A few weeks ago, a controversial hashtag was trending across South African social media. Sparked by the news of Karabo Mokoena’s murder at the hands of her boyfriend, that hashtag was #menaretrash.
I think it’s understandable that many men were upset. On the surface, this hashtag is a sweeping statement making a judgement call about all men, demonising all to be rapists and even murderers.
However, I think it’s even more understandable why so many people, men and women, helped make the hashtag trend.
If you read the posts and tweets, the pain and abuse that so many have suffered fully explains and even justifies the sort of anger that the hashtag #menaretrash expresses.
There is an epidemic of violence in this world. I don’t just mean violence against women in South Africa, though that’s part of it. The entire world is bleeding.
Men and women, adults and children, are affected, hurt and abused worldwide. And yes, while there are always exceptions, this violence usually comes from men.
But why? Why are so many men violent? Why are there so many stories about pain and abuse at the hands of men? What is it that makes men “trash”?
Some would argue that men are just biologically “trash”.
They may point to testosterone or to outdated myths about wolf socialisation to explain that men are just violent hunters, it’s just how they are, and that there’s nothing we can do about it.
I don’t buy it. I’ve known enough men to know that the idea that they’re just naturally and unavoidably trash is, well, a trash one.
Recently, Prince Harry spoke up about his struggles with depression and mental health. He lost his mother at a young age, and struggled to come to terms with it.
He also spoke about the stigma surrounding mental health, especially when it comes to men talking about it.
In response, British journalist Piers Morgan bemoaned the “trend” of male public soul-bearing, saying he prefers a male role model who keeps a “stiff upper lip” and that’s “life’s tough”. He suggested the Prince “man up”.
But here’s the thing. For many years, Prince Harry tried to do exactly that: “man up” by suppressing and denying his emotions. He tried to avoid “male public soul-bearing” and to keep a “stiff upper lip”.
In fact, he tried to “shut down all his emotions”. The result? A constant desire to “punch someone”.
When someone tried to challenge Piers Morgan on his ideas, they suggested that a “real man” does, in fact, show pain, love, etc. His response was to ask if James Bond is not a real man then.
And there, right there, is the problem.
James Bond is not a real man. He’s a work of fiction, exactly like this concept of masculinity that expects men to suppress their feelings and, instead, “punch someone”.
Or as Robert Webb so succinctly put it in his piece for The New Statesman:
"'Talk about what?' I wondered. 'Talking won’t change anything. The facts are the facts. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just get drunk, contemplate suicide regularly and treat my girlfriend like shit.'""
Men don’t have to be trash. Men don’t have to bottle up their emotions and only ever express themselves through their fists.
Men don’t have to accept an existence of hating themselves in silence. And men don’t have to be four times more likely to commit suicide than women.
But so many men are trying so hard to live up to a ridiculous notion of fictional masculinity, all that’s left to them is anger, violence and despair. Is it any wonder they lash out so much?
Men aren’t trash. Masculinity is.
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