The following was submitted by SMIW reader Bhamini Lakshminarayan.
Recently, I shared a Facebook post about a fraudulent banking phone call which devolved even further into threats of sexual violence. I was upset, angry, and bewildered at the state of the world – and it struck me, for the umpteenth time, that I was not a bad person for being inherently cautious around men. That it was legitimate, in fact, to be inherently mistrustful because of the many, many ways in which the patriarchy operationalises. As expected, this post, like many others, was met with several responses of “Not all men!”
‘Not All Men’, you say?
If you fight the feminist fight, you’ve definitely had at least one conversation that has been interrupted by a “Yes, but it isn’t all men”, which of course, has its own hashtag #NotAllMen. I expect that this is supposed to shut down your argument, and make you apologise for insulting all of the “good men” out there. But the idea of being wary of men has nothing to do with your boyfriend/cousin/brother/friend who is a wonderful human being – but the way the patriarchy is structured. If you are a man (and by this, I mean a man in the way the patriarchy defines a man – ie, a cis-man, or someone born with a penis) you derive a certain undeniable privilege from being one.
Yes, All Men are privileged
Hold on, I can hear you clamouring to tell me about your economically/educationally/racially/caste oppressed boyfriend/cousin/brother/friend. And yes, their struggles are real. But consider that exact same individual as a woman, and the struggle doubles, at the very least. As a man in India, you are privileged at so many levels – from the fact that you were not terminated through sex-selective abortion, to the nutrition you received as a child, and let’s not even get into the educational/employment opportunities that are just completely closed off to, or that much harder, for women.
When you say “Not all men” you are saying that these multiple levels of privilege/disadvantage operate, and I agree. You are saying you know a wonderful man, and I agree there too – I know some absolutely lovely men, who have been or become friends/lovers/life partners. But every single one of them – yes, every one – derives a certain privilege from his penis: the privilege of being born into the dominant group in the binary-gendered patriarchy. That privilege cannot be “renounced,” however aware the man is, because it will still have had an impact on every aspect of his life.
That privilege draws from a system in which power is constructed through the oppression of women.
Here’s a comic I saw recently that humorously addresses the ludicrous ways in which #NotAllMen is used to silence women:
So, while this wonderful man in your life is not directly responsible for everything that is wrong with the world, he cannot stand outside of the system that privileges him. He can fight the system, certainly, but he is still very much a part of it – perhaps through no fault of his own, because he was born with certain genitals, but he cannot locate himself outside of this privilege in the society we live in.
Yes, All Women are oppressed by patriarchy
At the same time, it is all women aka #YesAllWomen. Whether you have faced oppressive structures at home, been groped on public transport, been shamed for wearing certain clothes, been raped by a partner, been told you can’t study a technical science, been asked when you’re getting married / having children – every woman in India faces a struggle against patriarchy.
The patriarchal criticism and control of her choices does not usually come from a single source, but from both the men and the women around her – the women who have internalised the patriarchy, the women who have internalised the control exerted over them by a system which privileges people with penises.
So please, do not attempt to trivialise things when a woman says that she does not know how to trust men. In a society which has little or no support or recourse for women who speak out against the emotional / intellectual / sexual violence they face from men, and even less support for the women who fight for their rights to pleasure / space; in a society in which all women face some form of violence and denial of identity exploration, it is not an “unfeminist” act to be wary of those individuals who have the parts privileged by patriarchy. Consider this: You might know a wonderful man, but if he were to ever transgress from being that incredibly kind / sensitive / feminist person you know, the system would not punish him in the same way it punishes women.
So, Yes, All Women face the patriarchy every day and Yes, All Men need to acknowledge it. the #NotAllMen retort attempts to deny an inherent penis-privilege, and will not be a valid claim until patriarchy has been smashed.
About the Author:
Bhamini is a Masters student who alternates between working on her dissertation and getting worked up by the state of the world. She reads, she writes, she eats the ableist capitalist Brahminical cis-heteropatriarchy for breakfast.