On the #NotAllMen Trope, and a Wary Dater

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

Dear Roe, 

I was following the online conversations about the UCD 200 story, and many feminists and female writers were complaining about the responses they were getting. Reading some of the comments, this was understandable, as some of the responses they were getting were very attacking and offensive in nature.

However, I have an issue with the #NotAllMen trope that attacks men who dare to point out that when women discuss sexism, they often implicitly indict all men, which isn’t fair. As a man who tries to be feminist, it can be exhausting constantly being condemned under the umbrella of other men who aren’t trying as hard and who are genuinely misogynistic.  

I feel like if men make sweeping generalisations about women, they’d be called sexist. Why is it so wrong for men to point out that we’re not all like that, that there are some good guys left in the world?

Dear Letter Writer,

Simply, my dear, because we bloody KNOW.

We know that, yes, there are individual men that don’t go out and deliberately inflict harm and misogyny onto women at every opportunity – but we also know that it is, as you’ve seen, utterly impossible for women to talk about sexism and misogyny and patriarchy without getting a torrent of abuse. And still we try. Because we bloody have to.

We have to keep speaking out about sexism and harassment and abuse and assault and rape BECAUSE THIS SHIT KEEPS HAPPENING. And when we put our necks on the line, and speak out, and endure the torrents of abuse and threats and dismissals that go with that, up men pop like moles, whining, “But I’m not like that!”

As if that means ANYTHING. As if by telling us that, our experiences will disappear. As if it will make us feel safer, more supported.

In fact, it does the opposite. It shows us that every single time we share our experiences, you will stop paying attention. You won’t be able to even listen to or read the pain and injustice we experience on a daily basis, even though your discomfort at reading it is NOTHING compared to what we actually endure. And you will put your minor discomfort before our real pain and experiences.

Instead of listening, of trying to understand, you think that expressing your defensive reaction takes precedence over us communicating ours, and interrupt our testimony with a meaningless, “But it wasn’t meeeeeee!”

The irony, of course, is that women aren’t talking about men who AREN’T the problem, but when you cry “#NotAllMen” you’re forcing the conversation away from the men who ARE the problem, which is a fucking problem. You are becoming part of the fucking problem.

At its most basic, saying “#NotAllMen” means you’re interrupting women when they’re telling you their experiences. You’re not listening. Which means you’re not learning.

And yes, you say you’re trying to be a feminist, but you know what? You don’t get rewarded for that. You don’t get a free pass to only tune in when it’s convenient.

Being a feminist means believing women should be socially culturally, politically and economically equal with men. This is not a radical belief, it should be a baseline one.

So don’t go around saying, “I’m a male feminist!” as if it makes you special, instead of just a human being with the most basic sense of common decency. You don’t get a cookie for not being an asshole.

And if you genuinely are trying to be a good feminist, re-read this sentence: “As a man who tries to be feminist, it can be exhausting constantly being condemned under the umbrella of other men who aren’t trying as hard and who are genuinely misogynistic.”

Your exhaustion is nothing – NOTHING – compared to the exhaustion of women constantly fighting to be treated like equals, fighting for their right to be treated with decency, fighting for their right to speak.

So when we do speak, let us. Save the defensive interruptions. Stop crying “#NotAllMen”, and shut up and listen.

We need more men who do THAT.



Dear Roe,

I’m a straight woman, 27, and I’ve been very causally seeing a guy in his early 30s. We only see each other maybe once every week/fortnight but I’m only recently out of a serious relationship so that’s fine for me – he’s smart and funny, the sex is great and he’s trying to learn more about feminism which gets him all the brownie points. He’s also been open with me about being a bit commitment-phobic, and that he’s not looking for anything serious. I didn’t pry, mainly because we’re just casual and I’m happy with it, so it doesn’t matter.

The problem is his female friends. I’ve been to a few events with him and met some of his mates, all of whom seem like really smart women. And the ones I’ve spoken to are also outspokenly feminist, so again, brownie points. But they’re really nasty about him. The second they heard I was dating him, the started being really harsh about him, and passive-aggressive towards me.

One of them started telling me (when he was out of earshot) that he’s really immature and misogynistic, and makes woman fall in love with him before bailing, and two other women started chiming in, saying he had a really bad reputation, saying, “Good luck in trying to date him,” all this stuff. I met another woman a different night and the same thing happened. But it didn’t feel like they were looking out for me, they were being a bit aggressive, and also patronising, as if I was a stupid girl for even trying to date him. None of these women, I should add, have dated him, some of them have been friends with him for years, and he speaks really highly of them.

I don’t know how to feel about this, because on the one hand that’s a lot of warnings about misogyny to ignore, but on the other hand, I like him and don’t see that in him, but am casual enough about it that I’m not going to be devastated if it doesn’t work out. And there’s also something about 30-something women immediately selling out a guy who’s meant to be their friend that feels really uncomfortable to me. Do I ignore them? Ask him why people would say he’s misogynist? Tell him his friends are all talking shit about him?

