence) all manner of harassment–on the street, on public transportation, in the workplace, in church.  Catcalls, leers and jeers, whistles, groping, comments about our bodies, name-calling, angry retorts when we don’t respond.  We bear it, usually because someone has told us it isn’t a big deal or that we must have “been sexy that day” or we’re overreacting.  We’re made to feel alone, as though we’re the only ones who have ever experienced it, and we must somehow be responsible for it.

I’ve been there.  The boy who cornered me and grabbed my breasts until I screamed for help.  The classmate who ran his foot up my leg during study hall and whispered dirty things he was going to do to me.  The religious authority who forced me to feel his erection.  The student in my lab who gave me his assignments with “bitch” and “whore” scrawled at the top.  The kid who wrote in my year book his offer to “let” me give him a blow job.  The men who whistled at my sister and me on our way to the theater and called out,”Heyyyyy, ladies!”  The man in the bar who put his arm around me when I wouldn’t give him my attention.

The problem isn’t just that these men and boys exist.  It’s that whenever we talk about it, the automatic response from at least one man will always be, “But we’re not all like that” or “Well, I’m not like that” or “”Men get harassed too, you know.”  Well, cheers to you that you’re not like that, but don’t expect me to pat you on the back and give you a gold star for not being a dick to women.  Would you like to know some better responses?  Here you go:

My God. I’m so sorry that happened to you.


Next time I see someone doing that, I’ll speak up.


It’s wrong for anyone to be treated that way.

and even

It’s happened to me, too. (Because it does happen to men, and that’s just as shitty, and men shouldn’t be shamed into silence either.)

Unfortunately, too many people believe that these are isolated events perpetrated by a few folks with boundary issues.  It’s not, though.  Millions of us have experienced these things, and they happen everywhere.  I hope that when confronted with the facts, the denial and the shaming and the victim-blaming will unravel. The UK-based Everyday Sexism Project seeks to make that happen, fighting the lie that it’s not common or it’s the fault of the people on the receiving end.  I highly recommend following @EverydaySexism and the hashtag #SHOUTINGBACK on Twitter.

Take a few minutes to watch this video (it’s probably NSFW; there’s explicit mentions of specific kinds of harassment, including public masturbation).

Don’t excuse or minimize this behavior; don’t remind me that you don’t participate; don’t play the “what about the men” card.  Please just help make a difference.

14 thoughts on ““But we’re not all like that!” Part 2

  1. Totally agree, and your suggested responses are right on.

    Also, I want to say thanks for saying “Millions of us have experienced these things” and not “Every single woman has experienced this.” Obviously I never wish to get harassed or cat-called, but when I hear other women talk about this kind of thing and say, “All women know what I’m talking about” it makes me feel like I am the only person ever who’s never experienced this, and it brings back feelings from growing up of feeling like I was ugly or being treated like I was invisible. So thank you for not being exclusive in your language.

    • Thanks for your kind words! I’m trying to be mindful of how I say things like that, because you’re right, it’s just as exclusionary to say “all women have had this happen” as it is to say “you’re exaggerating–this doesn’t happen.” You’re definitely not alone in your experiences, any more than I am in mine.

