There Are No Good Men
Entrepreneur and black liberation activist Marissa Jenae Johnson said, “There are no good white people.” Before all of the white people reading this become defensive, she clarified her statement by explaining that branding yourself or other white people as “one of the good ones” can lead to a lack of accountability for the racial biases that you still carry inside of you, and even if you think you don’t have any of those, (you do, as do I), you run the risk of letting yourself off the hook for not doing more to change the systems of racism and inequality in our society. Just because you think you are not actively working to discriminate against people of color doesn’t mean that you are “good”.
I bring up Ms. Johnson’s statement because it translates well to the growing trend of men who wish to remind women (and other men), that “not all men” are misogynists or rapists. Hannah Gadsby referenced this when she talked about “…the line in the sand that is inevitably drawn whenever a good man talks about bad men. ‘I am a good man, here is the line, there are all the bad men.’”
I would argue similarly to Marissa Jenae Johnson and say that there is no such thing as a “good” man primarily because the “not all men” argument does many things, none of which are helpful.
First, the “not all men” argument sends any given conversation away from the genuine problem and instead re-centers the conversation around how the “good” men feel about the conversation. For example, someone may explain that they have been sexually harassed by the men at their workplace, only for a “good” man to interrupt and say essentially, “I would never sexually harass someone at my workplace.” and suddenly we’re talking about Kyle or whoever instead of addressing the very real problem of workplace sexual harassment.
The reactions of “good” men in these moments are defensive and childish. They are motivated by a need to feel good about oneself instead of a desire to help others. Thinking of yourself in the exact moment that you should be focusing your attention on making sure others are safe and cared for shows an intense lack of empathy.
Second, assertions that certain men are “good” may not even be true. What determines a person’s goodness is extremely subjective. The metrics that individuals use to describe these “good” men are often shallow and performative. For example, how many priests who are child sex abusers have been defended because of the charity work or spiritual guidance they have given while they were not abusing children. Members of his community often say, “He can’t be an abuser. He’s a good man who has helped this community in so many ways.”
Jerry Sandusky literally felt justified in abusing young boys because he was giving those same young boys the opportunities of college educations, leadership training, and professional development. He saw himself as a “good” man. If that level of dualism can exist within a serial child molester think of the dualism that can exist in an otherwise progressive man who still has some sexist biases. I am not suggesting that every man who labels themselves or who has been labeled “good” by their community is a serial child abuser, but I am suggesting that maybe using the label can allow abusers and predators a disguise that wouldn’t exist if we dropped the label.
Third, it is unnecessary. I have never met or read of a feminist who literally thinks that all men are evil and should be destroyed. Most feminist theorists agree that the larger systems of patriarchy that place expectations and constraints on men are the true problem, and that men are victims of this system as well, though they are victimized in a different way than women and non-binary individuals. When feminists speak about the actions of men who are abusers, perpetrators, or oppressors, they are never saying that all men are “bad”. When you remind them that there are “good” men out there, you are being incredibly redundant.
Finally, it can create a “walking on eggshells” atmosphere for women who don’t want to incur the wrath of their male friends when talking about men’s oppression of women. They will insert qualifiers into their statements to make it absolutely and abundantly clear that they are talking about other, very bad dudes, not you guys. You guys are the good guys after all.
This stymies the incredibly important work of sharing experiences of oppression and discrimination to spread awareness, and lets men who, as previously mentioned, are not truly rid entirely of their sexism or racism off the hook from having to engage fully in the conversation.
My assertion that there is no such thing as a good man is not meant to diminish the positive impact of men in families and communities. On the contrary, if men and other majority groups stop focusing on being perceived as “good” or “safe”, they may be able to contribute more effort to making our society a more equitable one.
Marissa Janae Johnson https://overcast.fm/+Iy4jVz4/39:27
Hannah Gadsby on “Good Men” https://youtu.be/OEPsqFLhHBc
Originally published at https://feministmasculinity.com on April 18, 2019.