Let’s do a little exercise. Imagine I’m your best girl mate, I’ve been dating around for a long time but haven’t found any guy who I like enough to get serious about. I tell people I have a touch of commitment-phobia, but I keep dating, not because I’m planning to hurt anyone, but because I’m hopeful.

However, being self-aware enough that I know my own pattern, and considerate enough not to want to hurt anyone, I’m open with the guys I date that I don’t want anything serious. In spite of this, sometimes they develop serious feelings for me, and I leave, because I don’t feel the same way about them, don’t want to string them along, and I don’t want the situation to get more complicated to the point where they’ll get badly hurt.

Then I start dating a new guy; he’s fun, not looking for anything serious, and we respect each other. I even introduce him to my best guy friends, thinking they’ll get along. Then, the second I’m not there, my guy friends – who I’ve never been with – start telling my date that I’m a whore, that I sleep around, that I manipulate men into falling for me then leave them.

They don’t say this in a, “We love Roe, she’s great, I hope it works out between you two, but maybe take it slow because she has some stuff she’s still working on” way. No, they say it in the, “Dude, she’s trouble and sleeps around and you’re pathetic if you stay” way.

Then I return to the conversation only for these men to put on their best, “We’re your friends!” smiles and wonder why my date is suddenly looking at me like I’m a Venus flytrap waiting to snap down on his testicles.

This, my dear, would be slut-shaming, pure and simple. And I don’t think what these women are doing to your guy is that far off.

If your date was constantly surrounding himself with younger, less intelligent women, and he had a clear and explicit history of cheating, of taking advantage, of emotionally abusing women – I’d tell you to find yourself another hook-up. But that’s not the situation.

Your guy actively surrounds himself with smart, outspoken feminists – you included – and simply has a reputation for dating a lot and not settling down. That doesn’t make him a bad person, or a misogynist.

And sure, he could be a major misogynist in other ways – but I have my doubts. Even if you weren’t smart enough to have had some alarm bells go off by now, I don’t think all these other smart, feminist women would be sticking around if he really was such an ass.

I think this guy is being harshly judged for his dating history, and maybe his female friends are a bit exasperated with him, and having to meet a different girl every month. But I think if they had more proof of his alleged misogyny, they would have laid it all out, or simply have friend-dumped him. And they haven’t.

They may be a bit territorial, and – yes, I’m going to say the thing I’m not meant to say – maybe a little bit jealous. After all, he apparently dates everyone and has never dated them. Maybe that’s a complicated feeling for them. The fact that women in their 30s are talking behind the backs of their friend while he’s respectful of them is also pointing at much more immaturity on their end than his.

I’d stick around as long as you’re having fun with him. And don’t indulge the gossiping, it’ll only make you paranoid and drive a gap between you and him. Kill them with kindness – the next time they start talking shit about him, simply tell the truth, and walk away.

“We’re both happy with keeping things casual, and he treats me really well. I’m surprised you want to talk badly about him to near-strangers – he always speaks incredibly highly of you. Please excuse me.”

Then go have sex with him. Win/win.

Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

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Roe McDermott: Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

Reader responses

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at 24 February 2016 at 10:55

I think the UCD incident is highly instructive of what is happening with contemporary feminism and the quite frankly divisive effect is it having on gender relations. The allegations were extraordinary, and were scarcely believable even if you accept that oh, let’s say 10% of young men were capable of behaving that way (which I don’t believe, knowing what I know about a broad range of young men in my life). The throwaway comments of one student, probably with an ideological axe to grind, were enough to spark a textbook moral panic – that seemed to confirm all the toxic axioms that feminists so badly want to be true. All with zero evidence, and the net effect was that the national and international media, as well as internet chromosome warriors descended on cohort of innocent young men liked winged monkeys and gave them a kicking for no other reason other than dogma. The reputation of UCD was sullied for no good reason also, and it would have been helpful if the media outlets gave as much voice to the university’s findings as they did to the hysteria. But this is the unfortunate era we live in.

Even in the face of an investigation which found the the allegations to be wholly unsubstantiated, they didn’t reflect and retreat. Instead, they doubled down saying ‘oh well this *could* of happened, the average young male is perfectly capable of this. #rapeculture’. BS they are, you’re peddling a toxic agenda if you believe anything but an extreme minority of men do such things. And when they *do* happen, few people have sympathy for them. That’s the reality in our culture.

The contemporary fembot acts like a Maoist red guard during the Cultural Revolution, content to burn anyone and anything to the ground to further their own circular ideology. It’s a power play pure and simple, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious the further down the rabbit hole we go.

