‘Men are trash’ — the powerful movement that needs a new name
The phrasing just isn’t going to cut it. Here’s why.
Men. Are. Trash.
More than likely, the phrase evokes some sort of emotion, whether it be anger at the patriarchy, anger at “feminazis” or just a general uncomfortable annoyance, it’s doing what it’s meant to do.
I follow feminist accounts on Facebook and Instagram, and lately, a couple of my follows have been using a phrase that irks me.
It didn’t bother me until I saw it repeatedly, and posts in defense of the phrase. Of course, I’ve seen/heard it before. I assumed it was something we tell our girlfriends when their boyfriend dumps them. Or when a man catcalls. Or when a guy makes unwanted advances.
The phrase originated from South Africa, where women are all-too-commonly murdered by their partners, accosted in public spaces, raped, and generally treated with violence and disrespect. The hashtag #menaretrash was a direct response to the violence: A message that women have been oppressed and are angry. Not only that, but a message to make men uncomfortable.
Here’s an excerpt from a helpful South African op-ed:
As an unapologetic feminist I will continue to assert that men are trash. The men who say and do nothing when their friends manhandle, abuse, rape and even murder their female partners. The men who are so quick to loudly deny their trashiness and yet are silent about the trashy behaviour of other men. The men who do not consider the atrocities committed against us as crimes unless we as women are an extension of them in some way: a sister, an aunt, niece or daughter — they too are trash. And to all those who feel so hard done by this assertion, you need to check yourself.
Before I dive into why this isn’t a rallying cry of feminism, let me preface by saying my criticism is not with the movement itself. I agree with the assertions it makes, but my problem lies with the diction and its connotations.
“Men are trash,” and other similar phrases, are meant to get their attention to say, “Actually, you’re part of the problem.”
It’s a difficult argument for me, especially after following/reading some of the uses of #menaretrash to “prove” feminists are evil bitches. Seeing the hateful responses to #menaretrash is enough to make you truly believe it.
But let’s talk about problems with the specific phrasing here.
“Men are trash.”
Obvious: Men are not the only perpetrators of sexist culture. Men do not carry the entire blame of our trouble. Women can, and often do, enforce and tolerate a world of toxic masculinity. And often generally make excuses for men, because feminists are mean and #notallmen.
Even with the explanation that “men” represents the patriarchy as a whole, it doesn’t have that connotation to the casual observer. It doesn’t say we hate the masculine culture — it says we hate men.
Here is where I need to address the “men of quality won’t argue because they know the meaning of the phrase and know men are trash..” yada, yada, yada. Yes, some men understand it. No, most will not. They see misandry.
“Men are trash” sounds resolutely hateful, and I can’t justify supporting something hateful—when talking about misogynists or otherwise.
It doesn’t “even the playing field.”
Yes, I know men can be vile. I’ve received threats, been called all sorts of names, been in controlling/abusive relationships, and lost male friendships (or what I thought were friendships) by asserting very reasonable feelings.
Though it gets attention, the term “men are trash,” isn’t effective. It doesn’t make men go, “Oh, I see what you mean. Maybe I need to rethink the way I treat women.”
Instead, it usually makes them defensive and angry. It makes them hate more. It tosses aside the common ground and goals we need to be discussing and reduces it to name-calling.
Yes, we, women, have a right to be angry. Of course we do. But that doesn’t justify sinking to their level. If it’s not effective, if it doesn’t make skeptics (like the following Insta post) listen, it’s not a movement.
Instagram post by Everything In Moderation * Jul 21, 2017 at 8:43pm UTC
196 Likes, 25 Comments - Everything In Moderation (@rationalnotradical) on Instagram: "Saying #menaretrash does not…
Hear me out on this one. Men are trash. It isn’t “men are pigs,” “men are evil,” or “men must be overthrown.” Trash. Definition courtesy Dictionary.com:
anything worthless, useless, or discarded; rubbish.
Essentially, trash is an inanimate, dirty, pile of nothing. “Trash” is inhuman.
If you say, “men are vile,” “men are cowardly,” etc., you are at least attaching some sort of human, changeable traits. “Trash” lacks emotion and complexity. It lacks the ability to rationalize. It lacks the ability to change.
Men, and the patriarchy, do not lack these things. The patriarchy is driven by emotion and rationalization. It doesn’t follow to say men need to understand and change the ways of the patriarchal culture, but also, they lack everything they need to change because they’re “trash.”
If it needs to be constantly explained, it’s not effective.
If you have to actively explain in depth, even to feminist allies, why you’re using this rhetoric, it’s not a good thing to say. No phrase or slogan will be effective if you have to dive into a backstory for someone to get it.
Even for me — a well-read follower of feminist culture — had to delve through several days worth of articles to find one that convinced me of what the movement is trying to do. The movement is vital. But it won’t change minds with alienating, hateful words. Instead of writing us off as man-haters, we need to better challenge men to question their roles in the conversation, and to learn what they can do to stop being “trash.”