Friday, 8 June 2018

Tweeting back while shouting back: The double-edged sword of online feminism

2006 was in many ways a significant year. Facebook was opened to everyone. Twitter was created. And Tarana Burke founded the 'Me Too' movement as a result of her work with survivors or sexual violence, mainly young women of color.

At the time, social media activism was not, for obvious reasons, on Burke's radar. In fact, she thought that one day the activism might amount to a bumper sticker on somebody's car. Some 12 years, and a viral hashtag (promoted by actress Alyssa Milano, unaware of the phrase's origins) later, it is clear that the face of feminist campaigning has changed irreversibly.

But what does the immediacy of action, and the potential to reach millions of women mean in practice? Is this a feminist utopia? Today, Dr Emma Turley looks at the use of hashtags as part of online activism.

In the last decade there has been a global digital upsurge of feminists using social media and blogs to highlight sexism, misogyny, gender based violence and inequalities. Online platforms allow women to broaden feminist spaces and enable an open engagement with feminist ideas. Consequently, campaigns are able to have a wider reach, and provide improved access to information. By its nature, the Internet is able to connect people beyond their immediate location and involve those who may not be able to participate in face-to-face activism.

One method of online feminist activism is ‘shouting back’; using a hashtag to highlight various issues experienced frequently by women, and enabling others to share and react to it. Prominent recent examples of shouting back include #MeToo to highlight sexual harassment and assault faced by women in their daily lives, and #TimesUp stemming from the allegations made by numerous women about the behaviour of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

There is however, a darker side to online feminist activism for women. Often those who speak out are ‘trolled’; threatened with serious abuse and violence, rendering digital spaces difficult for women to navigate, or even exist within.

Shouting back using hashtags is an immediate and simple method of making feminist campaigns accessible to larger and more diverse audiences

Shouting back using hashtags is an immediate and simple method of making feminist campaigns accessible to larger and more diverse audiences, especially if those hashtags go viral and spread quickly from digital spaces into real life spaces, such as the mainstream media. This has been the case for both the #TimesUp and #metoo shoutbacks.

#TimesUp was prompted by a letter from women farmworkers to women working in the creative industries expressing solidarity after the allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against numerous male Hollywood actors, directors and producers. The hashtag has raised awareness of the campaign that aims to address gendered inequality and harassment in the workplace, and highlight the funding established to help survivors of harassment and abuse to take legal action.

The ‘Me Too’ movement originated in 2006 with activist Tarana Burke. However, the #MeToo hashtag went viral on Twitter and Facebook last October as a way for women to demonstrate the scale of sexual harassment and abuse they experienced on a daily basis, with the aim of affecting social change. The concept was simple; women who had experienced sexual harassment or abuse would briefly detail their experience and end with #metoo, or simply retweet the hashtag.

     Tarana Burke created the 'Me Too' movement several years before the hashtag went viral

The hashtag has since been retweeted millions of times and spread to at least 85 countries. The success of these shoutbacks is primarily due to the support offered by celebrities in publicising and endorsing the hashtags on social media platforms and in the offline world.

Digital spaces are not a utopia for feminist activism and campaigning however. Social media can enable the proliferation of sexist and misogynistic narratives, and maintain and reproduce the power inequalities that exist in the real world. Women are frequently abused online for sharing their opinions and experiences, or simply for taking up virtual space. It is not uncommon for women to receive rape and death threats via social media platforms. In addition, survivors of sexual harassment and abuse can find themselves surrounded online by others’ accounts, serving as an inescapable reminder of their own trauma.

Online platforms and social media have powerful potential for empowering women to shout back against sexism, misogyny and gendered inequalities

Online platforms and social media have powerful potential for empowering women to shout back against sexism, misogyny and gendered inequalities, and these feminist movements are opening conversations, influencing public policy as well challenging established social norms relating to acceptable behaviour towards women. It is clear that the impact of online feminist action, consciousness raising and campaigning is creating ripples in the real world that will make positive changes for women’s everyday lives.