  2. I remember being in Rome with my parents one summer (that sounds so snotty huh? Ha!). I was 16 and we had gotten on a bus as a family with our friend who was showing us around. When we got on, I somehow got seperated from my parents and sister…there were LOTS of people. I was standing and just crammed in with everyone else. At some point I kept feeling someone doing SOMETHING behind me, up against me…I turned around and this short, dirty old man (literally!) was grabbing himself and rubbing up against me. I saw it, panicked and when the doors opened on the bus I quickly moved to get away from him….I got caught up IN the doors one of them swinging open and pinning me up against the wall, with my feet off the ground. I felt like my chest was about to crack from the pressure of the door…I screamed out for help and at that moment the doors closed and I dropped to the floor. I looked up and a man I think saw what this gross guy was doing to me and so he put himself between me and the pervert and when the doors opened at my stop, made sure I got off the bus w/out this guy doing anything else (good to know there ARE decent men out there who will intervene when they see something). I was young…naive…and more shocked than offended. We had been in Italy a few days and because of my red hair I was getting LOTS of attention….men even taking random pictures of me. I love my Dad, but what I remember most, is that through ALL of that….he did very little. I told him what happened on the bus when we got off and he seemed a bit annoyed but not irate….not much of anything. My Dad is a passive man, and I guess that’s how I excuse it…but that whole trip, I was very much treated as a “novelty object” by many men and my Dad just kinda let it happen….I didn’t think too much of it then…but reading your post, made me realize that, “Yes!”, men often trivialize these things and I don’t think realize how threatened and demeaned we as women feel when they occurr. Good post….total truth! =0)

    • Exactly. Some women trivialize it as well–as in, it happens to all of us, so shrug and move on. I’ve also seen some men minimize it by claiming they’re flattered when they get looks & whistles, and we should be too. I remember one woman in the same breath complaining that she was getting stares from men, while also talking about how she herself ogles “hot” guys. Yeah, no double standard there. It just seems to be such an accepted part of life that people will be viewed that way.

  3. Pingback: Postcards from the culture wars

  4. If shit like what was described this went down in front of me, I’d do something about it. Were I to talk to the woman involved afterwards, I wouldn’t dismiss the problem, nor shift blame on the victim.

    I cannot alter the patriarchy singlehanded. I cannot fix the social problems described. And my ability to help people afterward is rather limited. All I can do is control the small area of my thoughts, actions, and reactions.

    I would speculate that I am not the only man out there who feels this way. I would further speculate that most men who use the phrase “But not ALL men are like that!” say it because they feel they are being directly accused of a crime that someone else committed. They use that phrase a code word for “But I’M not like that.”

    Take this insight as you will.

    • Wow. Did you seriously read an entire article on the topic of how being defensive is a dick move, and then get all defensive? That’s some real reading comprehension there.

      No, “Not all men are like that” is not code for “But I’M not like that.” Both of those phrases are code for “What you feel doesn’t matter, it’s all about how men feel, and you, as a woman, are irrelevant.” It’s not all about you. It doesn’t matter that not all men are like that. It doesn’t matter that you are not like that. What matters is that there are men ARE like that, and they do these things. Ignoring that fact just lets it continue.

      No one asked you or any other male to stop patriarchy by yourself. And if you feel that that what’s being asked of you when a woman says that she’s been harassed or assaulted by a man, you’ve got a serious ego problem. Get over it.

      And judging from her writing, Amy has a pretty good grasp on why men react this way. It’s barely Psychology 101. I doubt she needs you to mansplain it to her. Also, why here is irrelevant. No one cares why you get defensive. They want you to stop. So stop. It’s rather simple, actually.

      • This is pretty vicious. Eric is right, reports of this kind of harassment are usually made in a way that the men hearing them are also accused of it. You don’t say ‘this specific man did this’ or ‘some people do this’, you say ‘men do this’. That ‘men’ is a universal that includes the man you’re talking to. So you are then accusing that man, regardless of whether he has ever done or condoned any of the things you are talking about.

        So, accused, the man will get defensive and say ‘not all men are like that’. It isn’t code for anything. It’s a straightforward reminder that a blanket statement accusing all men does, in fact, accuse them. Responding in this way actually shows that they know that harassment like this happens, and that it’s a problem, not that they are trying to ignore or downplay it. They would be allies against it, but would rather not be accused of the very thing they are agreeing with you is repellant.

        And, seriously, don’t chastise someone for being defensive and then angrily attack them by saying they have an ego problem, or that they’re ‘mansplaining’ something. It’s that kind of callous crap that is aimed at stopping dialogue in its tracks. Eric disagreed with the post and explained his reasoning, he also agreed with the sentiment behind the post, that harassment must be stopped. Neither of these things is a defensive lash against women or an attempt to deny the problem. Don’t make them out to be.

