Pearl Jam had this song out before I was out of college, and I can remember listening to it, heartbroken for whatever woman this was about…a woman who felt she had no voice with the man in her life, because she felt like it was futile to ask for better treatment that she felt she deserved…that she was maybe even afraid of him…and thinking to myself (with alarming gullibility) that this feeling was rare in its sadness and gravity.
But now I know it isn’t.
We give men a pass often. On responsibility. On kindness. On manners and courtesy. We say ‘Boys will be boys,’ and we make women responsible for their own behavior and the behavior of the men around them, and we dumb down already low expectations to the least common denominator, and that’s not fair. To women or men.
I’m not usually one to draw lines in the sand, and ranting about things that upset me is customarily privately confined to a classified, trusted few. Mostly just J, to be honest. Maybe a couple friends. But not this time.
I’m really tired of hearing and reading ‘not all men,’ after a woman asserts a grievance.
That’s just another way to silence and ignore and discount women.
I know it’s literally ‘not all men.’ Everyone knows that. But it’s enough men. It’s too many men, who think it’s alright to dismiss women’s accounts of their own lives and seek to take away women’s control of their own lives.
I’m trying to live a loving, caring, positive life, and raise a loving, caring, positive son. That’s getting harder to do by the day. So I wrote this…
**Not All Men: A Message to my White, Healthy, Able-Minded and Bodied, Upper Middle Class (We Think) Straight Son**
Not all men talk to or about women as objects to be possessed; as goals to be attained; as challenges to be conquered; as if they were not people, with thoughts and feelings of their own to be considered, and decisions of their own to be made.
Not all men believe they are entitled to put their hands or lips or even their lingering glances on any woman they choose.
Not all men are unfaithful.
Not all men glorify adultery and infidelity.
Not all men value women solely on their subjective view of physical attractiveness.
Not all men are threatened by female strength.
Not all men say that women who stand up for themselves in the face of sexism are lying, or deserve to be treated poorly because of their previous decisions, or are blowing things out of proportion, or are just ‘playing the woman card.’
Not all men disrespect and actively seek to silence differing opinions.
Not all men say, ‘Actually…’ after a woman speaks, feeling the need to refute anything she says.
Not all men are forceful and brutish and unkind.
Not all men are selfish and greedy.
Not all men have the kneejerk reaction to say, ‘Not all men…’ when a woman relays an experience she’s had with men.
Not all men use fear to manipulate other people.
Not all men belittle intelligence and science and logic.
Not all men lack empathy.
Not all men shirk personal responsibility.
Not all men think love, mercy, and consideration for the feelings of others are signs of weakness.
Not all men generalize groups of people by their appearance, ability, religion, who they love, where they grew up, how much money or stuff they have, or the language they learned to speak first.
Not all men practice hate and violence. Certainly not all men are proud of it.
Not all white men.
Not all straight men.
Not all men of financial means.
Not all men of fame and/or power.
In fact, most men don’t behave this way.
But some men, enough men, too many men, unfortunately, do.
Your father does not behave this way.
Neither do your grandfathers.
Or your uncles, cousins, friends, or friends’ fathers (that we know of, at least).
Your parents’ male friends don’t do these things (that we know of…we sure hope we never find out they do).
Your parents’ female friends’ husbands and boyfriends don’t do these things (and if they do, I hope that our female friends find the strength and self-worth to stand up for themselves and leave).
These things are not ‘normal’ male behavior.
People (men AND women) who suggest that they ARE normal male actions not only devalue me (your mother), and all the other girls and women you care about (your friends at school, your friends’ mothers, your teachers, your relatives), but it also devalues YOU, and all the boys and men you care about.
Boys and men who are kind, and behave with integrity and self-control.
You listen when people talk about ‘white privilege’ and ‘class privilege’ and ‘male privilege,’ and ‘straight privilege’ and you notice that they are usually angry. Some because they are (usually understandably) frustrated, and some because they deny these things exist. The privileges ARE real, and you have them all. Please know that when the frustrated, angry people speak of these privileges you have, they are not calling you bad.
You are NOT bad.
You ARE privileged.
That means you are lucky. You have less to worry about than people who don’t have the same privileges you have. It means that you have great responsibility, because you have so much privilege. You have the responsibility to be as kind as you can, as helpful as you can, as generous as you can, and as merciful as you can, especially to those who don’t share your high level of privilege.
Please know there are better men in your life, and in our country, and in the world, than the men you are seeing on television and the internet right now. You see men denying that there are problems with what they say and how they act. You see men blaming certain groups of people for problems that belong to everyone. You see men deflecting attention from their own mistakes by pointing out the mistakes of others. You see men silencing and ignoring and discounting women.
I know you won’t look up to these men, though.
Because of the better men in your life.
I know you are good, and smart, and strong enough to handle your privilege, that you didn’t ask for (you *wouldn’t* ask for it), with grace. I hear you say it’s wrong that you have these privileges and wish them away. You never say or do unkind things to or about other people. You know what consent means. You never put your hands on other people without their permission, not even your mom or dad when you need a hug.
You’re such a good boy.
You will grow up to be a better man.