This is our truth, tell us yours
@prisonerben and I had a discussion last night about, in effect, the utility of insisting that not all men are rapists. Let’s be clear here, so no-one is mistaken. I think it’s utterly useless for any man to do the not all men riff. Ben equates my position with my asserting that he is variously, a rapist, a semi-rapist or a support of rapists. As you can tell, it was not an even tempered debate.
Here’s the issue of principle. The experience of the women I know and care about, as they have related it to me, is that all men can be rapists, that there is no distinguishing factor that enables them to separate out the rapists from the non-rapists ahead of the fact. If I insist on saying ‘but not me…’ I’m denying their experience, and it’s an experience that is universal and collective. As a matter of principle it is wrong to deny the experience of others just because it tells us some uncomfortable truths about the world we live in and are collectively responsible for. And that’s not just because I have internalized misandry, as Ben claimed. If you’ve spent your adult life arguing for socialism, as I have, you will have encountered any number of individual capitalists (like Bill Gates, or, from another era, Andrew Carnegie) who will argue that the structural critique of capitalism as exploitative is defeated by their individual charity. Women assert that rape is a structural feature of our society, not just a coincident aberration, and turning that debate into ‘Yeah but not me’ is, like refuting the exploitative nature of capitalism by pointing at a nice new library, a non-sequitur.
Here’s the issue of practice though. Suppose you disagree with women about whether rape is part of the structure of our society, used to reinforce patriarchy. Do you make that debate possible by standing on your wounded pride, and just insisting that the debate must start with a disclaimer that says you’re not a rapist? Forgive me, but that’s nothing more than narcissism. There are worse things than being called a rapist. Being raped, for instance, and too many women have the experience that a man who asserted he wasn’t that kind of guy turned out to be just that kind of guy.
If you insist on starting the debate with ‘not all men’ you’ll never get to the real debate, about how you stop rapes from happening. That debate is a real debate, and since it’s about our masculinity, it’s a debate all of us need to engage in. That must include accepting the possibility that by being ourselves we may create or shape a culture that leads others to be rapists. The least respect we can pay to women, whose collective experience is that any man can be a rapist, is to treat rape as a collective problem.
Insisting that ‘but not me..’ is a reasonable response just uses up the bandwidth in a shitstorm of self justification. Even if you disagree with me on the principles, in practice that shitstorm will just get in the way.