Trigger warning: mentions of gender based violence, abuse and rape.
Whenever a new hashtag pops up that calls out a dominant group on its inherent privilege, a counter-message almost immediately appears. We saw it with #alllivesmatter, #notallmen, and now with the response to the recent trending of #menaretrash on twitter men are, again, in uproar.
The hashtag started trending after the burnt and beaten body of Karabo Mokoena was found the same day a former ANCYL leader was sentenced to 20 years for using a sjambok to kill his girlfriend. It is not a campaign organised by a group of angry “feminazis”* to spread man-hating propaganda. It was a spontaneous reaction to yet another instance of horrific gender based violence in a country where womxn are more likely to be killed by their intimate partner than a stranger on the streets. The first womxn used it, and then another womxn used it to detail her experience with toxic masculinity and gender based violence, and yet another until #menaretrash was trending and people all over the world started complaining about it or joining in.
Looking through the posts, it is clear to see that womxn are angry. We are frustrated with a patriarchal society that allows victim blaming and rape culture to exist, where sexism is systemic and womxn are constantly seen as second-class citizens. This combination of anger, frustration and fear is not pretty, and it does not have to be. Womxn do not have to garnish their feelings with attractive words and delicate phrases to make it more palatable to the very men who oppress them.
Instead, we are allowed to use a shocking statement to make people, men in particular, feel uncomfortable. That discomfort should instigate a conversation about why referring to an entire gender as trash holds some truth. It is not, and obviously I need to make this very clear, a smear-campaign to single out individual men or avenge broken relationships. No one using the hashtag is interested in how great you as a husband, boyfriend, brother, father or friend. Frantically trying to emphasise that you are a good guy or you have a great father just undermines the entire debate, and, as usual, moves the spotlight from the oppressed to the oppressor.
There are men out there who are not trash, of course there are, but this is not about them specifically. This is about toxic masculinity as a whole, and about the men who do not realise their actions make them trashy. This hashtag is for the men who claim they are ‘good guys’ but don’t call their friends out on rape jokes. The men who are so quick to say they aren’t trash, but do nothing when their sons start making lewd comments about womxn. The men who only see womxn as an extension of themselves – mothers, daughters, girlfriends – and thus view these atrocities through their own gendered lens. It is for the men who claim Karabo stayed with an abusive partner because of his wealth, for the men who ask rape victims what they were wearing, for those who say “she wanted it” and for those that pretend that we live in an equal word.
This hashtag is for men as a group with inherent privilege. You are trash. Change.
* This word was used with complete irony. Although it is absolutely horrific and completely unacceptable to use in everyday life, I felt it appropriate in this instance as it has been thrown around many times in reference to #menaretrash.