This blog post is based on a research article 'Tweeting back while shouting back: Social media and feminist activism'. Access the article here

Written By: Emma Turley

Dr Emma Turley is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research interests include gender, LGBTQI+ psychology, sexualities, adult playfulness, wellbeing and women's health.

This article was originally published on BroadAgenda and republished with permission from the author. Read the original article.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Raising A Son In a World of Toxic Masculinity

This article is posted with permission, and was originally published on The Body Is Not An Apology. For more content please see:

Things I have heard about having a son:

“You’re lucky your son is gay. You won’t have to worry about him getting someone pregnant or treating women poorly.

“It’s good you have a son because he can watch over your daughters.”

“Boys are easier than girls. You don’t have to worry so much about them.”

“It’s too hard a world for girls. It’s better to have sons. At least you have one.”

When my son was younger, we were at the park with some homeschooling group along with a bunch of our boys. One of the boys ran by, and his father said, with disgust, “He runs like a girl.” I was pretty floored. Floored enough that I didn’t say anything. Someone said, “Oh leave him alone he’s only five.” Later in the car, I sat for a moment thinking of what I should have said. I should have said “Who cares? What’s wrong with running like a girl?” I run and I bet five bucks I can run faster than the guy who made the comment. And what does it mean to run like a girl anyway?

Now I’d like to ask “What if he still runs like this when he’s not five? Does it make any difference?” Does running like a girl ever hit a point where it’s unacceptable? Yeah. At five for some and at other ages for people like the mom who used age as the line.

The fear of boys acting like girls is about gayness, of course, but it’s also about misogyny. To want to be a woman is seen as a flaw, a weakness.

It is met with disgust and violence. To have womanly qualities is seen as bad, and ultimately wrong. Why do so many men not want their sons to “act like a woman?” Why do they say to them “Why are you crying like a little girl?” Why do they stop cuddling their boys after a certain age? What is wrong with acting like a woman (whatever that may mean)?

Shortly after this comment is made, my own son came running from the creek. He ran, awkwardly, all skinny limbs and overly long legs. Not graceful and certainly not “manly.” His elbows were tucked near his hips and his hands flop from his upward held wrists. He was flushed and happy because he has been taking photos. I did not look at the man who made the earlier comment. My son was not five. He was ten. If I see disgust, I feel like I might smack this man in the face.

There was a time when my son’s hand gestures, the way he crosses his legs at the knee would not have been seen as womanly. Judith Butler argues “If one ‘is’ a woman, that is surely not all one is; the term fails to be exhaustive, not because a pregendered ‘person’ transcends the specific paraphernalia of its gender, but because gender is not always constituted coherently or consistently in different historical contexts, and because gender intersects with racial, class, ethnic, sexual and regional modalities of discursively constituted identities”. Gender is never stable as it transforms not just through history but through different social places we inhabit.

Gender is free floating in some ways but also incredibly limiting because it imposes itself onto our bodies, and we learn through culture how to shape the way we carry our bodies in gendered ways.

Now I look back and wonder at how these moments have shaped the young man before me. Turns out that my son is indeed gay, but I don’t think it was the running that clued him or us in on that factoid. It’s because he’s attracted to men.

In fact my son struggles against the stereotypes of how others think gay men should hold their bodies (including the opinions of other gay men). The boy who ran like that stereotype at ten no longer does so at sixteen. In fact, he’s joined the  Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) and he does martial arts.

I have to confess that at one time I wondered if I should warn him that people might comment on the way he holds his body. I didn’t because I did not want to leave wounds. I did not want him to be self-conscious about his lovely body.

In no way, did we wish to contribute to society’s already narrow ideas of what a male body did and looked like. We never reinforced the idea that being in ways that others identified as feminine was in any way bad or wrong. Just as we never emphasized boy behaviors or girl behaviors as anything real. We never told him or our daughters that toys were often gendered in our society.

