Yes, All Men

Only a small percentage of men attack women, but the majority let it happen

There’s a TikTok going around right now of a female student who recorded her mostly-male tech class. The boys around her, laughing and seemingly oblivious to her presence, are joking about raping women. One classmate says “you could just find one that doesn’t talk so when you ask them for consent it’s ‘yes’ any time.” Another suggests finding a blind woman “so they don’t know where you’re at.” 

The woman’s eyes widen and dart around as the boys continue. “So you’re saying silence is consent? That if they’re knocked out, it’s consent?”

What’s striking beyond how self-aware these men are—they’re using the language of students who have been taught rape prevention—is the laughing. (“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.”) It’s only three or four students participating in the conversation, but the rest of the men in class are either laughing or silent. 

And that’s what we mean when we say, “yes, all men.” Because while it’s only a small percentage of men who actually attack women, it’s the majority that let it happen. 

The men who laugh along when classmates ‘joke’ about rape. The men who call women liars or when they come forward about assault, or ask what they were wearing. The men who ignore the harassers and abusers in their social circles because they’re otherwise fun guys. Just as bad: The men who watch it all happen and say nothing. 

As Thomas Millar wrote over a decade ago, “It takes one rapist to commit a rape, but it takes a village to create an environment where it happens over and over.”

So long as men enable misogyny—be it actively or passively—progress for women is doomed. And not just around sexual violence issues.

The majority of ‘good’ men prop up sexism in all sorts of ways: Those who complain about #MeToo and not being able to ask out coworkers anymore make life easier for virulent workplace harassers. Men who joke about locking up their daughters pave the cultural way for paternalistic policies that limit women’s rights. Men who only want to marry housewives prop up systemic hurdles in working women’s career paths. 

We’ve spent so long interrogating women’s decisions as a way to curb sexism—how we speak, what we wear, our work-life balance—when the truth is that it’s men’s choices that impact our lives the most. It’s time to focus on those. (After all, they’re the ones who got us into this mess in the first place.) 

Most men are not rapists or harassers. Most men aren’t misogynists. But that’s little comfort if the non-abusive majority consistently enables sexism.

Until they don’t—until they shut down the misogyny in their midst—stop telling us that it’s “not all men.” We can see what’s in front of our faces, and who is sitting next to us in our classrooms. 

If you liked this column & value this newsletter, please consider becoming a paid subscriber! You’ll have access to all of my pieces and be able to comment on columns and in open threads. (“One Good Thing,” where folks share something positive that happened to them that week—from getting a promotion or seeing a friend to growing a tomato for the first time—is a real highlight. It’s an incredible serotonin boost & really lovely!)