Recently, I was reading an article that showed the kind of ass-hattery that police officers are forced to deal with. In short, it showed a woman apparently intentionally provoking a cop, and the cop keeping his head and going about his official business.
Probably intended more for humor value than anything else, it still triggered something in me, because I’d just read a slew of articles about police officers murdering people in cold blood, and how the media is complicit in whitewashing those crimes so that officers rarely face the consequences of their actions.
I posted a glib comment about how “yes, this cop was remaining calm in the face of ass-hattery, but the problem is some cops are sociopaths, and there’s really no way to know which is which until you’re face down with bullets in your back.” Probably overly harsh as a reaction to a humor piece, but it was what I was thinking and feeling at the moment.
The friend who’d posted the article pointed out that many cops are just hardworking people trying to do the best job they can, and that their job is fairly thankless at times. This is objectively true, but the argument annoyed me for some reason. It felt familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.
Then, this morning, it hit me. It’s the cop version of “not all men.”1 You know the trope; someone points out the bigotry, rape apologetics and misogyny rampant on the internet or in the real world, and some man chimes in that he, for one, isn’t like that. This answer is met with universal derision and often times a mocking hashtag of “#notallmen.” This hashtag has been used in the past to counter rape and misogyny allegations on the net.
I have a personal stake in #notallmen because, well, I’m a man. I’ve never raped anyone. I’m not misogynistic (that I’m aware of). I’m resistant to having my personal life dictated by academic feminists2 — I’d prefer to find out each individual’s preferences for how I treat her, rather than let the Women’s Studies professor at Dartmouth decide for both of us — but in general I feel like I treat women with kindness and respect, and address my own stereotyping and bigotry when I find it. So when I read articles that I feel paint all or most men as bigots or rapists, I — possibly naturally — get a bit defensive. I don’t do those things! A lot of men don’t do those things! #notallmen!
Before we rush into the tired trope of bashing #notallmen, it’s important to realize that it’s a valid argument. Not all men rape. Not all men oppress. Not all men are bigots. Despite all the academic nonsense about “privilege” (the new “what about the children” argument of this millenium), some men are just decent human beings attempting to live their lives the best they can while, you know, having a penis. #notallmen is a persistent argument because it’s true. Similarly, #notallcops is a true argument — most cops are hard-working men and women doing a shitty, dangerous job. It’s not always a deflection, either — when a discussion veers from the bad behavior of some members of a group into a tendency to bash and bad mouth the entire group (which many discussions of both bad cops and bad men do), it’s quite reasonable to say “hey, hang on, wait a moment. Not all cops/men are like that!”
Having realized the parallel, I wanted to investigate further. Often cops say “not all cops are bad cops” (objectively true) when what they want is to regain the respect of the public. They recognize that a large — and growing — portion of the public regards the police with fear and suspicion, and that fear of the gun and badge is not the same as respect. They want the respect back, and so they point out — correctly, but beside the point — that not all cops are thugs and murderers.
The parallels to men are obvious — male-bashing is a favored sport today. There was a comment thread about prison rape, and one respondent asked why talking about women getting raped is (correctly) considered a discussion of a horrific, violent, reprehensible crime, but it’s perfectly acceptable, and funny, to talk about men getting raped in prison. This is a valid point — men getting raped (and they do get raped) is just as horrific as women getting raped. It’s the crime that’s horrific, not the status of the victim. And yet, it’s still “acceptable” to tell prison rape jokes, whereas if you told the same jokes about raping female not-prisoners, you would (justifiably) be ostracized. Male-bashing needs to stop — end of discussion. We can’t use “because privilege” arguments to allow the same kind of bad behavior towards men that we decry towards women; this just shows that “because privilege” isn’t really a valid argument (for the most part, it isn’t) so much as a rhetorical club used to silence debate opponents. Male-bashing needs to stop.
But the correct response to male-bashing is to call it out. If someone makes a joke about prison rape, just stop them and say “hey — not cool. That’s rape you’re talking about.” It doesn’t have to be anything more complicated or politic-y than that. If you say “hey, not all men are bad guys,” you’re being defensive and missing the point.
The reason “not all cops” is missing the point is that — as recent news stories have shown — bad behavior among police is frequent enough to be very, very scary. It’s very justifiable to be afraid for your life when interacting with police, if you happen to be the “wrong” skin color or socioeconomic group. Similarly, abuse and rape are very prevalent. Yes, any given woman in any given situation is still relatively unlikely to be raped or beaten or killed. But it does happen, and happens frequently enough that fear is justifiable. And — in another parallel to the discussion about men — you simply don’t know in advance which cops are the “good cops” and which cops are the sociopathic murderers. You can’t tell by just looking at the cop whether he’s going to calmly go about his business and ticket or arrest you, or whether he’s going to rage out because you “disrespected his authority” and unload his pistol into your fleeing back. You just don’t know, so it’s pretty reasonable to be skeptical until you have a better idea. Similarly, while admitting that most men — the vast majority, in fact — aren’t rapists or abusers, enough are that women are justifiably afraid for their own personal safety, and just like with cops, they don’t know in advance which ones are the “good men” and which ones are the psychopaths. So “not all cops” and “not all men” has one valid response: true, not all are bad, but we don’t know in advance which are bad, and the consequences to “guessing wrong” are so horrific that blanket skepticism and caution are in order.