But sometimes like when he uses the word “emo” as an insult, I fear that we didn’t do enough. When he tries to defend internet bullying, I wonder if he’s inhaling society’s idea of masculinity with the air around him. We counter his words of course. I make him read articles on gamergate and when he tries to tell me that he hates in when girl gamers are so aggressive, I point out why. I lay awake at night and worry that my kid is becoming so filled with this toxic-ness that it will consume him.

How do we counter this? I ask myself this question every day. When I see my son engaging in things that just seem so male I fear for not just him but those around him. How can I not when I live in a world where men take guns into public places and shoot others. When I see the statistics on violent crime? Masculine toxicity destroys men but it also destroys all those around him. It’s not about me being a failure as a parent. It’s a lot more serious.

And all those comments I hear? They’re wrong. My son’s being gay does not protect him from this culture. It actually throws him into a strange place where he struggles to fit his gay identity into his male identity. He does not see himself as effeminate and when all the gay men around him seem to fit into that role, it makes him push against it. At this stage he does not see this as a problematic thing at least but I know it’s made him wonder about where he fits. My son’s role is not to watch over his sisters, not that they’d tolerate it anyway. But it’s another way he does not fit into the expectations. As I sat here struggling to put all this into words, I responded to the last thing… “NO! It’s not easier to raise sons! The world is going to grind him up too.”

Most days, I do not despair too much. I watch my son play with his baby sister. I’ve watched him stand up for her when others use Down syndrome as a slur. He’s respectful and pleasant to the women around us. He does not choose his friends based on gender. He doesn’t seem too bothered that crossing his legs in a certain way is considered effeminate. These things counter the things that keep me up at night.

And he listens to us. He talks to us as well. He doesn’t like what we say sometimes but I can tell that he’s taking it in, saving to muse on later. He has a good role model in his father who is a devoted feminist, who scorns the cultural expectations of gender. My son moves everyday among five females who often defy the stereotypes of female behavior. He doesn’t think it’s odd that his sister sometimes dresses like a boy or that a male friend from his art club wears fingernail polish and big earrings. He’s not put off by people who are gender neutral. He respects people’s gender identities. But the world pushes in all the time. In the form of teachers, the internet, friends.

This is the limitation of parenting, I know. You can teach and challenge but ultimately it’s out of your hands in the world out there. I have to hope that I raised a child who loves himself, and values himself not as a caricature of a man but as someone who dares to see beyond those roles.

Posted by Ginger Stickney

Friday, 2 March 2018

The CSSR research unit adds its support to the SheDecides movement


The SheDecides movement emerged as a response to the reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule (GGR) – a US policy which has devastating effects for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls across the globe. The GGR (also known as the Mexico City Policy) was first introduced in 1984 under the presidency of Ronald Reagan. In January 2017, an expanded version was signed by President Donald Trump. Importantly, this latest version of the GGR applies to all global health funds provided by the US government (where previous versions were concerned with family planning funds). In effect, the GGR ensures that non-US organisations providing information, referrals for abortion, safe abortion services, and engaging in activism to improve abortion legislation, are banned from receiving US funds. Moreover, the latest version prevents organisations from using their own or other people’s funds for these same purposes

The detrimental effects of previous versions of the Global Gag Rule have been well documented including: prevention of access to contraception and safe abortions (for both women and girls) even in cases where rights of access are legally secured; hindered HIV prevention efforts, health clinics being forced into closure; obstructed access to health within rural communities; and the silencing of those who wish to speak out against laws that prevent women and girls from accessing safe and effective health care. The damaging impact the latest version of the GGR will also be considerable. In effect, organisations will be forced to choose between receiving funds from the US government (the largest funder of sexual and reproductive health programmes) and providing a full range of vital sexual and reproductive health programmes and services.

