What I Meant When I Said #MenAreTrash

Image credit: @reactive

Facebook blocked me for using #MenAreTrash in a status. Algorithmically barred, I’m sentenced to three days as an inactive onlooker without option for review. While Facebook won’t let me explain myself, I’m hoping you will.

Naturally, I took to Instagram to rant about my blocked debacle and, surprisingly, my DMs got slid into more than the Muzienberg water slides on a sultry Sunday in December. Many an uproarious women, shooketh with rage at Zuckerberg’s judgement, offered figurative pitch forks and profanity-ridden camaraderie encouraging the use of the forbidden hashtag.

It was never my intention to lump all men together with The Trash; the rapists, murderers, paedophiles, and misogynists.

Many men asked me if I’d been dumped recently. Because, of course, only heartbroken cis-het women would take to social media wielding the forbidden hashtag – as if it’s some sort of weapon to be used against rejection (???). When I said I wasn’t single, they asked me if my boyfriend was trash. While all of my past relationships would have warranted a yes, the answer is now (finally and thankfully) no. You see? My other half is living proof that #TrashCAN.

Expectedly, I was also met with a whinging chorus of fragile men. Now, hear me out before you write me off as an angry, man-hating feminist. If you’re angry about the hashtag and ready to hit me with a #NotAllMen, then fine.

I’ll admit it: I don’t think the hashtag is right, because its not conducive to constructive change. Whenever I’ve used it, or seen it used, it seems only to plunge Offended Men deeper into the apathetic quicksand that partially birthed the hashtag in the first place.

Contrary to popular belief, it was never my intention to bash my dick-wielding counterparts. It was never my intention to lump all men mindlessly together with The Trash; the rapists, murderers, paedophiles, misogynists, abusers, anti-feminists, sexist employers, and pioneers of patriarchal oppression.

So, in an attempt to have a fruitful conversation with you, for the sake of women and girls everywhere, let me rephrase myself. I’m sorry I called you all trash. I don’t think all of you are.

What I do think, is that saying #NotAllMen is the same as saying #AllLivesMatter in the face of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I do think its an easy way to derail an important conversation that women are trying to have with you about the global Endemic that is women abuse.

137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day.”

I do think its an easy way to let the behaviour of Trash Men go unchecked. It’s an easy way to absolve yourself entirely of something you do have a part in by holding male privilege, even though you’re not a rapist, a misogynist, a women beater, a literal piece of trash.

What if I told you, you didn’t have to be a perpetrator to be a part of the problem? What if I told you, that verbally attacking women without truly understanding the origins of the hashtag (regardless of its politically incorrectness) perpetuates the violence you claim so passionately to have no part in? What if I told you, simply being indifferent toward the Endemic does the same?

I think if you’re offended by the hashtag, you’re one of two things. Either, you’re an under-read guy with the potential to be decent, you’ve just been sheltered by male privilege and need the magnitude of the Endemic brought to your attention. Or, you’re trash. And the former, is what brings me here today. I sincerely hope you’ll keep reading, because we need your active help.

Image credit: @binchcity

So, let’s talk about the origins of the hashtag, the Endemic. The abuse of women and girls is a global endemic. Did you know that? Bearing in mind that the majority of violence isn’t reported and there are many countries that don’t collect data on violence against women, consider the following statistics shared by The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women):

