If I post something about a terrible car accident, nobody ever pipes in with, “Not all roads are dangerous!” When a friend’s child was attacked by a dog, not one person had the insensitivity to say, “But some dogs are nice!” When a colleague mentioned being sick with strep throat, not a single person butted in with, “Actually, some bacteria are beneficial!” Nobody brings up the “not all bacteria” because it is obvious and not relevant, insensitive and tone-deaf. And yet, I see it again and again, “Not all men not all men not all men.”
I found the above paragraph especially insightful from a really good reaction piece to the Elliot Rodger shootings. I think I really latched on to it because, like the all good writing, it makes me re-examine how I think and react to things. Have I ever said, “not all men?” I must admit, I’m pretty sure I have in some shape or form. Maybe not those exact words, but I’m like 99.9% sure I have. I don’t think, at least consciously anyway, that I was doing so because I didn’t think the person saying something about men was ignorant or misinformed, like the author of the piece asserts. It was more or less a defense of myself. I was basically saying, “hey, I’m not like that.” I probably reacted that way due to my oversensitivity more than anything else.
It is a hard thing to admit one has privilege. I know, boo-hoo white guy but hear me out. When the word privilege come up, the idea of being given something, something real is the default setting. A person of privileged upbringing never wants for anything, money, material goods, access to the best places, anything. When that is the base line, it is pretty easy to say, “well I’m not privileged. I’ve had to do XYZ for what I’ve earned.” That is also the critical component, the idea that privilege means unearned. I imagine that the most wealthy among us, even those of generational wealth, can point to something or many things that they have worked hard for and feel, rightly so, that they earned it.
I remember the first time I was confronted with the idea that I don’t understand what women go through on a daily basis. I was walking with friend up my block at dusk, with the trees forming a canopy. Making a very urban scene almost like a forest. My friend, a woman, just said matter of factly, “I don’t. It makes the street too dark and unsafe.” Never. Even. Thought. That. Maybe I was, and still am obtuse, but as I walked along that street, especially in the early evening, I never once thought of my own safety, never feared for my person. With that simple statement, my friend made me rethink what it meant to be a man.
As a man, I have an amount of sway that women don’t. I can walk down that darkening street and imagine a forest. A woman can as well, but she also is aware of the dangers, especially for a woman. What’s more, I don’t have the fear of the unknown. Many, many men think that whistling, making comments is a compliment. It isn’t. Even if such an action is made with the kindest of intentions (though I don’t know what or how “nice ass!” is kind, or what the point is really), the woman hearing the comments has no idea if the man is ok, a little weird, potentially violent or a psychopath.
And that is where the privilege comes. It isn’t something physical, but it has been given to me. I’m a product of a society that for centuries, valued me, by simple virtue of my sex, as better than the other. It still persists. As a man, I am much freer in my own person. When I am the victim of a crime, walking down that darkened street, people don’t question me. No one claims that maybe I was wearing the wrong clothes, or gave the wrong impression, or that I led the assailant on.
When reading some of Elliot Rodger’s ramblings before he went on his killing spree (with a legally bought gun, but guns don’t kill people) it’s clear that he was a deranged person who was suffering from mental illness. But that isn’t the point of the #Yesallwomen hashtag. The point is that when a woman turns down a man, rejects a man, ignores a man, she doesn’t know who that man might be. He could just accept the outcome, he could pout, feel a little down, or he could turn violent, or murderous. That is what women face from every man, the unknown. Yes, all men. To take offense to that, is to deny reality. To demand caveats and exception, is to demand an extension of privilege. The sooner all men, yes all men recognize that women discussing how they see the world, how they defend themselves, protect themselves, is not an attack on all men, but a way toward understanding what needs to change.