Initiated by the Dutch Minister, Lilianne Ploumen, SheDecides asserts that women of all ages should be able to safely exercise their right to decide what to do with their bodies. SheDecides unites those who believe that all women should have access to sexual and reproductive education and information, modern contraception, and safe abortion services, and should be able to pursue healthy, pleasurable sexual lives – free from judgement, stigma, coercion, and harm.  On 2 March 2017, the first SheDecides conference was held in Brussels. More than 50 governments attended the conference, along with 450 participants including youth leaders, parliamentarians, representatives from UN agencies, NGOs, private foundations, and the private sector. This gathering enabled global leaders to raise their voices in support of the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls, and pledge their commitment to the protection, provision, promotion, and enhancement of these rights.

One year later, various individuals and organisations from across the globe will mobilise on SheDecides Day (2 March 2018) in support of the principles of the SheDecides movement. Adding our support to this movement, the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction (CSSR) research unit will be hosting a panel discussion that will examine the impact of this policy within the South African context. In particular, discussion will explore the impact of the GGR for individual women, and civil society organizations working in the fields of sexuality, reproduction, and human rights in South Africa. Panellists will include Siviwe Mhlana (NALSU), Dumisa Sofika (CSSR), and Yanela Ndabula (CSSR). Discussion will be chaired by Catriona Macleod. We hope that activists, leaders, and supporters from the UCKAR and Grahamstown community will join us in this global day of action for the SheDecides movement, and encourage others to stand up, speak out, and take action to challenge those forces that would deny women and girls the right to make decisions that are theirs, and theirs alone.

This article was written for and originally published on the CSSR website and is accessible at

Posted by Sarah-Ann Moore
CSSR Masters Student 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Feminisms and Social Media: An introduction to the Special Issue

Abigail Locke, Rebecca Lawthom & Antonia Lyons

This special issue comes at an important time in herstory (‘history’ for women) when a renewed vitality around women and feminisms is evident in many places around the world. There is a real impetus for change in women’s framings (and their acceptance) of gender based expectations. 

Feminism was the most looked up word in Merriam Webster’s online dictionary in 2017, marking a large increase on previous years. This is likely to be linked to a number of high profile events occurring almost simultaneously across parts of the globe, including widespread reporting of sexual harassment and assault, the #MeToo campaign, and collective responses to current ruling political ideologies (particularly in the US).   

In the UK (where the Special issue idea originated on International Women’s Day 2015), we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women in the UK over 30 the right to vote and paved the way for universal suffrage. Since then the right to be heard has monumentally shifted.  We now live in a time where individual and collective voices ring out in global virtual environments, across a proliferation of diverse social media platforms. This Special Issue arose from discussions around a number of key instances where women speaking out over social media were trolled in attempts to silence them, and led to questions about the broader context of feminisms and social media. We are thrilled that the papers published in this special issue highlight the diversity of feminist engagements that are evident across social media as well as the diversity of the people engaging, and the implications of these activities.

Since the inception of the Special Issue, there has been a groundswell of social media activity around a variety of topics including the #MeToo hashtag. This is a movement with a global audience, where initially celebrities shared stories of abuse using social media, and built a sense of solidarity which was then taken up by many users, celebrity and non-celebrity alike. Whilst both recognising the damage and identifying the problem, the movement has not been without critics. Proponents point to the inclusivity of the movement and the way in which it encourages voices to be heard. For critics, it re-inscribes the work of naming back onto women and queries the validity of unfettered and unchecked naming and shaming of perpetrators (see @MeTooCenter for a sense of the argument). The sheer momentum of this movement, its possibility to engage and the varied responses to it typifies the difficulties and nuances of social media. 

Social media can be a tool for enhancing literacy, a force for change and a platform for violence and trolling. This Special Issue contains examples of all of these competing and contradictory aspects of social media, setting them against a backdrop of feminist scholarship and activism, drawing on articles from different locations around the world. The issue contributes to a wider dialogue of feminisms and social media occurring across many disciplinary spaces that we look forward to watching develop further.