  • It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner, however, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime [1].
  • In all four countries of a multi-country study from the Middle East and North Africa, men who witnessed their fathers using violence against their mothers, and men who experienced some form of violence at home as children, were significantly more likely to report perpetrating intimate partner violence in their adult relationships [2].
  • It is estimated that 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day [3].
  • Adult women account for 51 per cent of all human trafficking victims detected. Nearly three out of every four child trafficking victims are girls. Nearly three out of every four trafficked women and girls are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation [4].
  • It is estimated that there are 650 million women and girls in the world today who were married before age 18 [5].
  • At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in the 30 countries with representative data on prevalence. Female genital mutilation is becoming a practice with global dimensions, in particular among migrant and refugee women and girls [6].
  • Approximately 15 million adolescent girls (aged 15 to 19) worldwide have experienced forced sex at some point in their life. Based on data from 30 countries, only one per cent ever sought professional help [7]. 
  • Globally, one out of three students (aged 11 and 13 to 15 years) have been bullied by their peers at school at least on one day in the past month, with girls and boys equally likely to experience bullying.
  • Boys are more likely to experience physical bullying than girls, and girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying. Girls also report being made fun of because of how their face or body looks more frequently than boys. School-related gender-based violence is a major obstacle to universal schooling and the right to education for girls [8].
  • Twenty-three per cent of female undergraduate university students reported having experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct in a survey across 27 universities in the United States in 2015 [9].
  • One in 10 women in the European Union report having experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15 (including having received unwanted, offensive sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, or offensive, inappropriate advances on social networking sites) [10].
  • In a multi-country study from the Middle East and North Africa, between 40 and 60 per cent of women said they had ever experienced street-based sexual harassment (mainly sexual comments, stalking/following, or staring/ogling), and 31 per cent to 64 per cent of men said they had ever carried out such acts.
  • Younger men, men with more education, and men who experienced violence as children were more likely to engage in street sexual harassment [11].
  • Results from a national Australian survey show that almost two out of five women (39 per cent) aged 15 and older who have been in the workforce in the last five years have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace during that period, compared to one out of four (26 per cent) of their male counterparts. In almost 4 out of 5 cases (79 per cent) one or more of the perpetrators were male [12].
  • Eighty-two per cent of women parliamentarians who participated in a study conducted by the Inter-parliamentary Union in 39 countries reported having experienced some form of psychological violence (remarks, gestures and images of a sexist or humiliating sexual nature made against them or threats) while serving their terms.
  • Women parliamentarians cited social media as the main channel through which such psychological violence is perpetrated; nearly half of those surveyed (44 per cent) reported having received death, rape, assault or abduction threats towards them or their families.
  • Sixty-five per cent had been subjected to sexist remarks, primarily by male colleagues in parliament and from opposing parties as well as their own. [13]

Some of the worst atrocities a human being could ever endure are being inflicted daily upon woman and girls across the globe.

Bringing it back to our own soil in South Africa, a woman is killed approximately every three hours. Take a moment. Read that shit again. Let the magnitude of those statistics sink in. Imagine the women you care most about being in any single of those situations. Get uncomfortable.

While the scores of women that have shared their stories in the #METOO movement have proved that no one is safe from abuse, there is undeniable data that proves women and girls belonging to minorities are at highest risk of falling victim to this kind of violence.

These are women and girls with disabilities, women and girls from middle- to low-income households, women and girls of colour, transgendered people, and women and girls who are non-heterosexual (lesbian, bisexual, asexual, or women on the spectrum). These are people that are already oppressed by a heteronormative, classicist, white supremacist society.

Image credit: @3tokenbrowngirls

Sexism in the workplace, sexual harassment literally anywhere, genital mutilation of young girls, rape, forced incest, child marriage, molestation, sexual slavery, physical abuse, bullying. Some of the worst atrocities a human being could ever endure are being inflicted daily upon woman and girls across the globe. This is the Endemic. And, let’s not forget the gender-pay gap:

“As it stands, black women earn $0.61 for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts. Native American women earn $0.58 to every dollar, and Latina women earn $0.53. Meanwhile, white women and Asian women earn $0.77 and $0.85, respectively.
Courtney Connley for CNBC

Shit is really fucked up in the world right now, and I still have men arguing me saying that “inequality was in the old days”. Bro, just because you aren’t directly affected by it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening? What does it take away from you to genuinely acknowledge that being a woman, girl, or femme, especially of colour, is the most dangerous form to take in today’s world?

“Why should I take responsibility for the men that act like trash?!” No one’s asking you to take the fall for rape. No one is asking you to take the fall for men oppressing women. No one is asking you to take the fall. What I am asking, is for you to take a stand. You are not trash. Isn’t that right?

Are you unsure of what male privilege is, or whether it exists?

Didn’t you tell me how you’re #NotAllMen? Doesn’t that mean you’re deeply unsettled by the crimes committed against women and girls everyday? Doesn’t that mean as a human being with the gift of empathy, you’re unsettled enough to take a stand? Unsettled enough to exercise your male privilege in aid of the cause? The cause being intersectional* equality.

*Because gender equality and/or feminism that isn’t intersectional is not a quest for true equality. it’s just poorly veiled racism, ableism, classism and all the rest of the shitty -isms.

I mentioned male privilege back there. Did that bother you? Are you unsure of what male privilege is, or whether it exists? If so, you may not be aware of your privilege. Perhaps you think that you’ve never enjoyed the fruits of male privilege, because you’ve never been made aware of what they are.

Perhaps you are struggling to acknowledge that we live in a sexist, patriarchal, racist society, because acknowledging it would mean acknowledging your part in it as a male (and if you’re a white male, then your contribution is even greater).

