KAMLOOPS — The current public debate on sexual harassment and assault prompted by the #MeToo campaign brought to mind a front-page headline years ago in the Kamloops Daily News.
In capital letters, and inside quotation marks, it said, ‘ALL MEN ARE POTENTIAL RAPISTS.’
It was a provocative headline taken from a statement by an activist who was in town talking about sexual harassment. In her mind, all men were sexual predators waiting for an opportunity.
At the time, I found it inflammatory and offensive. I’ve reconsidered — not the truth or untruth of the claim, but my reaction to it.
Out of curiosity, I Googled that headline the other day and discovered to my surprise that the phrase “All men are potential rapists” has been reinvented many times over the years, along with the even more exaggerated claim that “All men are rapists.”
Not even “potential.” Just are.
A well-known U.K. writer named Julie Bindel tweeted last year that “all men are rapists and should be put in prison then shot.” Talk about radical population control.
She was earlier quoted as saying all men should be put in concentration camps. I guess she was more moderate back then.
Whether Bindel simply enjoys making shocking statements or in some way believes that sort of stuff, I have no way of judging.
Saying that all men are rapists is, of course, pure nonsense if taken literally. What it intends to convey, perhaps, is that all men are complicit in rape because they’re of the same gender as those who actually commit rape. Which is only slightly less absurd.
Saying that all men are “potential” rapists is another way of saying that no man can be trusted.
Or is it? Depending on the context, and the recipient of the message, it could simply be a warning that women need to be careful. (But then, of course, some will say women shouldn’t have to worry about being careful, and so the debate continues.)
Back to 2017 and Harvey Weinstein, reaction from men to #MeToo has ranged from angry retorts to confessionals and apologies for being disrespectful and telling inappropriate jokes.
A very few men reveal that they, too, have been victims of rape, by either men or women.
Most, however, say nothing at all. They either aren’t interested, or afraid to speak for fear of public shaming. There’s a sense that if you reject the notion that all men are to blame, you’ll be labelled as a callous misogynist.
Most men are not sexual predators. They aren’t abusive and, unlike the U.S president, don’t even engage in “locker room talk” nor do they consider women as nothing more than sexual objects.
Just because men have the physical capacity to commit rape, it doesn’t mean they have the capacity intellectually, or the necessary lack of morals. The very thought of it is abhorrent to most men.
#MeToo indicates a couple of unhappy truths. One is that we seem not to have made much if any progress in the past 25 years in eliminating sexual harassment and assault.
The other is that the issue continues to divide men and women, whereas it should unite them.
Exaggerated declarations like the ones about all men being rapists or potential rapists get in the way.
But if men get all indignant and silly about the Julie Bindels, and react with self-righteous outrage and refuse to be part of the conversation, we’ll get nowhere.
Good, decent men want to help. They’re here to support the sentiments of #MeToo, not to devalue them.
So, not all men are rapists, and not all men are potential rapists. Now, let’s talk.
I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.