You could spend your whole life apologizing and kowtowing to these people’s totemic articles of faith. It makes no difference, they’re not looking to bring genders together and to have a kinder more understanding society. What they’re actually seeking is for you to submit to their world view, and for you to accept your role in it. I’m done with such nonsense. I treat everyone in my life of all genders, colors and creeds with dignity and respect, and everyone gets a fair shake unless its proven they can’t be trusted. If that isn’t good enough for your garden variety campus Maoist agitator, I really couldn’t give a toss. You’re not going to get thanked for it either way.

at 24 February 2016 at 11:42

Wow! Defensive much dave? And talk about a word salad. You don’t make very coherent points when they’re all couched in such aggressive and resentful language. Try again to explain your points without all of that and maybe there is some hope of a conversation, otherwise, you are just exemplifying what Roe has put so well above.

at 24 February 2016 at 13:14

I’m not the one displaying defensive tendencies. I’ll couch my words how I please btw, and the substance of what I wrote stands. You appear display more concern about words on the internet addressing a clear clusterf*ck than the attempted trashing of the reputation of a group of students and a university off the back of a rumour. I’ll file your post under: you would say that wouldn’t you?

at 24 February 2016 at 16:03

You’re still not really making any actual points here Dave, only coming across as pretty misogynistic.
I might also add that your assertion that feminism is responsible for having a ‘divisive effect’ ‘on gender relations’ is missing the entire points completely – women being treated like second class citizens in their country in a whole range of manner, personal safety included, is the overwhelming reason for a ‘divisive effect’. Your looking through a window at a whole world that you haven’t seen yet (maybe aren’t willing to engage with?).

at 24 February 2016 at 18:26

My point is pretty clear and unambiguous (and whats more you know it). The UCD debacle is a clear example of how latter day feminism has lost the plot. A likely made up conspiracy made up with someone with a fertile imagination got turned into a national media event, and brigades of people with an ideological bent gleefully slandered a group of young men and don’t have the grace to admit they were wrong and overstepped the mark. Cant be any more helpful to you that. As for mysoginy? Get out of town, use that lowball tactic on someone more gullible.

at 25 February 2016 at 01:36

“We have to keep speaking out about sexism and harassment and abuse and assault and rape BECAUSE THIS SHIT KEEPS HAPPENING. And when we put our necks on the line, and speak out, and endure the torrents of abuse and threats and dismissals that go with that, up men pop like moles, whining, “But I’m not like that!”

As if that means ANYTHING. As if by telling us that, our experiences will disappear. As if it will make us feel safer, more supported.”

Isn’t the point of speaking out to stop THIS SHIT FROM HAPPENING? I’m not condoning #I’mAManAndNotAMIsogynistLookAtMe, and I agree that this should be a baseline belief. I, for example, rarely speak about this issue, and it is the first time I have written anything about it online. But why on earth wouldn’t it make you feel more supported when the gender you are shaming are coming out to support you? It isn’t going to solve the problem, but it will help towards the change- men seeing other men support your cause. There seems some aggressive martyrdom in your writing that this is a woman’s problem which can only be solved by women. It is a male problem, and it is a change in male culture that needs to take place- women alone cannot make this happen. Sorry. Surely the more men who support your cause, the less men will abuse you. I thought that was the point of the feminism movement. But how would I know, I’m a man.

at 25 February 2016 at 09:37

@dave: Yeah, your point is clear and unambiguous – you are angrily ranting about women online. So, yes, in that regard, I do know it.

I suppose rape culture and the wage gap are conspiracy theories too? Who do you think the feminists are out to get with it? #allmen?

at 25 February 2016 at 18:30

@Darren: I don’t know if you could call Roe’s response shaming, a bit of a reminder, forcefully albeit. Moaning about one’s hurt feelings by comparison to the horrible things that women put up with is grating to read time and time again.

To quote Margaret Atwood – ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them’.

Feminist are all too aware of the fact that #notallmen; you don’t have to remind us. Talking about these things should result in an open, frank discussion with two outcomes; the men who do these things know its not cool and the men that know this already find common ground with the rest of men.

Its not for men to internalise it – that just overrides the original concept. Bigger picture thinking is required here and sometimes people need a wake up call to realise that, if that comes in the form of Roe’s rant, then so be it. I’d rather 500 men are personally offended than be raped walking home, I suspect any normal headed person would too.

at 26 February 2016 at 16:30

@D: Feminsim, ranting (*sigh*) about feminism. Which is an ideology, NOT a gender. And should be subject to critique just as any other. You obviously don’t believe so. The ideology that evidently thinks it OK to take fanciful rumors and use it to run down a group of innocent people (#rapeculture), and not so much as take a look at itself when its blatantly wrong.

As for the wage gap, we could go into it. I can tell already that you have a Phd in dividing by 2, but aren’t so adept at long division.

at 1 March 2016 at 09:12

@dave: Or I could stop responding to someone who clearly has a lot of rage going on there as my PhD only entitles me to listen to angry Dave, rather than have my own opinion. Good one Dave – proving why feminism is still needed.

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