Image credit: @womenintheworld

Perhaps, you are struggling to acknowledge because you suffer from a degree of hegemonic masculinity, whether conscious or unconscious. Let’s unpack toxic masculinity’s more scholarly synonym “hegemonic masculinity” by examining the following excerpt from C.J. Pascoe’s book Dude You’re a Fag:

“R. W. Connell argues that men enact and embody different configurations of masculinity depending on their positions within a social hierarchy of power. Hegemonic masculinity, the type of gender practice that, in a given space and time, supports gender inequality, is at the top of this hierarchy.

Complicit masculinity describes men who benefit from hegemonic masculinity but do not enact it; subordinated masculinity describes men who are oppressed by definitions of hegemonic masculinity, primarily gay men; marginalized masculinity describes men who may be positioned powerfully in terms of gender but not in terms of class or race.

Connell, importantly, emphasizes that the content of these configurations of gender practice is not always and everywhere the same. Very few men, if any, are actually hegemonically masculine, but all men do benefit, to different extents, from this sort of definition of masculinity, a form of benefit Connell (1995) calls the “patriarchal dividend” (7).”

Image credit: @blcksmth x @oteghauwagba

The “patriarchal dividend”. You see, you all get some. Look, I’m not looking down on you from a perch of perfection. I know how hard it can be to truly recognise oneself as a cog in a machine of Oppression. I’ve been in a position similar to yours and I speak from experience when I say it’s hard to recognise a privilege you’ve been born into. Up until recently, I have spent my whole life entirely unaware of my own white fragility and my role in a white supremacist society.

I struggled to see why I was part of the Oppressor Camp just for being white. I mean, I grew up loving black people and feeling adverse to what I knew to be racism. That makes me, if not an ally, then at least an innocent, right? Wrong.

At a time, I even struggled to see why #BlackLivesMatter didn’t deserve an #AllLivesMatter in return (fuck, that makes me sick with shame to admit). I had black friends, saw myself as a non-racist, a Born Free (a South African born post-apartheid), someone from a working-class household that was always struggling, and definitely not someone who was benefitting from systematic oppression.

Everything I understood about my existence in a racist system was really fucking wrong. Eventually, I realised that if I was to well and truly be an ally, I needed to start by acknowledging that I am a direct beneficiary of the machine of oppression that works against People of Colour (POC), and especially Black/Indigenous Women of Colour (BIWOC).

While you may not necessarily be a sexist, simply by being a man you are benefiting from an oppressive, patriarchal system.

Before I could even think of the word “ally”, I had to acknowledge my privilege. I had to recognise privileges that are afforded to me as a cis-het, white female by a white supremacist society. As Layla F. Saad said it, “You cannot dismantle what you cannot see. You cannot challenge what you do not understand.”

Becoming conscious of such a monumental truth is neither easy nor absolute. It incurs a lifetime of showing up, standing up, and speaking out against the very things I’ve benefited from and contributed to my entire life. It’s a responsibility, not a noble crusade. It’s what’s expected of people that hold privilege. It’s a responsibility that I have to rise to everyday. And that, Offended Men, brings me to your own.

You most likely see yourself as someone who has nothing to do with oppressive patriarchy or the actions of Trash Men, because you think you have never directly contributed to the Endemic. You are most likely, as I was, in a state of denial – the ideal mindset to further facilitate patriarchal oppression and the Endemic. You see, just as I was asleep to my privilege and playing an unconscious part in oppression, you are the same.

Image credit: @ashleighawilliams

This means that, while you may not necessarily be a rapist or a sexist, simply by being a man (especially a white man) you are directly benefiting from an oppressive, patriarchal system. This is just the same as how I am not a racist, but I am still a direct beneficiary of the ill-gotten fruits of white supremacy simply because I am white. That’s not to say neither of us will never experience hardship. It just means that your gender and my race will never be the cause of our hardships.

Just because you aren’t a women beater, misogynist, or the like, doesn’t mean you’re granted automatic innocence. It isn’t an excuse to remain complicit, unaccountable, or in denial of your privilege. What it does afford you, is the incredibly empowering ability to use your privilege to do the Right Thing. You see, we don’t need non-trash men bystanding and being offended by hashtags.

We need you to use your privilege to speak up against the trash and to hold each other accountable. And, if you’re not convinced by statistics, let me share with you just a sliver of my personal experiences, and of those around me. This was very hard for me to write and even more so to share with you. Please be gentle.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and bouts of inconsolable depression found me in front of my high school’s counsellor.

TRIGGER WARNING: abuse and sexual assault.

I’m sorry I called you all trash. All of you are not.
But a lot of you are.
Let me introduce you to a few.

During high school, I was raped by my boyfriend. Once, it happened at his best friend’s house, on the mattress that lay right next to his bed. I cried silently, whispering begging whimpers for him to stop. He didn’t. Not until he’d finished. He rolled over and drifted into a peaceful sleep. I lay frozen; a shard of glass adrift in an icy sea.

He did it many more times over the course of two years. He’d glare coldly into my eyes as I cried, begging him to stop. He always left immediately after he was done, so I could cry alone. He’d lather me up with manipulation afterward, telling me he didn’t mean to hurt me. He made me believe what happened, hadn’t. Made me think I meant it all. I wish I hadn’t stayed so long, like all victims of long-term abuse that make it out alive.

Image credit: @hexelot

Weeks after I’d broken up with him, once the dust of my abused reality had settled on me so thick I could barely breathe, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and bouts of inconsolable depression found me in front of my high school’s counsellor. He told me he wasn’t equipped to counsel me and referred me to Rape Crisis; an incredible centre in Cape Town that changed me life.

Later on, I confessed to his best friend what had happened. He told me he could hear me crying that night, on the mattress that lay next to his bed. He said he wasn’t sure if he should get involved or not. I don’t blame him for that.

I don’t know if he ever asked his friend about what he did to me, but I know there was a rumour in their friend group that said I was a compulsive liar. Ironically, this boyfriend was also having unprotected sex with a host of other women. I’ll never forget when his Other Girlfriend came to my Facebook inbox with a heavy-hearted confession, weeks after I’d left him.

I don’t blame her. He was manipulative and toxic beyond measure. Most likely still is. I told another mutual friend of ours about the rape. He said he was sorry to hear that but treated his friend, a rapist, no different. When I finally found the courage to tell a male family member, I was asked if I was “really sure”.

I’ve been cheated on by every boy I’ve been with, besides the man I am with now. I cheated once in my teens, seeking validation through physical encounters. I have fought back and hit my abusers before. I am not perfect. But this isn’t about me.

This is about (male) friends I thought to be my own, allowing abusive behaviours and sexual assault to go unchallenged. Maybe they didn’t believe me. Maybe it’s always inconvenient to believe a victim. Maybe it’s always inconvenient to tell your friend he’s a rapist and you’re not okay with that. After all, he had his whole life ahead of him and it’s none of your business anyway.

Image credit: @theequalityinstitute

I was held captive against my will by a different boyfriend. He beat me so badly I thought he’d made me blind in one eye. He refused to let me out of the car, he was intoxicated beyond comprehension, as if he was almost possessed with an insatiable desire to control me.

He drove fast, angry that I’d finally mustered up the courage to tell him I didn’t want anything to do with him, even as friends. At a stop street, I jumped out of the car, running for the safety of a forest cloaked in night. How scary to think a forest steeped in darkness, my worst nightmare, was less terrifying than what pursued me.

I ran, barefoot, as fast as fear could carry me. He caught me by my trail of hair, ripping a chunk of it out. A toenail came almost clean off as he dragged me back to the car. He hit my head against the dashboard and a gash on my scalp opened. Warm blood rushed over my eye. Everything hurt, I wasn’t sure where the blood was coming from. I saw only red.

I changed jobs because he used to let the air out of my tyres while I was working, knowing I didn’t have a spare.

I’ll never forget as the panic interlaced with the smell of burnished metal, and it dawned on me that I could be blind in one eye. The physical abuse was equally matched by the verbal abuse.”Worthless whore. No one will ever love you. You can never leave me”. That was the most traumatic experience of my life. I thought he was going to kill me.

I got a restraining order against him. In response, he got one against me. He still drove past my work often. Slowly. I quivered whenever I was home alone, knowing he could pitch up at any time. I moved house so he wouldn’t know where I lived.

I changed jobs because he used to let the air out of my tyres while I was working, knowing I didn’t have a spare. I couldn’t afford a lawyer, so my best friend sought pro-bono help for me. I represented myself in court. His family is very wealthy, so he had his own lawyer.

Image credit: @florencegiven

On the day of the hearing, us three – myself, him, and his lawyer – went into the magistrate’s office. I was shaking but I wouldn’t let him intimidate me, on the outside. I wore my bodycon black dress and thigh high socks. He was always telling me what to wear when we were seeing each other, shaming my choices.