The authors are the editors of the Special Issue of Feminism and Psychology on Feminisms and Social Media available here:

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Shattering The Culture of Silence

Raise your hand if you are a victim of some kind of sexual assault, if you have had to mentally police your clothing, your actions, your location, and your company because of the unending fear of assault. Keep your hand raised if in many instances you’ve chosen to look the other way, to pretend that you didn’t hear the lewd comment or didn’t feel the hand that lingered too long. It is not lost on me that many of you reading this will find your hands raised.

In 2018 more than ever, womyn are taking back their power, loudly and proudly. Everywhere you turn, there seems to be some sort of radical feminist approach to issues. People are learning, womyn are refusing to cower and demanding that they be treated like full human beings. Things are so different, and yet, in many ways, still the same.

Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles we are yet to overcome is the culture of silence, particularly in relation to sexual assault and harassment. While we are still basking in the light of the #MeToo movement and the trickle down effect that has rekindled the righteous outrage in most of our hearts, the reality is still different for many. While it looks like speaking out about harassment is breaking the Internet, we are yet to fully begin to unwrap the different silences that surrounds this topic, especially when it comes to having honest conversations about womyn’s personal experiences. Countless womyn sit with different traumas inflicted onto them by those that they have loved, by those that we know, by those protected and deemed untouchable by the legal and societal institutions that have made seeking for justice not an option. More than ever before, we must embrace the radicalness that is dedicated to shuttering the norms that have caused so many of us to sit in silence and shame with our pain, while watching our systems and our people protect our abusers.

The truth is that the rot is deeper than has been exposed on social media. One of the biggest tools that has allowed patriarchy and its gatekeepers to flourish as long as they have is the socialization and conditioning that surrounds the oppressed on what they can and can not speak about. And so now, that we can begin to visualize what I would like to imagine is a full feminist takeover, we must begin the hard work of exploring the channel of communication that is cut off by the desire to protect reputations more than we do victims, hold onto family names more than we hold onto children’s innocence, speak in hushed tones and not risk rocking the boat. Why is it that we shame victims of assault more than the vile assaulters? Of course the answers to all these are rooted in patriarchy and perhaps the biggest feminist revolutionary act of all, is rejecting the culture of silence and embracing the loudness of truth.

It is the deafening silence that makes for the prevalent culture of rape and everyday sexism. It is the same silence that has been imposed on survivors through the normalization of assault catalyzed by our cultures, legal systems and reactions. It is the same silence that forces womyn to deal with assault through whisper networks and hushed warnings to each other instead of loudly confronting their abusers. And so we must all begin to reflect on our role as enablers of abuse both actively and passively. Realizing that your silence has played a huge role in turning the wheel of sexual assault for centuries, and that choosing to look the other way, is not any better. Only by owing up to the roles we have all played can we begin to unpack the casual sexism around us, question the problematic-ness of bro-codes, religious and cultural institutions and the idea that “keeping the peace” is more important than truth and justice. All these shield and perpetuate rape culture and must therefore be dismantled if we intend to create a world in which womyn can participate as equals.

This article was written for and originally published on the AfricanFeminism (AF) blog and can be accessed at

Posted by ttwasiima

Sunday, 29 October 2017

We must stop making these mistakes about health & body positivity

In a recent article for Odyssey, Vianka Cotton re-made tons of common mistakes that happen when people try to talk about body positivity and health. It’s no surprise that the article got plenty of traction since fatphobia and healthism are practically national pastimes. There is certainly no shortage of articles like this. But the prevalence of oppression doesn’t make it right, so let’s talk about this.

  • “The body positivity movement founded in 1996, has been one of the best movements to help women. The movement encourages women to accept their bodies while improving health and well-being. The movement, growing in popularity, has become an anthem to the plus-sized community.”

