Behind a hashtag: #MenAreTrash

Recently someone told me that “there is no power in a hashtag” and that “you millennials are just overly sensitive”. This was definitely not the first time someone tried to throw a punch my way, but this time, it stung. Why? Because the person was a man, referring to the #MenAreTrash debacle.

For those of you who have been on some social media detox or just blind to local news, the “men are trash” hashtag emerged as a response to the death of 22-year-old Karabo Mokoena in April 2017.

Mokoena was killed and burned by her partner, 27-year-old Sandile Mantsoe after an alleged altercation in a Sandton nightclub.

“He said he stuffed her body into a bin, rolled it out and into his gold BMW and drove to his family home in Lyndhurst. He picked up a tyre, acid and a container and drove to a filling station to buy petrol which he used to douse Mokoena’s body,” said a source to the Sunday World.

The hashtag sparked online engagement and within a few hours hundreds of women were sharing their personal experiences of gender violence and domestic abuse.

I was shocked. Not because of the violent narratives, but rather by the enraged responses of men. The general male response highlighted the complacent attitude of many South Africans.

Gqola writes that “silence and denial are not a way out”, by refusing to address the issues at hand, silence ultimately protects and aids in reproducing violent masculinities.

A few hours after the hashtag started trending locally, a counter hashtag surfaced, #NotAllMen, a clap back from men who felt personally offended by the initial hashtag. The “not all men” narrative is a common passphrase used to redirect attention away from the actual problem.

Are all men trash? Obviously not. However, by excluding yourself from the conversation, because you consider yourself morally “good”, you are actively participating in the subjugation of women.

The collective morality of South African people remains deeply rooted within a patriarchal system, which ultimately fails to protect women. Even though women have greater legislative power than ever before, the system remains largely unchanged.

Women are taught to fear their physical space. “Instead of condemning the behaviour of men, who pose the greatest threat to women, we establish these misogynistic restrictions, which are packaged as warnings by men in an artificial interest for our safety.”

We need the support of both men and women in order to create inclusive dialogue and effect change. There is no room for “fence-sitters”, we have to start by calling-out the men and women who perpetuate these violent ideologies, and take collective responsibility.

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