The death of Karabo Mokoena, who was allegedly killed by her intimate partner, has precipitated the trending hashtag of #MenAreTrash. This hashtag of #MenAreTrash has brought into sharp focus the issues of abuse and violence against womxn in our country.
Contrary to the mistaken belief held by many men, #MenAreTrash is not a hashtag that seeks to paint all men with the same brush by labelling them as abusers of womxn. #MenAreTrash does not attack or insult individual men, but it rather aims to raise awareness of the negative impact that violence and abuse have on womxn and children in our country. #MenAreTrash is not about specific men, it is about how men in general have created a world that is unsafe and unlivable for womxn.
Womxn are acutely aware that not all men are perpetrators of violence towards womxn and children, but #MenAreTrash goes far deeper than a sweeping generalization of South African men. #MenAreTrash is a movement that calls for drastic change in terms of creating a safer society for all womxn. The movement also highlights the asymmetrical power relations that exist between men and womxn in our country – power relations that stem from the low status of womxn in the home and in society.
Our society is undergirded by a system of patriarchy. Patriarchy affords men privileges that do not extend to womxn. Privileges such as relative safety when men walk around at night, and freedom from street harassment and physical violence. However, these dangers and fears of walking alone at night, harassment and physical violence form part of the daily-lived experiences of womxn in our country. #MenAreTrash is womxn speaking up about how unsafe they feel in society because of men.
As the feminist author, Iris Marion Young, said in her book Throwing Like a Girl: “Women in a sexist and patriarchal society are physically handicapped. Insofar as we learn to live out our existence in accordance with the definition that patriarchal culture assigns to us, we are physically inhibited, confined, positioned, and objectified.”
All men, therefore, should view #MenAreTrash as an opportunity to engage in frank and honest discussions with one another towards unlearning oppressive behaviours and attitudes towards womxn that lead women to feel unsafe in society. It is also an opportunity for men to reflect and understand why womxn are saying men are trash. Men should, instead of defending themselves by saying “not all men”, listen to why womxn are saying men are trash and commit to unlearning oppressive behaviours and attitudes.
The success of this important movement rests on the daily individual and collective actions of men to safeguard our society against this cycle of abuse towards womxn. Abuse is any form of behaviour that causes fear, bodily harm and that causes a person to do things against their will, and it is time for men to engage in discussions on how to keep womxn safe and to speak out against abuse whenever they see it. Men are complicit to the abuse of womxn if they do not speak out and act against it whenever they see it.
Another important aspect of the #MenAreTrash movement involves questions regarding how this important dialogue can be taken back to our homes, and to the townships and rural areas, because the majority of violence and abuse towards womxn happens in our townships and rural areas. It must be the responsibility of men to educate one another and to raise young boys to respect and protect womxn, and to call each other out regarding this scourge of violence and abuse towards womxn. All men must come out in full support and solidarity to this movement and say: “NOT in my name”.
Words contributed by SRC President, Rolihlahla Mabaso
Illustration by Ellen Heydenrych