Sean Moncrieff: Of course most men are not rapists. Why does this need to be said?

As women shared stories of rape and assault, they were met with #notallmen

Sure, most men are well intentioned. But why, when a woman walks down the street, can’t she be reassured by this? Photograph: Getty Images

Sure, most men are well intentioned. But why, when a woman walks down the street, can’t she be reassured by this? Photograph: Getty Images

 

A few weeks ago, the Garda arrested a person in Galway, allegedly found with €70,000 worth of cocaine. People in Galway didn’t make a fuss about this. They didn’t insist that the media point out that not everyone in Galway is a drug dealer. Around the same time, a person was killed in a hit-and-run in Mayo. Yet there wasn’t a peep from other motorists. They didn’t insist that it be pointed out that the vast majority of drivers are careful and responsible.

The Galwegians and drivers didn’t do this for the blindingly obvious reason that they don’t need to point out the blindingly obvious. Of course, most drivers aren’t reckless and of course most people in Galway aren’t stashing bales of coke in the garden shed.

While women talked about their experiences of rape, sexual assault and harassment, the only response men could come up with was to wave their little victim arms for fear they be thought of badly

That’s the way communities run. There is an unspoken social contract where we assume that most people are operating in good faith. The plumber will turn up at three o’clock. The shop assistant hasn’t laced the milk carton with poison. When you walk down the street, most people aren’t robbers or murders or rapists. Without this assumption, society would disintegrate.

Yet there was another big story where the blindingly obvious had to be pointed out. Following the murder of Sarah Everard in London, there was a lot of commentary about how women have to be situationally aware in a way men rarely have to be: light conditions, travel arrangements, are there CCTV cameras? Sometimes, Herself might go for a walk in the evening. She always makes a point of insisting I remember what she’s wearing. It’s a joke; but not entirely.

I’m not here to mansplain the experiences of women. My point is that this commentary was responded to by men insisting that they not be tarred with the same brush. While women talked about their experiences of rape, sexual assault and daily street harassment, the only response men could come up with was to wave their little victim arms for fear that they be thought of badly. Social media even came up with #notallmen, just to make sure no boy feelings were hurt.

And yes – even here I have to do it – not all men responded this way. Not even most of them. There you go, diddums.

Yet the fact that even a minority of men insisted that an exception be made in the normal social contract illuminates the problem. It’s about territory. While women spoke about their experiences and fears, (some) men felt they had the right to barge in and try to dominate the terms of that conversation; many with the express aim of trying to de-genderise the issue: it’s about crime, not the behaviour of (some) men. Some of the (some) men even tried a self-defeating equivalence by pointing out that men suffer more from violent crime. From other men.

Why can’t a woman be reassured that if a man starts to harass her, two other men will step in to stop it? The answer, again, is blindingly obvious

(Some) men still try to dominate the territory of public discussion, and (some) men still try to dominate the territory of physical public spaces. By shouting at women from cars, by getting up close to them on public transport, by yelling at them on the street. I don’t know any woman that this hasn’t happened to, and on a regular basis.

There have been a lot of think pieces on this issue from understandably angry women, and as a man, they are not comfortable to read. I don’t like to be thought of as a danger. But what I like even less is the truth that (some) men are capable of such things or that (some) men don’t even attempt to understand the constant sense of threat 51 per cent of our population feels.

Sure, most men are well intentioned. But why, when a woman walks down the street, can’t she be reassured by this? Why can’t she be reassured that if a man starts to harass her, two other men will step in to stop it? The answer, again, is blindingly obvious.

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