You are cis-gendered male who feels you do not play a part in propagating sexism and misogyny. You are almost definitely wrong. Here is why.
In the aftermath of last week’s Isla Vista shooting and the release of the shooter’s pre-massacre video, Twitter filled up with comments from women who were not just haunted by the shooter’s words in the video, but by the fact that what he said is not far from what they have heard from other men before.
Not long after women around the world began sharing their experiences on Twitter, a number of men began to respond using the #NotAllMen, pointing out that not all men use violence against women, some in more detestable ways than others. Some women joined the chorus, too.
However, no one, especially white, heterosexual, cisgender males should be using the #NotAllMen hashtag in the way it is used above. This is not simply because, as some commentators have written, it “derails a productive discourse,” though it does.
My message to you, fellow cis-gender heterosexual men, and the reason you should not use the #NotAllMen hashtag, is that though you may not use violence against women personally, though you may call out that violence when you see it, it is likely that you nevertheless unconsciously propagate a system of power-relations that subjugates women. Though you may well be a white liberal feminist male who uses your political and economic privilege to support gender and racial equality, it is likely that you also commit micro-aggressions against women and people of color many times a day.
The ideologies that ensure oppression’s existence do not function only in a public-sphere political context, but are instead bourn out in your everyday interactions with other men and with women.
It is the objectifying and disrespectful comments about a woman’s body when she walks by, not the ones you shout to her—you would never act in such a vulgar manner—but the one you make to your male friends.
It is expecting that a girl you met on Tinder go home with you on the first night.
It is your belligerent reaction, on Twitter or in person, when women try to share their experiences of oppression with you.
When you are doing these things, you are propagating your privilege, often and most importantly when you are not aware you are doing so. As Foucault illuminated, power is impersonal, “meaning that it is not guided by the will of individual subjects.”
#NotAllMen use violence against women. But virtually all heterosexual cis-gender men play a part in sustaining and nourishing the network of oppressive power that manifests itself in responses like the #NotAllMen hashtag. Sometimes, women, by adopting the patriarchal discourse, can further this network too.
Your homework, if you are a liberal, feminist, cis-gender male is thus: when a woman references this network of oppressive power and shares their experiences, do not react defensively. Listen, internalize, and analyze your own behavior. It is not an attack on you as an individual, but on a system of power that you likely propagate in minute ways. If you want to end it, or better it, your first task is to recognize your role as a vehicle of it.