In wearing that outfit, I was challenging all the years he made me feel like I was buying into the male gaze simply by wearing what made me happy. His lawyer, a woman, argued that he was only ever telling me what to wear in an effort to help me to be “less distasteful and undesirable”. She gestured toward my outfit as she said it.

“And what is wrong with her outfit? No person, let alone a man to a woman, has the right to tell anyone how to dress. You should be ashamed of yourself for even saying that as a woman yourself,” said the magistrate. I wanted to throw my arms around her, burst into tears, and thank her for solidifying that which I never had the courage to believe was true. His lawyer’s mouth drew to a close, a head full of teeth.

I am privileged to have grown up the way I did, where I did, where I do. This is not the same reality for so many women of colour. 

I fought off a panic attack, trying to focus on how grateful I was that my magistrate was a woman stood up for me against a woman, that was defending a man, that spent years breaking me down. A man that tried to control me, defame me, break me. I still have trouble forgiving myself for staying around so long. But I am alive, unlike many others who were in my position.

I never deserved any of that. As someone close to me didn’t deserve to be abused emotionally, physically and sexually throughout her life. As another friend didn’t deserve to be molested by her best friend’s dad.

As my classmate didn’t deserve to be gang raped on her way home, and then victim-blamed because she had been drinking and wearing a dress. My acquaintance doesn’t deserve to get paid less for the same job as her male colleague.

I am a white woman. A privileged white woman. I grew up in a safe area, I went to a good school, I am privileged to have grown up the way I did, where I did, where I do. This is not the same reality for so many women of colour. The stories they can tell of suffering, abuse, inequality, and enslavement at the hands of men, so many white men.

Image credit: @goddessplatform

The stories they can tell about white feminists, standing by in silence because they choose their whiteness over their womanhood. You can read the stories. Scores of them. You can see the strength worn on the brows of black women. They are all strong. Stronger than white women could ever comprehend. Have you comprehended this inequality? The suffering of BIWOC at the hands of white people (us)?

Have you acknowledged that women can’t walk down the street without fear of being cat-called? That we can’t go to job interviews, petrol stations, or pharmacies without fear of being hit on? That we can’t wear skirts to a concert without fear of having an unsolicited camera shoved between our legs? That we can’t do squats at the gym without fear of being wanked over?

Are we not allowed to be angry, to be exhausted? Angry that most of us do not know one woman that hasn’t been hurt by a man? Exhausted when we finally find the courage to share the deepest hurts from the darkest corners of our memory, and are disbelieved? Angry that men who aren’t raping, killing, or oppressing, are saying and doing absolutely nothing against the ones who are. Women are not angry with all men. Just many men.

You understand that #AllMen need to take action, even when they are #NotAllMen.

While you may never have raped a woman, bullied a woman, hit a woman, slut-shamed a woman, body-shamed a woman, or paid a woman less than a man for the same job, have you stood up for a woman? Have you stopped being friends with someone because he hits his wife? Have you reprimanded a man because he makes jokes about raping women and killing homosexuals?

Have you told your friends that sexual objectification is not okay when you here them describing women as pieces of meat? Have you shut down toxic Locker-room Talk? Have you shut down anti-LGBTQIA conversations? Have you fought for a woman to be paid the same as you when you knew she was being paid less for the same job? Have you told your friend to shut the fuck up when he cat calls a woman? Have you? Will you?

My cheeks are streaked with warm anger, unfathomable hurt. The sum of all the hurt; that of my own and of my friends, and that of friends of friends, and that of all the women I will never know. The sum of all that hurt saturates my being.

Image credit: @pyrite_design

You are not trash. Isn’t that right? Didn’t you tell me how you’re #NotAllMen? Doesn’t that mean you’re deeply unsettled by the crimes committed against women and girls everyday? Doesn’t that mean as a human being with the gift of empathy, you’re unsettled enough to take a stand?

Doesn’t that mean you’re more concerned with the greater suffering of womankind than you are with politically correct hashtags that don’t generalise? Doesn’t that mean that you care enough to stand up? You care enough to acknowledge our voices, our stories, our pain, especially when it is detrimental to your own privilege.

You care enough not to see our anger, our exhaustion as a personal attack, because while you could never understand what we’ve been through, you understand that there is an Endemic that women cannot fight alone. You understand that #AllMen need to take action, even when they are #NotAllMen.

For the women you care about, and the ones you don’t, for your children, your friends, your world, please choose accountability over defensiveness, standing up over keeping quiet, doing the work over subjecting women to emotional labour. I’m sorry I called you all trash, but I hope you better understand why. Will you be an ally to women, girls, and femmes everywhere? I sincerely hope so.

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