The notion that “Not All Men” used to make me angry. It pissed me off. To paint all men with one muddy brush just because some men are void of morality left me vexed. Sure, I am not perfect but I’ve never raised my hand to woman, I’ve never raped or even coerced a woman to do something she didn’t want to do. I consciously try to treat women with respect and dignity. I endeavour to set a good example for my son in terms of how women should be treated. Also, I don’t know any guy in my circles who is abusive towards women. I know a lot more decent men that these rogues who prey on women. So, yeah, NOT ALL MEN, dammit.
But then again, as offended as I am, I can still pretty much go anywhere I want. I’ve never walked down the street in broad daylight and feel my chest tense at the thought of walking past a group of guys. I’ve never been called a bitch or is’febe by a total stranger simply because I didn’t smile for him, because he felt that I should. I’ve never been groped in public. I’ve never been threatened with violence simply because I didn’t want to give some stranger my numbers. I’ve never had my drink spiked at a party and had some random guy lock me in the toilet because he believes I deserve to have him. I’ve never had a stranger try to rape me in front of my children.
Many men strive to create safe circles for the women in their lives. Yes, making people aware that we shall not be counted among those who violate women is important, but when we that to be heard above women’s fears, we are advocating for the recognition of our innocence more than for the safety of women because, when the woman leaves your circle, your innocence will do nothing for her.
In 2003 I was a student Cape Town. One day I got robbed, in a taxi, during the day, in town. Before that day, I had never been mugged before, ever. Growing up in a hood in Joburg, I had always imagined that I would get mugged at some point in my life. I new all the scenarios. But this, this was beyond my own understanding, I had never even heard of such, until it was already happening. A group of guys came in to the taxi and robbed the 5 passengers inside. The driver just kept driving, like everything was fine. One of the guys put a gun to my head. I was so stunned, I didn’t even react. It wasn’t that I was being robbed that left me frozen. It was the circumstances under which it was happening; my very first taxi rides, on a beautiful Cape Town summer afternoon. I just sat there, as the guy reached into my pockets and took my R3.50.
When I got to the varsity residence, I told the guys I stayed with what had happened. Most of them didn’t believe me, the story made no sense. “Are you sure?” this one guy asked. “But, why didn’t you see it coming bra? People can’t just get into a taxi and rob you!” “Why didn’t you do anything?”
Thinking about this incident gave me a small glimpse as to how we treat women when we feel that the violation that they are trying to communicate does not fit our narrative. When we as men dig in our heels, being adamant about “Not All Men”, we are narrowing the narrative to only that which we understand. We create an environment were the women in our lives would be reluctant to speak to us should anything happen to them, within that circle. If her story does not fit what we, as men, deem to be a violation, she will not find comfort. Instead we will question her “complicity” in her own violation.
Some years ago a female friend told me that she once got raped, in the mouth. The story boggled my mind. It didn’t fit any of the definitions of rape that I knew. Although I never actually asked her, I had a lot of questions like; how? Like, did you just open your mouth? Didn’t you see it coming? Why didn’t you chew is penis off?
There is a lot that we as men do not understand about gender violence and sexual violence. Our scope of transgressions revolves mainly around sadistic rapist criminals and alcoholic wife beaters. As a result, when we proclaim, “Not All Men”, we are actually talking to a very limited part of the entire spectrum. My father always told me that a man must never raise his hand to a woman. But, my father was the most verbally abusive man I had ever known, but to him, a derogatory tongue is a not abuse, it is sternness.
Gender violence is dishearteningly broad and much of it flies under the radar. At times the situations are so confusing that even the victims are not sure whether or not something wrong has actually occurred. This creates deep anxiety in many women but they are keenly aware that they won’t always know when they would fall victim. Yet, many men still feel the need to proclaim their innocence.