        • A good summation of my comment, Syzygy. I would just add that I do not believe that Amy was concerned very much about men who feel specifically accused and respond this way. Her anger seems to be primarily focused on the men who say “Not all men are like that” as a way to explain that systematic abuse isn’t actually a problem.

          Which I am totally on board with.

          “Not all whites are racist!” is a crappy reason to refuse to dismantle the KKK, after all.

  5. My reading comprehension is excellent. Her thesis is that when women bring up topics such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, social alienation brought on after misogynism and violence, the men listening assume that THEY are the real victims because they have to listen to it and feel guilty.

    Is that or is that not what see is saying? If it is not, then I need her or you to explain this again.

    I know that I’m not the victim when a woman speaks out. It’s an easy litmus test- nothing bad happened to me, so I’m not the victim.

    I am not clear on why describing what goes though a dude’s head to make him say the things he does is wrong. But feel free to explain it to me. I have this thread set up to email me every time someone comments, and I’ll listen.

    • First-time commenter here by way of a link at Slacktivist. When men say, “not all of us are like that,” I wonder if they think that the woman speaking thinks that all men are like that. If I thought that all men are “like that,” I’d never leave the house, and I think many women would agree. It seems painfully obvious that not all men are like that so when a guy chimes in to point it out, I wonder if he thinks women are stupid, or that the woman complaining is stupid, etc., etc. But that can’t be it!

      So then I think, oh, he’s complaining because the woman wasn’t more careful with her use of the word “men.” Because the most important thing to do after being sexually assaulted or harassed is to parse what you say so no man listening in is accidentally indicted through an overly strict interpretation of “men” meaning “all men” as opposed to “men” meaning “it’s men who do this to me rather than women or dogs or babies.”

      Honestly, if a man hearing a story about men being rotten to women wants to get upset, he should be upset at the other men who are messing it up for everyone, not at the woman who forgot to say “SOME men” in her rant.

  6. Please indicate where I gave the impression that I was upset with Amy for forgetting “my feelings” during her post. I will retract it.

  7. This is somewhat off topic and you can contunue to communicate in any way you choose, not that you need my permission. :-)

    Saying something like “Well, cheers to you that you’re not like that, but don’t expect me to pat you on the back and give you a gold star for not being a dick to women.” Or “You don’t get a prize for being a decent human being.” FEELS unnessarily combative as a first response if you really want the largest number of people to process and learn from what you are saying. Especially in a blog post vs in person. I migh suggest something like simply saying “that isn’t a helpful response” or “this response seems to be either defensive or a derailing topic, so if you don’t mean it that way you should try not to use it.”

  8. A while back, I spent a 45-minute ride on a very crowded express bus being aggressively hit on by a very drunk man. The bus driver, to his credit, tried to intervene by distracting the guy, but it didn’t really work. Everyone around me in this elbow-to-elbow space was watching. No one, other than the driver, offered any support beyond an eyeroll. After I got off the bus, some random guy approached me, made a face and said “you should have punched him.”

    “Believe me, I thought about it…” I said. What I didn’t add was “…but decided it would be a very bad idea given that we were on a packed bus stuck on a freeway in the middle of a blizzard. The guy was really drunk and would probably have fallen on the driver if I hit him, which might have caused an accident. Even if he hadn’t I’d still have had to spend the rest of the bus ride standing next to him since no one thought to offer me their seat so I could move away. Yeah, escalating the situation would have been a *really* good idea.”

    I’m sure that the “you should have punched him” guy was trying to express sympathy and not trying to victim-blame. I am. But I was honestly more upset by his comment than I was by the behaviour of the obviously-drunk-and-not-right-in-the-head guy. To suggest that I hadn’t weighed the option of just hitting the guy was insulting and trivializing.

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