Carelessly entering a Twitter debate on feminism or sexism as a straight, white male can be a hazardous thing. It’s a bit like wandering into a coop full of angry chickens who have armed themselves with machine guns. They riddle you with bullets, then spit on your corpse and call you a nasty fox.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised we get such rancour. Around these parts, at least, straight, white men do most of the oppressing. Not all men, of course. But – and this is the important bit – never, ever say “not all men” on Twitter. That’s when the trouble starts.
Everybody, even the most ardent feminist, knows that most men aren’t lecherous, drooling, breast-grabbing misogynists. That is not the point, they will tell you: all women have been subjected to some sort of unwanted male attention in a pub or at work or while walking down the street. This is probably true to varying degrees. And that is lamentable.
Some feminists clearly espouse that all men are complicit in this activity or are responsible for it in some way, whether or not they engage in it. You may not have slapped any backsides or pulled any bra straps, but you’re a man, the orthodoxy goes, and your collective predilection for dirty jokes causes other men to harass women.
You're not supposed to object to this stupid proposition. Not if you're a man. If you do, you're derailing the debate and bringing the focus back on to your own sorry, privileged self. It's not about you, Mr Man. It's about women. Right?
Some would argue this is completely wrong. Of course it’s about men too. Or at least the debate about who is responsible for sexism and how best to curb it should involve all men, if your aim is to actually improve the situation by influencing the actions of other people. Perhaps not if you are simply blasting out a rigid ideology fuelled by divisive, angry rhetoric.
Last week, one prominent Irish feminist blogger detailed on Twitter a litany of her experiences with men, which she admitted may have coloured her views to make her “seem anti-men”.
A couple of the experiences involved crass comments that someone as articulate as the blogger should have had no problem rebutting.
Other experiences outlined by her, such as fending off groping hands from her breasts or up her skirt, were much more sinister.
One commenter then drew a parallel with the recent Stanford University sexual assault case, where a champion swimmer begged for leniency after he was caught defiling an unconscious woman. The blogger replied referencing “all men [and] their collusion” in such acts. Nobody batted a digital eyelid.
People’s personal experiences are their own and everyone should be encouraged to share them, if they wish, and how they were hurt. And they should be listened to. But to effectively say “all men collude” with sexual assault is a different matter entirely. It’s not quite “all men are rapists or potential rapists”, but it is in the neighbourhood.
This isn’t simply a pointless whine about how common these sort of sweeping generalisations have become in feminist debate. It isn’t just that it is offensive to some men. It is damaging to the situation at hand.
Men are generally in a better position than most women to influence the actions of other men. We socialise with other men differently than women, we talk to each other differently, and we spend more time with men in work and play than most women do.
You want the word about unwanted harassment to be heard by men? Then do it through other men.
In the 1970s, the concept of rape culture – the frankly debatable notion that we all collude in a system of norms that ultimately concludes with the rape of women – was just a theory propagated by second-wave feminists.
Now it seems to be accepted as conventional wisdom, despite its obvious potential to alienate people.
It can be difficult to engage with many online debates about feminism or sexism as a man, especially when you are cast with this unwashable stain of original sin. It drives many reasonable people away from the entire conversation.
Boo-hoo for you, feminists usually retort. But if you drive men away from the conversation, then you drive them away from spreading your word.
Since it first emerged around 2014, the #NotAllMen hashtag has become the knee-jerk method for feminists to sarcastically shut down men in a debate. What, you’re a man raising a concern over the veracity of the concept of rape culture? Let’s #NotAllMen his hide and alert feminists all over the globe to his whiny, disordered thinking.
That way, nobody actually has to address what is being said. It is dog- whistle mockery, anti-thought barracking at its worst.
The loudest feminists, the ones who monopolise the oxygen in debates on Twitter, are not debating at all, of course. They are activists who have little interest in hearing perspectives outside of their own orthodoxy. But they sure are angry.
Aristotle, who was a man when men used to wear skirts, used to say that anyone can get angry, because it is easy. “But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way, that is not easy.”
If he was around today, he’d probably be mansplaining.
Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent