The Problem with the “It’s Just the Men You Date” Retort

Sexism is a pervasive system that successfully marginalizes women while also benefiting men. Whether consciously or not, women feel the pangs of sexism everyday whether it be having a man invade our personal space when we’re out on the streets or being called a “bitch” or a “hoe” for doing something a man did not like. Women are very familiar with the functions of sexism because we deal with it everyday. Twitter and other social media outlets afford women the space to be able to vent their frustrations with men without being faced with physical violence. With the advancement of technology, women are also more equipped with resources to actually back up their frustrations with men with facts. This has allowed women to not only share their experiences but it also helps women view their experiences in a critical lens. What is very frustrating though that in response to women’s critical analysis of sexism, is hearing the pained, “Well, you just need to date better men,” retort.

If you see a woman break down an entity as complex as sexism and reduce it to simply her interpersonal relationships with men, it shows you don’t have the range for the conversation in the first place. A woman’s experiences with men goes beyond the men she dates or is related to. Women live a life amid sexism. Sexism is inevitably systemic. It is not something we can opt out of by surrounding ourselves with supposedly better quality men. That’s like saying, if a person of color surrounds themselves with better quality white people, they won’t face racism–a systemic entity built against people of color.

See how that doesn’t work? Can you imagine breaking white supremacy down to its very core, only for people to say, “Well, you’re around the wrong white people?”

It is very telling when people, especially men, resort to telling women that it’s “just the men that we date.” It shows how men can not conceptualize women outside of romantic relationships–if not familial and it also reveals how they do not (care to) understand the complexity of sexism. They don’t even understand that women are complex beings in the first place.

When women say things such as “Men are trash,” out of frustration, it is not simply about relationships and cheating. Men’s presence in women’s lives goes beyond that because men systemically and socially marginalize women. “Men are trash,” refers to the everyday harm men cause women. One in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. One in three college men in a survey said they would sexually assault a woman if they could. Men have physically assaulted and murdered women for rejecting them. Women can not walk from point A to point B without a man harassing her on the streets. Men systemically bar women from reproductive rights and let the wage gap persist. Men shame women for being sexual human beings outside of their control by calling us “sluts” and “hoes.” The list of how men harm women goes on.

If it is simply just the men that I date then how do you explain the strange men, I don’t know, who harass me on the streets and call me a “bitch” when I do not entertain them? If it is simply just the men that we date, then how do you explain one of my best friends being sexually assaulted by a guy she did not know? If it is simply just the men that I date, explain the men who verbally abuse me when I speak up against sexism? If it is simply just the men that women date, explain the men sitting in congress who come up with new ways to make reproductive rights less accessible to women?

If it really is just the men that we date, why is there such a large pool of abusive men to choose from in the first place?

Say that it is the men that we date, that still reveals that men, at large, are harmful towards women seeing as many women have their frustrations with men. It still shows that abusive behavior towards women is a widespread issue that needs to be addressed. Say that it simply is just the men that we date, why are women still to be held responsible for the actions of a grown man?

“It’s just the men you date,” doesn’t solve anything. Not only is it heteronormative, but it purposefully reduces critiques of sexism to a woman “choosing” the wrong men in her life so that it takes the blame off men. It is yet another way to hold a woman accountable for the actions of men instead of addressing that men, at large, are a harm to women and need to be held accountable for it. It also undermines how crafted men can be when it comes to being abusive towards women.

 It’s much easier to reduce it to just women picking the wrong soulmates instead of a widespread problem because that requires men to examine themselves and their peers introspectively.

Thing is, men know that they, as a whole, are harmful towards women. That is revealed in multiple ways–whether it’s when they’re blaming women for being sexually assaulted or when they’re warning their daughters or sisters about how harmful men can be. One minute it’s just the men that we date and then the next it’s, “How did you expect to be drunk around a whole bunch of men and not expect to be raped?” It’s “not all men” or “pick better men” when women criticize functions of sexism but in the same breath men tell their daughters to be careful because “all men are dogs.” This shows that the retort has no intention other than to save men their ego and preserve their image. The retort is not meant to be practical. It is simply to help men other themselves from other men in the face of critiques against sexism–even if that means contradicting themselves.

If a man truly cares about the safety of women, he must contextualize remarks such as “Men are trash” and ask himself why so many women feel that way. “Generalizations” made about men by women are not harmful to men because at the end of the day, men hold systemic power. Women do not. It requires a man to put aside his feelings and ego and admit that, despite individual behavior, ultimately men pose a threat to the safety of women. It requires men to hold themselves and each other accountable and to also recognize sexism and how its functions are as complex as the women it marginalizes.

Question is, are men willing to do that?

Image credit – Rebecca Hendin (Buzzfeed)

3 thoughts on “The Problem with the “It’s Just the Men You Date” Retort

  1. kelley says:

    Great post! I agree with you, start to finish.
    The last two men I dated were/are not ready to face their personal downfalls and that spread into our connection, and eventually, our demise. I think there are many, many men amongst us of this caliber-wolves in sheep’s clothign-whocannot help alter the safety for women and teach other men when they cannot even address the problems within. Blaming an outside force is so much easier.
    Thank you for this. Hopefully it opens someone’s eyes.

  2. Means of Grace says:

    Thanks for this. I dealt with a guy who harassed multiple women at work. So yes, it’s not even about dating. Saying hello to a guy in any environment can be an opening for the wrong guy to use you. I reported the guy at work, but a lot of women were afraid.

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