The author’s grasp of the history of the body positive movement is embarrassingly poor. The movement has been going on since well before 1996. It is a co-option of the much more militant Fat Rights movement that started in earnest in the 1960s with groups like The Fat Underground. (For some history lessons, check out Charlotte Cooper’s amazing work.) This piece is offensive in its ignorance of the past and its assertions about body positivity necessarily being about “improving health,” but I definitely appreciate the acknowledgment that fat women (and, indeed, people of all sizes) are sexy and can wear whatever the hell they want. Let’s move on:

  • “People have killed to be thin. Bigger women are embracing their bodies, wearing whatever they want. These attitudes are challenging the traditional standard of beauty. What had started out as radical love for one’s body has been diluted and reduced to shallowness adopting negative attitudes towards exercise. As a fitness advocate, the body positivity movement isn’t fighting for health or equality, it is fighting for the crown of attractiveness.”

People have killed to be thin? How does that work? No, wait, don’t tell me lest others die needlessly. Also, while people are certainly allowed to love their bodies and have negative attitudes towards exercise, I have often been called a leader in this movement and I’ve never heard that considered one of the tenets.

Maybe what she meant to say was that people have died to be thin, and fat people have been killed by the diet industry and a medical system that confuses thinness with health. It’s a whole system that is far too often willing to risk the lives (and quality of life) of fat people in the hopes that they can make us look different.

That happens every day and it is precisely why body positivity must be removed from the idea of the obligation to “health” or “healthy behaviors” that she is suggesting.

  • “What is the end message? Shouldn’t self-love correlate to health? Where is the line between body confidence and obesity? “

I’m glad she asked. Self-love should be completely separate from health — health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances.

Health is a complicated and multi-faceted concept, and it can change at any time. That’s why it’s important that we have the chance to love and appreciate our bodies regardless of health status. (Understand too that the concept of body positivity can be made vastly more complicated by things like chronic illness because of healthism, as well other marginalized identities because of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and more.) People of all sizes and health statuses have every right to love and appreciate our bodies, and photograph them in any, or few, or no clothes, and post them to Instagram for whatever our reasons might be.

There is no line between body confidence and obesity because they aren’t related — except that living in a fatphobic culture like the one this article attempts to perpetuate makes it more difficult for fat people to have body confidence. Body confidence is how we feel about our bodies. “Obesity” is the end result of a math equation, wherein weight in pounds times 703 divided by height in inches squared is greater than or equal to 30. I’m “class three Super Obese” or, as I like to call it, fat AF, and I have tremendous body confidence. There is no line, nor should there be.

Since she asked, the end message is that other people’s health is not your business. If people care about your opinions regarding their health or habits, I’m sure they’ll let you know. Suggesting that there is some weight at which we are no longer allowed to love our bodies is fat-shaming and oppressive. Suggesting that you should have to achieve some level of “health” to love yourself is healthist and oppressive.

  • “Normalizing obesity is a problem! Are advocates of this movement in denial? Are they too focused on people’s opinions? The messages we are sending to young women and girls are radical. The pressure to be thin has been replaced with it is okay to be obese. Neither one is correct. When can healthy be sexy? When will we normalize health?”

Size-based oppression is a problem, healthism is a problem (including the idea of making “healthy” by any definition “sexy” or suggesting that people who don’t meet her definition of health are not “normal”), not understanding the difference between correlation and causation is a problem, a world where her piece gets published is a problem.

Normalizing obesity is not a problem.

