Kelsey McKinney has a post up at Vox exploring why the “Not All Men” meme has taken off as of late. Typically, she seems utterly unaware that “Not All Women” has been circulating for years, and the clever feminist interpretation is simply a rip-off of a man’s work. Le sigh.
Let’s explore a little history. Most of this is Kelsey’s writing – I’ve just fixed her pronouns to reflect NAWALT.
Over the past few weeks, the meme “not all women” — meant to satirize women who derail conversations about men’s rights by noting that “not all women” do X, Y, or Z sexist thing — has exploded in usage: But it would appear that not all women (and not all people generally) are fully caught up on the meme, where it comes from, and the point it’s getting across. Here’s a brief history of the term, and why it’s taken on such resonance lately.
1) What is a woman?
Might as well start here. A woman is an adult female of the species homo sapiens. To clarify, “adult” here does not mean someone who’s able to pay their own rent, or treat others with respect. Adult simply means that this female has gone through puberty and is no longer a girl.
Some additional notes about women:
A woman is someone who expects to be paid the same as a man for doing less work, less well.
A woman is someone who interrupts a man when he tries to discuss an issue that pertains to men and boys.
A woman expects her husband to provide her with resources.
What’s that you say? Not ALL women expect to be paid the same as a man for doing less work, less well? Not ALL women interrupt men when they want to discuss issues that pertain to men and boys?
Thanks for pointing that out. You’re who this meme is about.
2) What is “Not all women”?
Let’s say a post is written on the internet about how women do not listen to men when they speak about issues that pertain to men and boys and interrupt them more often than they interrupt women speaking about issues that pertain to women and girls. At a blog or site of sufficient size, it’s practically inevitable that a commenter will reply, “Not all women interrupt.”
This phrase “Not all women” is a common rebuttal used (most often) by women in conversations about men and boys in order to exempt themselves from criticism of common female behaviors. Recently, the phrase has been reappropriated by men’s rights activists and turned into a meme meant to parody its pervasiveness and bad faith.
3) How did “Not all women” start?
The exact origins of “not all women” are muddy at best. “Not all women” may be a shortened version of “Not all women are like that” or NAWALT, which appears regularly on any sites devoted to exploring issues that affect men and boys from the perspective of …. men and boys.
4) What’s so bad about “Not All Women”?
When a woman (though, of course, not all women) butts into a conversation about a men’s issue to remind the speaker that “not all women” do something, they derail what could be a productive conversation. Instead of contributing to the dialogue, they become the center of it, excluding themselves from any responsibility or blame.
“Not all women.” Fine. But pointing out individual exceptions doesn’t help us understand or combat behaviors that really are mainly committed by women, from small things like interruptions up to domestic violence and rape. Not all women beat their partners, but people who beat their partners are mostly women. Pointing out that you’re not one of them doesn’t help us figure out how to understand and deal with that problem.
5) Wait. So how is “Not all women” different from “femsplaining”?
Femsplaining is a term used to describe an explanation that is given in a condescending, patronizing tone. Though a man could be guilty of femsplaining, the idea originated from women talking down to men in order to explain things, often things the men in question understand better than the femsplainer does. Amanda Marcotte is a good example of femsplaining.
The “not all women” interruption could be considered a subset of femsplaining, because it attempts to redirect a current conversation in a way that privileges women’s’ perspectives over men’s. Also, like femsplaining, it’s rude.
6) How does “Not All Women” fit into the history of men’s right’s activism?
“Not all women” is just the latest iteration in a long tradition of MRAs pointing out the ways in which language can be used by women to defend practices that benefit them and harm men. “In the best interests of children” is commonly used to deny men the right to shared custody, for example. The way we think and deal with gender gets expressed in language — and that includes, say, interrupting someone with a corrective “not all women.”
Some analysts, like Sara Mills, have drawn a distinction between two forms of sexist language: overt and indirect. Overt sexism is embodied in hate speech, when a person is actively trying to hurt someone because of their gender. Indirect sexism includes things like gender stereotypes, misandrist humor, and conversation diversion. Mills argues that overt sexism has been driven underground, only to create an environment where indirect sexism flourishes. And derailing tactics like “Not all women” are a prime example of indirectly sexist language.
7) So what can I do?
You can try not interrupting, because interrupting is rude, and use that time instead to think about whether or not injecting “not all women” is going to derail a productive conversation. You can start by recognizing that some conversations are truly not about women and participating in those conversations requires you to set your ego aside and consider the world from a perspective you may not be used to considering. You can contemplate the idea that women may in fact be the recipient of privileges that have come at the direct expense of men. You can acknowledge that there are some important rights and freedoms that men do not have and that there are responsibilities and obligations that apply only to men and not to women.
The MHRM is a place that welcomes all, so long as everyone understands that the discussion centers around the needs of men and boys, and that women will be criticized in ways that might make them uncomfortable. Responsibility, agency and culpability will be discussed. Women will be assumed adults capable of that conversation. And that might make some women feel a sad.
Boo fucking hoo.
Welcome to being a grown-up.
Better late than never.
Lots of love,