Why I Refuse to Say "Not All Men"
My week started out terribly. My cat’s been particularly needy lately, and woke me up at 6AM on Monday morning by meowing at the door because my dad was getting ready to go to work. When I finally got up two hours later, I realized I would need most of my morning to run errands, so I gathered my stuff and hopped into the car. As I was pulling out of my neighborhood, I heard a “pop” noise and notice a couple of blocks later that my car’s low tire pressure light had come on.
I swore to myself and knew that my morning was about to be completely derailed. I took my hands off the wheel briefly and noticed the car listing to the left. Swearing even more, I pulled over into a gas station, got my tire gauge from the glove box, and checked the pressure on the left front tire. Sure enough, it was lower than it should be, and the tire looked like it was low to me. Since it was raining, I couldn’t hear any air hissing out, but I figured it would be better safe than sorry and drove to my car’s service center.
You see, two months ago, I hit a nail leaving the Humane Society and had to get my left front tire patched. The circumstances were almost exactly the same. There was a popping noise. The tire light came on. The car began listing to the left. The pressure dropped. Had I not taken it in immediately, the mechanic said, I would have found myself with a completely flat or blown tire that would need replacement. So since then, I’ve been extremely sensitive about what my car is doing and how it is handling. The last thing I need is to lose a tire and have to pay for tons of car repairs right before I leave for Oxford.
So I took it in. I met with a different mechanic this time and explained the issue. He pointed to the line of cars in front of me and said, “It’ll be awhile before we can get you in since you don’t have an appointment. We’re pretty slammed, so it’s gonna be an hour, hour and a half.” I motioned to my bag and said that was okay, I have work with me so I’ll be fine and handed him my keys.
Forty five minutes later, the service tech came over and explained that there was nothing wrong with my car except low pressure in all of the tires. He asked me, with a visibly annoyed expression, “Now, you checked the pressure in all the tires?” I hadn’t, but that was because I had no reason to. The mechanic then explained to me something I already knew – that with sudden weather changes, the pressure in the tires can change and sometimes just needs extra air pumped in.
I’d been familiar with that on my car for years, knowing that it usually needs a pressure adjustment with the first frost. The rainy stormy weather we’ve been having this week and the drop from 85 to 75 are usually not enough to cause the pressure change in the past, which is why I didn’t want to assume that was the case here.
But rather than explain this to the already annoyed mechanic, I just took my keys and left.
And I worried that I’d accidentally become a player in the thinking of people who believe women are incompetent – that my caution and fear about my car had left these male mechanics with a justification for being condescending to the next woman who comes in, for the next woman with an issue with her car. In other words, my worry was that my mistake – at least, my caution perceived as an error in judgment by the mechanic – just screwed things up for my gender and our perception by others.
And it occurred to me that men would probably never have this thought process. They won’t worry that they’ve screwed up things for the next guy when they’re belligerent or creepy or whatever. They expect to be seen as individual actors, as individual humans. Part existing as a gendered body in world where your gender is Other is knowing that you’re constantly and consistently being evaluated as a gender first and as a human second.
This is part of the reason that “Not All Men” is such a pervasive and annoying response to any feminist conversation that talks about men as a construct of oppression. Of course feminists know that not all men are misogynist assholes. Of course we recognize that there are men who are genuinely on our side. But “not all men” serves to highlight once again how absurd it is that men get to be judged as individuals while every other category is judged as a collective. What “not all men” resists is the collectivization of gender that women have to live under every single day.
What men are resisting, then, is the treatment they place upon women every day and throughout our lives. They are resisting being seen as a collective, as representative, rather than being taken as an individual person existing on their own. What women have experienced all our lives, men resist the second it’s implied of them.
And this, ultimately, is why I refuse to say “some men” in my speech or in my writing. Because men, on some level, deserve to have that moment of worry, that moment which pushes into sharp relief the different ways we are socially conditioned to think about life in the every day. That moving out of one’s privileged comfort zone is a necessary part of privilege. It forces men to think about whether or not they’re actually contributing to a problem before they can escape through the “not all men” hatch.
So I’m closing the escape hatch. I’m asking men to consider how their actions reflect on their gender. I’m asking men to ask themselves why women might be afraid of them, why the unwillingness to see you as safe right off the bat might be justified. I want you to think about your actions not as an individual, but as a collective. Try to feel a little bit of what women feel daily.
I'm still taking donations for paying for my flight to Oxford. I need approximately $500 to make up the difference in cost. Any help you can give is deeply appreciated!