This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Centre’s online chat feature can be reached here.
In the midst of conversations about sexism, violence against women, and toxic masculinity, the phrase ‘not all men’ has become a popular response to defend male perspectives. This narrative is extremely problematic and minimizes the opportunity for further conversations surrounding female oppression. Yes, not all men are physically or sexually violent toward women, but too many are.
A recent study from The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women found that 97 per cent of women have experienced sexual assault in the United Kingdom alone. The shocking statistic caused a rise in online dialogue surrounding violence against women and the need to talk about women’s rights to safety.
As someone who has experienced sexual assault, I find these conversations to be long overdue. I was taught by society to expect men to be dangerous, to hurt me, and to make me uncomfortable.
Don’t go for walks at night—and if you do, make sure you’re prepared to defend yourself. Don’t leave your drink alone at a bar. Most importantly, if you’re wearing something revealing, make sure you aren’t alone, because if you’re assaulted people will assume you were ‘asking for it.’
The current discussions emphasize the need to put an end to gender inequalities, but many haven’t dug deeper into how we can go about creating a world that’s safer for women. I think that part of the solution lies within the necessity of teaching boys at a young age about the dynamics of what it means to be a woman and what they can do to make women feel more comfortable.
Many journal articles, feminist blogs, and news pieces address the need to have conversations with boys at a young age about respecting women, but few delve into what that actually looks like. Perhaps this is a result of a patriarchal society that leads us to believe that public discourse about male misbehaviour is a taboo topic. However, the reality for women isn’t just discomfort—it’s endangerment, which is exactly why these conversations are necessary.
After consulting my female friends and asking them what they think we should be teaching boys, I was given a lot of input on how to mitigate inequalities through parenting and teaching practices.
A good place to start is talking with boys about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Because men don’t share the same lived experience as women, it’s important to acknowledge how difficult it is to fully comprehend what a survivor has gone through. Addressing this can bring validation to a survivor and reassure them that their trauma is real and important.
We should also be speaking to boys about the importance of consent and how it extends past sexual intercourse. For me, something that seems very mundane, like a man giving me a hug when I’m not expecting it, is very triggering. Asking permission before you touch someone can make a world of a difference.
As the next generation of boys grow into men, we should be teaching them that allyship should go beyond respecting your mom, your sister, and your female peers. Men must respect all women, not only the ones they know.
It’s extremely important for these discussions to continue to be had when no women are present. It shouldn’t be a woman’s responsibility to fight for her rights, inform men of her boundaries, and protect herself from predators. Men need to be taking on the work to educate other men—many women have already provided them with the tools to do so.
The solution to women’s oppression isn’t simple, and it’s far more complex than simply teaching boys to respect women. But allowing for these conversations to be explored is essential to deprogramming misogyny and toxic masculinity from our society and making this world a safer place for women to live.
It may not be all men, but it should be none.