We are not in denial, we are in empowerment. We are done being lectured at by any “fitness enthusiast” who can type out an article. As I’ve written before, the only outcome of such a culture is that fat people aren’t allowed to do anything with our lives except try to lose weight, and that’s unacceptable. Not just because almost nobody loses weight long term, but because people shouldn’t be required to look a certain way or have a certain level of health as a prerequisite to live our lives and pursue our dreams.
If you see a fat person being happy, achieving something, being talented in public or on television and that makes you uncomfortable/angry/disgusted etc., then you know that you are dealing with size bigotry. If you believe that your feelings of discomfort/anger/disgust are due to this person’s health status, then you know that you are dealing with size bigotry as well as healthism. Regardless, this is your problem.
Her final paragraph comes so close to getting it, but then falls off a cliff.
  • “What I would like to see is the body positive movement be accessible to everyone having a struggle. Diversify the movent to include women of color, men, burned victims, trans women. After all, the goal is intersectionality. I want to see full-figured women wearing bikinis in commercials playing sports. I want to see big women on BuzzFeed being active and eating healthy. I want to see clothing stores have clothes for those who are awkward and in between small and plus-sized. Can we normalize health please! I want to see positive body positive images. Our bodies are strong and healthy. The message is you can achieve confidence while striving for your health.”
I am absolutely behind the fact that we need to do better when it comes to intersectionality. Body Positivity inherited the issues that the Fat Rights movement always had including a lack of inclusion and representation of People of Color, Trans folks, disabled people/people with disabilities, and other intersectional identities. I want to see clothing stores that carry clothes for everyone, including those above a size 26.
The solution to that is to make the movement more inclusive, for each of us to understand our privilege, and relative privilege, and use it to dismantle systems of oppression and demean inclusion.
The solution is not to engage in rampant healthism. The solution is not to suggest that if fat people want to be seen in public, we must be performing health to someone else’s satisfaction. Many people’s bodies are not “strong and healthy” for lots of reasons, and that’s absolutely normal. Using body positivity to marginalize people as this article attempts to do — whether it’s fat people, “unhealthy” people, or anyone else, is a load of bullshit that I will not abide.
It is absolutely OK to be whatever size you are, including hella fat. It is absolutely fine to not be “healthy” or “strong” by whatever definition.
Body positivity/body confidence/loving our bodies is not a requirement, but it is always an option and nobody — “fitness enthusiasts” or otherwise — can take it from us.

This article originally appeared on and can be accessed at

Posted by:
Ragen Chastain
Speaker, Writer, Activist

Monday, 21 August 2017

#MenAreTrash: What is this movement really about?

To be a woman in this country is to constantly live in fear. Women can’t stay out too late or take moonlight meanders because their gender makes them prey. There are ravenous beasts out there who lurk in various spaces, threatening a woman’s very existence. In the club, in homes, on the streets, on campuses, in taxis, EVERYWHERE – women are not safe” – Blaque Life Quarterly (BLQ)

The #MenAreTrash movement in South Africa began last year when a number of women took to social media to call out the problematic behaviour of men with regard to the emotional and physical abuse they had been experiencing in their relationships. During this time, the hashtag did not gain the public’s attention as it recently did following the brutal murder of Karabo Mokoena, the rape and murder of 3-year old Courtney Pieters as well as many other women and children. After the above incidences, many women began sharing their stories recounting details of their lived experiences on various social media platforms. A thread of tweets shared by a woman about how she was kidnapped by a man who threatened to rape and kill her if she “did anything stupid”, followed by how she jumped out of his car, injured herself badly and had to get up and run was also widely shared. Others shared posts of missing women followed by #MenAreTrash while at other times, the hashtag was used as a response to a tweet or any post that was inappropriate towards women. The movement however has been met with contrasting views from different individuals in society.

Below, I discuss the #MenAreTrash movement in an attempt to make clear what the aim of the movement is. A common response to #MenAreTrash is that not all men are trash. That is, not all men burn, rape, or murder women and children. Let’s put this on hold for now.

