The concept of "not all men" has reached peak Internet, thanks to a Twitter hashtag, an answer Twitter hashtag and an amusing web comic making fun of the phrase. The idea is that whenever a woman makes a statement or argument about some sort of misogynist something or other, there is a man who answers, almost automatically, "not all men are [fill in the misogynist blank]."

When I saw an article in Time about it titled "Every Dude’s Favorite Argument," I thought, "Not all men use counterpoints beginning with ‘not all men,’ " and then imagined all the circular arguments I could get into.

I do wonder if I’ve ever used it as a response, but I don’t recall ever doing that. That’s not iron clad -- in general, people can’t remember anything about anything -- so anyone who discovers evidence that I have, well, there’s your blackmail material.

I don’t know that it’s the best argument against anything though. Like, you’re in a restaurant and someone says, "This burger is horrible," you wouldn’t counter, "Not all burgers are horrible." Or you’re talking politics and someone says, "Wow, this Republican is out to destroy our country," you definitely, definitely would never respond, "Well, not all Republicans are out to destroy our country," because they very obviously are, especially the ones who comment on my columns online.

In all honesty, I had always read the "not all men" counterpoint not so much as "shut up, not all men are what you are saying, damn you" and more as "well, we can at least take heart in the fact that not all men are what you are saying, so maybe this is a solvable blip." I’m totally willing to admit this was probably extremely naive on my part.

I don’t know if I can speak for all men, or any men really, but I can speak as myself trying to figure out why men do things. If I invoked "not all men" I could imagine it as part of an apology, an "I’m really sorry about all this women hating everywhere" sort of thing. Because I figure that’s how I would use it, I transfer that onto other guys and assume that other guys want to apologize for the horribleness somehow because they are at a loss for words, too.

One thing I can tell you about white guys. Some of us love our alpha male social hierarchy. Some of us don’t, though. Even though all us white guys share the same white guy privilege, I’ve found that men who treat women horribly aren’t so great with other men either, especially if the men don’t exhibit the correct amount and kind of testosterone. This creates much animosity within the white guy ranks.

Some guys can’t say with authority that they aren’t actually awful males, but they are petrified that by virtue of their dumb gender and dumb skin color you might think they are without getting to know us personally and deciding for yourself. That’s another reason I always thought the "not all men" phrase got invoked. And, yes, I know that is silly and personalizes an issue, but that’s humanity for you. Any given issue can become personal in discussion.

I can’t guarantee that some men use the "not every man" argument because they don’t know what else to say. I can’t even guarantee that I if I did, and I did it on the Internet, other people would take it the way I meant it anyhow.

Not all men know what to say, though it seems like they should. But I think some men do listen and try to learn. Or not. I’m no authority. I’m not so sure anyone is.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at
mister.j.seven@gmail.com or at johnseven.net