I think memes are generally stupid:

Over the past few weeks, the meme “not all men” — meant to satirize men who derail conversations about sexism by noting that “not all men” do X, Y, or Z sexist thing — has exploded in usage.

But it would appear that not all men (and not all people generally) are fully caught up on the meme, where it comes from, and the point it’s getting across. Here’s a brief history of the term, and why it’s taken on such resonance lately.

1) What is a man?

Might as well start here. A man is an adult male of the species homo sapiens. To clarify, “adult” here does not mean someone who’s able to pay their own rent, or treat others with respect. Adult simply means that this male has gone through puberty and is no longer a boy.

Some additional notes about men:

  • A man is someone who pays his female employees less.
  • A man is someone who interrupts a woman when she’s in the middle of saying something.
  • A man expects his wife to do all the cooking and cleaning.

What’s that you say? Not ALL men pay their employees less? Not ALL men interrupt women?

Thanks for pointing that out. You’re who this meme is about.

2) What is “Not all men”?

Let’s say a post is written on the internet about how men do not listen to women when they speak and interrupt them more often than men, an observation borne out by empirical research. At a blog or site of sufficient size, it’s practically inevitable that a commenter will reply, “Not all men interrupt.”

This phrase “Not all men” is a common rebuttal used (most often) by men in conversations about gender in order to exempt themselves from criticism of common male behaviors. Recently, the phrase has been reappropriated by feminists and turned into a meme meant to parody its pervasiveness and bad faith.

3) How did “Not all men” start?

The exact origins of “not all men” are muddy at best. As Jess Zimmerman noted in Time, “‘not all men’ erupted in several places on the Internet simultaneously and independently, like the invention of calculus.”

“Not all men” may be a shortened version of “Not all men are like that” or NAMALT, which appeared on the chat forum eNotAlone as early as 2004. The Awl’s John Hermann traced mentions of “Not all men” back to 1863.

The first use of “Not all men” in a popular medium is what Shafiqah Hudson calls her “tweet heard round the world,”  which she published in February of 2013.

I guess part of my disinterest is that they’re never as funny or witty as they’re meant to be. As an aside: I thought one of the principal ideas behind feminism was that women shouldn’t be bucketed and labeled, and that they take offense at it. Shouldn’t be too surprising that some men don’t appreciate it either (regardless of the validity of complaints).


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