Other people have said this better than me but I want to collate those responses here because this still happens all the time and it’s always irritating.
Bailey Poland‘s post says it all, really. It also makes the important point that these kinds of apologies are not only found in discussions of men/gender, but in other cultural power imbalance situations too.
If when you say this, dudes, what you mean is “I’m sorry this happens to you, I believe it, and I empathise”, then say that.
Thing is, while that kind of acknowledgement can be appreciated – and it is important for men to show other men that they believe women and acknowledge the absolute shitshow that life can be for a lot of women because of other men – it doesn’t really help us at all.
I think the reason it doesn’t sit right is because it’s kind of an extension of #NotAllMen. Rather than focusing on the experience/treatment/story/abuse we’ve shared, instead it centres things back on you, the Good Man™ who isn’t a part of the problem and would never do such things ever, nosiree.
You’re apparently in such a place of purity that you can apologise for all of the men – those other, terrible, nasty men who are doing these bad things, while completely recusing yourself.
The problem with that is: we’re generally all a part of those shitty systems and we’ll all have said and done things that contribute to them. We learn it as we grow from the adults, entertainment and peers around us, and it takes real active work to further grow out of it. Same for other kinds of prejudice and bigotry.
Another problem is:
what is the ideal response from a woman presented with such an apology? What is a woman supposed to do with that apology? What is the apology asking for?
You don’t get accolades for acknowledging the existence of the problem, nor can a woman absolve you of the imaginary sin of being a man, because the existence of men is not actually the problem that needs addressed.
What does help is indicating instead that you understand (or at least are working to understand) how sexism pervades our culture and the necessity of working on it in your own life and others’. That you will do the calling out and have the uncomfortable conversations when required. Not doling out well-intentioned but ultimately unhelpful sympathies to strange women having to deal with the consequences.
In Bailey’s post she offers more detail on these 3 key aspects of actually trying to help:
- “make sure that you’re utilizing your professed awareness of sexism outside of a woman’s Twitter mentions or blog comments…”
- “support women outside of the times you want credit for not actively being sexist…”
- “after you check your environment and check yourself, check your spending…”
Another excellent writer has covered this too, but on her NSFW site so here are some of my fave bits
It’s not always phrased like that – sometimes it’s “I’m embarrassed to be a man sometimes” or “God I hate my half of the species.”
The ‘not all men’ guy hears a statement, assumes it’s a generalisation, and leaps instantly to defend himself.
The ‘I’m ashamed’ guy hears a statement, assumes it’s a generalisation, and leaps to condemn other men.
If you can, go ahead and read the post yourself because there’s a whole bit about Thatcher in there. Not even in a bad way.
So that’s that. Again, here are two other posts you should read about this – please let me know in the comments if there are more I can share!