At some point, you've probably heard the phrase, "not all men" being used as a rebuttal to conversations addressing feminism, misogyny, and sexism. And it can get incredibly frustrating and derail the conversation when you try to explain why it's harmful.
Well, a woman named Evelyn, known as @herspective on TikTok, broke down the psychology behind 'not all men' in a now-viral video. Evelyn holds two master's degrees from Harvard, where she studied gender-based trauma — and in her video, she identifies three sources 'not all men' stems from. She then explains what men who say it are actually communicating to women — whether they intend to or not.
In her TikTok, Evelyn talked about the following three sources: 1) The male "pick me" behavior: By this, she means a mentality of, “I’m not one of them; I’m one of the good guys.” However, Evelyn says that this mentality is a total delusion, because everyone in a patriarchy (regardless of gender identity) has internalized misogyny and sexism that require unlearning. 2) The need to control women’s voices: Evelyn points out that men who say "not all men" are tone-policing women rather than directing their energy toward men who are actively harming women. 3) The male superiority complex: Evelyn elaborates that a man might understand that other men out there may be "bad," and by saying "not all men," he's trying to communicate that he is not one of them and that he's therefore dependable, because he will protect women from male violence. The problem, Evelyn explains, is that this instills a fear of independence in women, because it implies that the real solution to male violence is another man.
Evelyn's video received over 1 million likes and 18 thousand comments — many, perhaps surprisingly, from men who thanked her for educating them and said that they'd stop using the phrase.
BuzzFeed spoke with Evelyn to break down her, well, breakdown. Ultimately, Evelyn said that the three sources of "not all men" point to a root problem: men’s collective lack of deference to women. "Deference is fear and respect," she expanded, and men have deference to each other. So when men desire and need women but don't have deference to women, they cling to patriarchal ideologies "wherein anything male is superior to everything female."
To better define the male "pick me" behavior, Evelyn started with toxic masculinity: It's taught as a norm that men must "wear" to be wanted and needed by women and other men. She revealed, "Men wearing toxic masculinity really are saying, 'Pick me.'"
Control and tone policing also stem from male "pick me" behavior, Evelyn noted. When a man says "not all men" in the midst of a woman sharing her experiences, he effectively tone-polices her and denies her experiences to center himself. Moreover, he demonstrates defensiveness and an unwillingness to engage in introspection. "That comes from a place of desire and need without respect," Evelyn explained, because "toxic masculinity doesn’t know respect."
Evelyn began connecting all of these dots when she studied labor as an undergrad at Cornell. She learned that the US and its economy have been built on the backs of women and people of color, leading her to realize that government and religion are primary drivers of oppression. So she went on to earn two master's degrees — one in theological studies and one in public administration — from Harvard. "I studied how religion and public policies throughout time cemented misogyny in the public psyche and our way of everyday life," Evelyn said.
While Evelyn created this video to address men's use of the phrase, "not all men," she told BuzzFeed that she challenges anyone to say and prove that they are free of sexist bias. But this isn't meant to be an offensive statement. "We were socialized in the context of white patriarchy," Evelyn acknowledged. "To survive, every single one of us had to adjust to the norms set in that context — which included adopting the ways in which we diminish, belittle, and shame women, even for the wrongdoings of men."
Subsequently, Evelyn emphasized the difference between an active perpetrator and a passive bystander. She pointed to the use of, "I didn't do anything," to indicate whether one has actively done harm when it should be looked at as an indicator of whether one has intervened. In this vein, "I didn't do anything," becomes, "I didn't do anything to stop the hate I witnessed."
Overall, Evelyn hopes those who watch her video stay engaged and find ways to intervene when they witness hate. She began her channel to add to a world that values women for more than their bodies and reach Gen Z, but she's since noticed that many parents watch her videos. "So I think we all want the same thing: that the world be better for the next generation and the next," Evelyn concluded.