#MenAreTrash. This has been the trending hashtag on twitter the past week or so. The hash tag began last year when a few women on social media took it upon themselves to start calling out the problematic behaviour of men especially with regards to the emotional and physical abuse they’d often experienced in their own relationships. The hashtag did not catch on initially and died down after a while. It has now gone viral because of a death of a young woman in South Africa. The lady, Karabo Mokoena was reported missing for two weeks. She was found last week, rather her body was found, burnt beyond recognition. As police began their investigation, it surfaced that she was murdered by her boyfriend, who had even gone as far as helping her family look for her, knowing full well that they would never find her alive.
The late Karabo. Source: Internet
The death of this young woman hit close to home because it is a reality to which many African women have become accustomed in one form or the other. For instance, South Africa has the highest number of women who are murdered at the hands of their partners in the world. In fact, of the women who die every eight hours, half of them are killed by their partners. Rape and rape culture are wide spread with women being assaulted on university campuses, at their workplaces, in public transport and in their own homes. In Malawi, intimate violence is at 31%. However, none of this is new information. Violence against women is a well-documented issue complete with numerous interventions, research and even university courses specifically focused on it.
I believe there are two reasons why this hashtag; #MenAreTrash has gone viral. Firstly, of course it refers to men. Statistics show that in most intimate violence cases, the perpetrators are men. However, men continue to stay silent on the issue. The hash tag is provocative. Beyond being a cry for help, it challenges men to stand up and take responsibility. The response from men has been mostly the usual not-all-men narrative. Some men have gone to the extent of posting their ‘happy’ family pictures to prove that they are the exception. How ironic! Of course, it is not peculiar at all that a women’s issue is appropriated and made about…men. Patriarchy is a gift that keeps taking indeed! But someone gave an analogy of snakes which defeats the not-all-men lazy defense. Snakes are poisonous, but not all snakes. However, when one sees a snake, the first assumption will not be that it is not poisonous. Precaution will be taken until proven that it is not poisonous. The second reaction has been of some men admitting that there is a problem and indeed they are trash until they stop killing us. For instance, the #MenAreTrash has inspired another #notinmyname, a movement marching against the femicide (it is what it is!) and abuse against women. This is more positive. I hope men don’t take offense if women do not participate in their matches because they are exhausted. Most importantly, what women hope the ‘male allies’ do is to stand up for our rights as human beings in their masculine spaces. For instance, a 16-year-old girl was raped in South Africa by a gang of six men and not one of them in the group stopped to think ‘this is wrong’. This should not be the case.
The second reason the #MenAreTrash has gone viral is because of the aesthetics. Aesthetics is the mode of visibility that shape our sense of visibility. In the aesthetics regime, the common sense’ of the community is disrupted. In a you tube video, Akshay Khannah shared how the invisible can intervene into the sensible realm. In 2013 during summer in Brighton, bin collectors went on strike for several weeks because of pay cuts. Over time, Brighton streets were filled with bags of rubbish and stench. Sea gulls spilled some of the contents of the bags. Suddenly, rubbish hidden in private realm came in the open. Consumption was now visible and people were forced to acknowledge their amount of our consumption and relationship with capitalism.
In the case of the #MenAreTrash, pictures have been going around of the late Karabo when she was alive and pictures of her body burnt which is hard to look at as what was left was an amorphous pile of black ashes. With previous cases, we have seen bodies injured, bleeding and broken but they were still within the realm of the sensible, a burnt body is not, especially a body burnt by someone you were intimate with. The pictures of a burnt body suddenly brought visibility to intimate violence and how far it goes. There are many cases of missing women that go unsolved and life seems to go on because we do not know what happens to those missing bodies. But with this case, we are faced with the horrific possibilities of what can be done to a woman’s body by men claiming to love them. Additionally, pictures of the boyfriend, the alleged murderer were shared widely, with people asking others to retweet until the face of the monster goes viral too. The young man is a normal looking person, seemingly calm and collected. To associate his looks and the horrendous crime that he committed seemed to also trigger a new realization. We were again reminded that a murderer has no particular looks, it could be anyone around us.
At the end of the day, the #MenAreTrash is a cry for help. Women are screaming ‘stop killing us!’. We could say they would have used those latter words and gotten a response or they could have said ‘some men are trash’ to be more accurate. Except, all this has been tried before to no avail. The #MenAreTrash will not change the story of violence against women over night. But it did spark a conversation and debates among the most important stakeholders in this issue; the men who are usually the perpetrators. So, I guess provocative messages work alright. Secondly, although tragic, the pictures of Karabo’s burnt body and the face of the man who killed her also disrupted our community of the sensible. Social media has been flooded with men coming into conversation of violence, governments admitting their complacency and acknowledging the enormous task of tackling intimate violence and most importantly, women from all walks of life sharing their abuse stories and finding strength in solidarity. Here is to hoping one day soon, intimate violence will be a thing of the past. Until then, men are trash.