A few years ago, when women started using social media to share stories of assault, some men became alarmed. They seemed to take it personally, and a hashtag was born: #NotAllMen.
The overriding message: Not all men are jerks. I’m not! Give me a trophy and acknowledge I’m not. It felt like a conversation hijack, and the backlash was swift. Women were not in the mood to tenderly reassure individual men just then; what they wanted was to raise awareness about how many women had been victimized.
But if there were ever a time for the maligned hashtag to be reclaimed and redeemed, it’s now. Right this very minute, when the sexual assault allegation against Brett Kavanaugh is being met with a nauseating rationale: If he did this, it’s no big deal. All young men do stuff like this; boys will be boys.
I want #NotAllMen back. But this time, it shouldn’t be a message written by wounded men to frustrated women. It should be a message written by furious men to the dingbats spreading lies about what it means to be a decent guy.
I want #NotAllMen to be the battle-cry response to Carrie Severino, the Kavanaugh defender who went on CNN and dismissed the alleged incident as “rough horseplay.” No, Carrie. Not all men would consider luring a 15-year-old into a room, pinning her down and trying to rip off her bathing suit “horseplay.”
I want to shout it through a bullhornto Fox News columnist Stephen Miller, who decided the alleged event was “drunk teenagers playing seven minutes in heaven.” No, Stephen. Not all men believe that a basement kissing game should involve covering a girl’s mouth so she can’t scream for help.
I would like 10,000 good men to bellow “Not all men!” at the reader who sent me an email claiming that “every living [heterosexual] teenager pushes the boundaries a little in the height of his hormones.”
No, reader. Not all men believe that attempted rape is a normal part of growing up. And not all men would like their violent behaviors to be chalked up to “hormones,” as if the men are plumped-up bovines instead of civilized people with agency and free will.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) made some of these points when a reporter asked her Wednesday whether it was helpful that there were women on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I expect all of the enlightened men in our country, ’cause there must be millions of men out there who are enlightened, who also will rise up to say we cannot continue the victimization,” Hirono said. “I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”
This is not an instance where only women should be upset. Men should be livid. Good men all over the country should be enraged that Kavanaugh’s defenders would suggest that there is something inherently rape-y about being a man.
There is nothing inherently wrong with men. There is only something wrong with a society that would turn to millions of young women and say, Trying to rape you is a necessary part of his development, and say to young men, What happens in prep school stays in prep school.
You don’t believe Kavanaugh did it? Fine. You don’t have to have an opinion on whether Kavanaugh did it. If you are a good man, though, you will picture this scenario: You will think about a 17-year-old boy holding down a 15-year-old girl and trying to rip off her clothes. You will think about the moment she starts to scream, which should pierce his drunken stupor and signal to him that she is terrified and wants to leave — but instead makes him decide to put his hand over her mouth to quiet her down. She’ll later say that in this moment, she was afraid she was going to die.
Not all men will think this scenario can be described as “boys will be boys.” Most of them will think it’s sickening. Maybe 99 percent.
If you are in that majority, this is your moment. Your voice is needed. Ninety-nine percent of you should be furious that boys hurting girls this way is presented as normal. Ninety-nine percent of you should be screaming.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.