ActivismRaceSex & Gender

it was our fathers that taught us #menaretrash

April 22, 2019
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My dad, a proud 60-year-old Xhosa man, sat my 3 older sisters and me down and told us in no uncertain terms, that men are trash. This imperfect man, who had been married to my mother almost 30 years, had the mind to tell us that he knew what men were like and that we should never feel pressured to ever marry or leave ourselves vulnerable to men who might take advantage of that. My father had engaged in the age-old tradition of warning his daughters of the dangers of other men. My father’s sage advise was confirmation that men know the dangers of toxic masculinity and it shows when they are confronted with that danger threatening their wife/mother/sister/daughter/etc…

The first mentions of #MenAreTrash online can be traced back to tweets made by South African Twitter user @Yamalisa, back in 2016. Owing to the pandemic levels of gender-based violence in the country, the hashtag struck a chord and snowballed into the global conversation. The sentiment isn’t new but the conviction to say it unapologetically definitely was. It began as a way to vent frustration, catapulting into a political statement about men being complicit about violence perpetrated by the men they seek to distance themselves from. It is slowly prying the conversation about toxic masculinity out of the greasy clutches of the spewers of anecdotal arguments and #NotAllMens. It is addressing the systemic machine that manages to hide in the underbelly of day-to-day life.

South Africa has one of the highest femicide rates in the world. Women are reported missing on social media several times a day. It’s the kind of thing you never want to get used to so you use your frustration to embrace calling a spade, a spade. #MenAreTrash: it’s crasser than the warnings handed down by male relatives but it’s literally the same thing. What male misogynists hear instead is a challenge to an order that benefits them. South African current affairs show The Big Debate displayed a live rendition when earnest pleas about the autonomy of cis women were met with reasoning like “who built our cities?” It’s astounding to watch a Black man use the logic of colonizers to justify the unimpeded violence of patriarchy, but “Feminism is the Western Ideology?”

These discussions are difficult because they mostly bear fruit when you meet people where they are. Being Black doesn’t immediately imbue you with the language, ideology and intellectual references for our oppression but it should offer enough understanding and empathy towards the powerlessness associated with systemic marginalization. There is so much to be said about using toxic masculinity to extract and exact power on the people in their lives that they’ve been conditioned to feel entitled to. We need to stop making excuses for men though. We need to foster a culture of raising sons instead of leaving them exposed to the toxicity of masculine entitlement. It’s time for some therapy and a deep dive into forming and version of masculinity that doesn’t rely solely on domination.

These are our lives and the discomfort men find in #MenAreTrash does not outweigh its larger purpose. It is pure privilege for any man to feel excluded from the wider discussion on toxic masculinity. The fact that we are discussing toxic masculinity at all is progress. If one dared to hope, perhaps we could find a way to hack the selective empathy that allows toxic masculinity to thrive. Perhaps we’ll fix a lot more. In the meantime, we are just tired of fighting for our right to exist. Therefore, #MenAreTrash, until they decide not to be. Period.