#NotAllMen rape, but a rotten apple spoils the barrel

Exceptions and rules: The #NotAll argument ignores the system in which broken cogs function. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Exceptions and rules: The #NotAll argument ignores the system in which broken cogs function. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)


A group of women sit in a bar and lament the ills and dangers of manoeuvring in the modern world. Mentions of catcalling, cheating and unknown children abound. Further down the bar a man overhears this conversation and, his man-sense tingling, steps in.
“Ladies,” he says. “The thing is that not all men are …”

With that one phrase the man seeks to erase the experiences that the women have had in the last 10-plus years – every grab in the street, every suspicious late-night phone call and every creepy “I could give it to you good” comment – which they have mentally archived and documented.

The argument underpinning the #NotAllMen idea is understandable.

One cannot tar everyone with the same brush. We are all individuals: it’s problematic for us to make rash judgments about people based on our own experiences. But one must look at the rules rather than the exceptions and the general rule is that, to some extent, this behaviour towards women is allowed.

We live in a world where women are drugged in public places, where they visit male family members and are later found dead under the bed, where they are more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone they know or be physically abused by an intimate partner than a stranger.

But #NotAllMen is the same as the idea of #NotAllDinosaurs at Jurassic Park – it does not make the dinosaurs that will kill you any less scary. Even if one was to argue that “only” 75% of men are rapists, there is still a good 25% out there living their T-Rex predator life. This, unfortunately, makes the 75% moot.

It may not be #AllMen, but it is enough men to make reality pretty damn frightening.

The same logic applies to other hashtags that have latched on to the #NotAllMen bandwagon.

One can use the phrase #NotAllHumans when it comes to rhino poaching, but there are enough poachers out there to make it a real problem. One can use the phrase #NotAllReligions, but it does not deny that we live in a time of heightened religious tensions which have the potential to drag us all into the next Crusades no matter where we live or what we believe. This is a framework that allows the actions of a few to speak to the structural reality of many. It is not isolated but systematic.

These #NotAll arguments ignore the system in which these broken cogs happily function. They also manage to erase the experiences of those who are crushed in the mechanics of this system. To sit and say #NotAllMen implies that we do not live in a world where one in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Current events in South Africa have led to a surge of #NotAllWhitePeople speaking to open expressions of racism in the country. To say #NotAllWhitePeople is to act as though racism and the ability to be racist is not still entrenched in our systems. The fact that Penny Sparrow can be selling real estate in a predominantly black area and that Chris Hart, a leading economist in a country steeped in socioeconomic inequality, can tweet: “More than 25 years after apartheid ended, victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities …”, shows that “single-incident racists” are fed from a grander paradigm. Their views are not isolated; rather, they’re part of the backroom chat and backbone of society.

The fact that a white person feels they can call a black person “a monkey” is not borne out of thin air, it is the consequence of decades and centuries of racial inequality that functions today.

A man feeling that he can rape a woman on a university campus and then return to the exact same institution saying he was “confused about their interaction” is the product of a society that tells men they are entitled to women’s bodies.

We must stop treating these societal ills like colds; they are a cancer and understand that they are deep in our DNA. Unfortunately, until this is well and clearly understood, we shall continue to circle the drain.

It is less about #NotAll (insert grouping here) and more about what is wrong with our society where my peers feel they can do this – and why is it that some of us think we can act in this way?

Interrogating this is the only way in which racial inequality, gender inequality and all other ills will be stopped. Racist remarks are part of a racist system and rape is part of rape culture. It’s as simple as that.

The phrase may be #NotAllMen but unfortunately, there are enough who are. The phrase may be #NotAllWhitePeople but unfortunately, there are enough who are.

  Kagure Mugo is the co-founder and curator of the HOLAAfrica! blog

Kagure Mugo

Kagure Mugo

Kagure Mugo is the intoxicatingly scary gatekeeper of HOLAAfrica, an online pan-African queer womanist community dealing with sexuality and all things woman. She is also a writer and freelance journalist who tackles sex, politics and other less interesting topics. During weekends she is a wine bar philosopher and polymath for no pay. Read more from Kagure Mugo

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