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#NotAllMen, But Applauding Men For Not Abusing Women Is Probably Not The Way To Go

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By Kabir Sharma

The hashtag campaign #BlameOneNotAll that came up recently on an Indian media site was a sad reminder of how many people remain insensitive to the issues with #NotAllMen and its connotations.

The photographs in the #BlameOneNotAll campaign are absolutely shocking. They essentially imply that men who haven’t abused a woman they know are a righteous few, and should feel good about themselves.

Indirectly making the point that abuse is part of the general norm of society, they provide a comfort zone to men who do abuse. They also raise the question whether men who do not assault certain women, do not because their acquaintance is established, or because they have the minimum amount of humanity it takes to not abuse another human.

Sexual abuses against women are established, recurrent phenomena. It is not as if these are stray, isolated incidents with nothing in common. Every day, and all across the world, cases are reported. 35% of women worldwide experience sexual violence in their lifetime. In Europe, more than 85% women do not report their most serious incidents of violence, and things are much worse in India. One in five women on our planet will become a victim of rape or attempted rape. Most cases of rape against women, and indeed men too, are perpetrated by men. And there are many, many more forms this oppression takes.

It is therefore, a systemic problem, with systemic reasons, which go down to the very roots of our society. What we see as reported cases are the tip of an iceberg: there is plenty under the surface that goes into making them so disgustingly recurrent. The deep rooted structures and mental models of our civilization.

Conversations on the topics of sexual abuse, sexism and patriarchy are not personal attacks to wiggle out of with individual retorts like #NotAllMen or #BlameOneNotAll, in the process derailing the debate; but something to think about very deeply.

#YesAllWomen, made in response, expresses some of this sentiment, pointing out that all women are affected by sexism and abuse, even though (and everyone knows this) not all men perpetrate violence.

It is a huge problem that women worry about protecting themselves all the time. And men feeling the need to absolve themselves (online or offline) is a problem in itself. What are they protecting, and why? Looking Back #NotAllMen has a long and confused genesis. The phrase first went viral (without the hashtag) in Shafiqah Hudson (twitter handle @sassycrass)’s brilliant satirical tweet in February 2013:

Every time a #NotAllMen response has come up, before or since – and it has a lot, threatening any thread discussing objectionable male behaviour- it has done the exact, frustrating thing that Hudson highlighted.

Thankfully, humour has kept things balanced. Hundreds of memes and comics have made us laugh about these pointless interjections, including:

The Jaws shark bursting out of the sea yelling;

http://notallmen.tumblr.com/post/81217265249

the Kool-Aid man breaking through a wall;

http://notallmen.tumblr.com/post/81482111815/allisonkilkenny-via-ann-boobus

the Robin slap, and Matt Lubchansky’s massively shared brilliant comic- the “Not-All-Man” barging in at the slightest indication of such a conversation to play devil’s advocate.

Lost Somewhere Along The Way…

It turns out that the phrase was brought into twitter by feminists who felt sexism was harmful for men too. It was a plea then to have more male inclusion in the fight against patriarchy; not the exclusion which the hashtag began to indicate later.

But going back further to the source of the phrase, the whole thing becomes starkly ironic. It has its origins in the 1980 novel by Joanna Russ, ‘On Strike Against God‘ (The name referring to a strike held by thousands of women in 1909 to ask for better pay and working conditions, demands labeled by many to be against the wishes of God).

In the book, there is a big dilemma the protagonist, Esther confronts, having just walked out of a party where she tried to talk about the sexual abuse she had faced from men. She cannot fathom what the right way to deal with the topic is. She knows many men objectify women, control the high offices, earn more than women, belittle women, make obscene comments, pinch their secretaries’ asses, and rape women: not all, but not just a few either. Who should she blame? Who should she speak up against? Each such man individually? Wasn’t there a pattern to it all? Doesn’t it come from the man-woman power structure of society itself?

She breaks down and begins to weep in a lawn.

In all of the high spirited hashtag hurling, the sad part is that often the central issues are forgotten: the trauma of women facing sexual abuse, and the urgent and overdue need of addressal of the psyche that perpetrates it.

In a sense though, the hashtag absurdly represents some sort of a progress, as Jess Zimmerman very interestingly argued. It could be that more men have finally begun to accept the fact that female abuse is indeed an issue, a step ahead from the earlier ‘but what about male issues?’ rebuttal dismissing any such story. Yet, it distances from the problem and does nothing to raise questions.

To solve a problem, the first step is to listen, and accept.

There are various ways in which the male and female identity is conditioned in society. We need to be very aware how this is done, and choose whether or not to be part of it, based on our own informed rationalities.

Many things accepted to be harmless and normal, and assumed as such, aren’t harmless or normal at all.

You must be to comment.
  1. Jigsaw

    Blog this

    Over half of adults abusing elders are daughters-in-law’

    http://www.deccanherald.com/content/483735/over-half-adults-abusing-elders.html

  2. Lantern

    Women abuse, molest, assault, hit, rape, batter, cheat, murder, and beat men, women and children, but no one is interested in highlighting it for fear of losing brownie points …. Write in favour of women and bingo! You’re the good guy 🙂

    1. Blam

      You ever get tired of listening to your own voice?

  3. Batman

    If you don’t know how many women don’t report crimes, how on earth did you manage to come up with a percentage? It is these bogus statistics that makes feminism a standing joke.

  4. B

    5 things women do better than men – MUST READ article for everyone!

    http://www.chowrangi.pk/5-things-women-better-men.html

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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