The final parallel to the “not all men” argument is this: not all cops are bad cops. But enough “good cops” cover for the bad cops, that it’s reasonable to regard the entire profession with skepticism. The concept of the “thin blue line” — where cops cover for and protect each other against the public (the very public they’re sworn to serve and protect!) corrupts the entire concept of community policing. It fosters an “us against them” mentality, and it justifies suspicion and anger on the part of the public. When cops cover for each other — up to and including covering up murders— it’s pretty damned reasonable to regard the entire profession with skepticism.
Similarly, many men do cover up the misdeeds of other men. Rape apologists give the benefit of the doubt to the accused, rather than the accuser. Rape test kits are never processed. Calling in a police report for domestic violence is as likely to get you hauled away as the violent person. The system is somewhat perverted, and often times you find that the culprit is men claiming “boys will be boys” or some other tired trope to cover it up. If you corner them, they’ll admit that yes, rape is horrible, but — you see — this wasn’t really rape. And who knows, maybe it wasn’t. But the burden of proof becomes insurmountable for the victim, especially someone who is already traumatized and vulnerable. This is “rape culture” — a horrible, divisive term that causes more problems than it solves but still conceptually accurate. This is the “thin blue line” of men covering up for other men. Very often it’s because the men doing the covering up have done something identical or very similar to the same behavior as the accused, and can’t see how it’s “all that bad.” Yes, we are — and should be — innocent until proven guilty. I don’t know what the solution to erasing the systemic bias is without undoing that founding principle of our legal system, but I feel like there must be a way.
So, what is my conclusion? I don’t really know that I have one. The parallels in the arguments are enlightening. In short, they are members of an attacked group claiming that not all members of their group behave in the same immoral manner. It’s a true argument, and one that shouldn’t be lost. We shouldn’t male-bash, and we shouldn’t cop-bash. Neither is productive, and both foster defensiveness and close minds. We should also be very cautious about lumping more and more “normal” behavior into the category of abuse — when a cop is arresting you, he is not your friend and shouldn’t pretend to be… but he also shouldn’t yank your arms out of your sockets or shoot you in the back. Similarly, a man asking a woman on a date shouldn’t have to pretend that he has no sexual interest in her, but that doesn’t give him license to act like a misogynist (and certainly not to rape.)
The truth is, I don’t know that I’ve come to any grand, sweeping conclusions, aside from it opening my eyes. Having been on the side that is guilty of sometimes accusing the entire police profession of being corrupt and broken, I see that it’s on my shoulders to stop doing that. It’s counterproductive and not true. Similarly, those who want (for political or personal reasons) to accuse the entire male gender of bad behavior need to stop. Lots of us are good guys doing the best we can. And it’s on their shoulders to stop that; I don’t have to prove that I’m “super good” just to overcome your bias, you need to work on overcoming your own bias. Similarly, the average cops just doing the best they know how don’t have to become superhuman just to overcome my fear and doubt; it’s my responsibility to not prejudge them before I know anything about them as individuals.
Similarly, it’s on my shoulders as a male to read between the lines a little and strive to be a bit less defensive. When people make grand, sweeping generalizations about men, I can recognize that they’re talking out of their ass, but there is a kernel of truth — that there are men who rape and oppress and beat women, and enough men do it that it’s a real social concern, and enough men cover for them that it’s something all men should be talking and thinking about. Similarly, the “good cops” should strive to be less defensive and recognize that some of their “brothers and sisters in blue” are actually violent sociopaths — or at least, unfit to be wearing the uniform — and stop covering for them. Doing that — seeing cops calling out and prosecuting their own bad apples — would go a long way towards restoring the public’s trust in most police officers.
1. Instead of mocking and attacking anyone who says “not all men” or “not all cops,” it would behoove anyone hearing those phrases to realize that what they’re really hearing is someone saying “I’m feeling attacked, and I need to defend myself.” That is a much more honest statement, and it indicates that a mind has closed. Not only is the person saying it likely to attack you in return, but you’ve lost any chance of changing their mind. So don’t just stop, point, and laugh. Instead, stop, make it clear that you’re not intending to attack all men/cops, and move on with your argument clarified to indicate that you’re talking about “the bad ones.
2. Academic feminism and identity politics have a lot to answer for, and this is one. By striving to make everything about grand, sweeping social trends and conflicts of “privilege” vs. “oppression,” the personal gets lost. Indeed, one of the mantras of academic feminism is “the personal is the political” — in short, there is no space for humans to be humans, it’s all about culture clashes. This is just so laughably wrong that it feels like a waste of breath to refute it (some things are personal and are not open to political analysis; politics deals in the behavior of large groups of people, not how individuals relate in private), but worse than that, it’s dangerous because it perpetuates the “us vs. them” mentality. Reasonable debate and disagreement is disallowed, because to argue against my politics is to attack me as a person. I am my politics — remember, there is no room for the “personal,” it’s all politics — so an attack on my political beliefs is an attack on me, therefore I must defend, guns blazing, and to hell with the collateral damage. There are no innocents, take no prisoners, everyone is a valid target. This is a horrible, horrible, divisive ideology, and deserves to be stamped out. This is one reason why I repeatedly say: I am pro-choice, anti-rape, anti-oppression, pro-equality, and anti-bigotry — but I am not, for the love of all that’s holy, a feminist.