#MenAreTrash is not about singling out individual men nor is it about specific men. The movement does not aim to avenge harmful relationships and it isn’t even about the bitterness of women even though it started as a response to numerous crimes against women and children and with women telling stories about abuse by intimate partners and strangers. If a person understands the movement in this way, they do not understand the anger, fear, and pain South African women and women globally experience on a daily basis. This movement is not one to be interpreted at surface level. #MenAreTrash does not only apply to men who abuse and kill women and children but also applies to those men who cat-call women and are complicit when it comes to the injustices women experience in the workplace, men who listen to stories of woe about the female lived experience but still do nothing about it because “It’s not my problem, it wasn’t me so, I did nothing”. The hashtag is about how men as a group or collective have created a world that is unsafe for women to live in. It aims to highlight the fact that being a man comes with privileges that women don’t have. It takes the debate about masculinity including what it means to be a man beyond the ideal constructed masculine identity as it urges men to take a hard look at themselves and evaluate their behaviour towards women. It gives credence to the fact that as women, we understand that the world is not built for us, that unlike men, in order to create our realities we constantly have to push and break barriers and boundaries because we are not recognised. #MenAreTrash creates awareness about the issues society takes for granted which perpetuate patriarchy.

As more and more women continued to tell terrifying stories and sharing their experiences and as more and more women and children went missing, a new hashtag – #NotAllMenAreTrash in response to #MenAreTrash started doing the rounds. #NotAllMenAreTrash was endorsed by both men and women. In response to Karabo’s murder, some shared in the victim-blaming arguing that in their personal lives they do not attract trash because their boyfriends, brothers, and husbands were not trash further arguing that women who believe that men are trash need to “reprogram their minds”. Some went as far as saying that Karabo’s murder occurred because she did not want to leave her abusive boyfriend because of his money (Khoza, 2017). Some men felt that #MenAreTrash was unfair to those men who have not done anything to hurt or harm women and was therefore a bad generalisation, thus necessitating #NotAllMenAreTrash.
Here’s what #NotAllMenAreTrash really means.  When this hashtag is brought up, what it does is silence women. It allows its supporters (both men and women) but specifically men to tell women that they do not know what they are talking about and should keep quiet because the way they behave and act is a performance of their privilege. By saying that not all men are trash, men are defending themselves, they are not held accountable nor taking responsibility for their actions. As a result, it will take some time for men to take their place in the fight against gender-based violence. If it is said that #NotAllMenAreTrash, why is it that not all men have the courage to speak up when their male friends are mistreating a girl/woman, when they see another man slip something into a woman's drink and just accept it as being “one of the boys”, or when a girl/woman who is drunk and ends up being taken advantage of is told just to keep quiet because “she was asking for it”? When #NotAllMenAreTrash is brought up, it allows men to continue performing socially acceptable toxic masculinity without consequence. Further, when a person argues that they do not attract trash because they have a great boyfriend, brother, or husband (whether this may or may not be true), the very real patterns of abuse, rape, femicide, and toxic masculinity that the #MenAreTrash movement aims to expose are obscured. It undermines the aim of the movement further diverting attention away from the oppressors to the oppressed.
The discussion about the #MenAreTrash movement is still to continue. In summing up this discussion, I want to say the following: In the society we live in, being a woman has become a very terrifying experience. Every day I am more paranoid than I was the previous day. I leave home hoping that what happened to many other women and children out there will not happen to me or anyone else. Many men do not know what it is like to feel powerless because of one’s gender especially in a society that allows men to exercise their power over women with little or no real consequence. Men do not have to be rapists or abusers to be called trash because most of the time men ignore their friends when they call a girl a wh*** and ignore their other friends who spike a girl’s drink. This is where trash starts – when men do not show each other the way. #NotAllMenAreTrash makes things worse as it perpetuates existing ignorance with regard to the issues women are vulnerable to. My response to this hashtag is that it does not matter if not all men are trash because there is no way of telling. The #MenAreTrash movement is not an attack on men. What the movement aims to do is address the patriarchal privilege that men have enjoyed since the beginning of time. It is a call for action and a cry from women who are asking for their freedom. We are not asking men to protect us but to respect us enough to treat us like human beings, not as objects for their amusement or pleasure. As the movement continues to gain momentum there will be people who support the movement and people who will get touched and become defensive. This is okay because the immediate shock and discomfort that comes with this movement is exactly what is necessary if we are going to have honest conversations about how to address gender-based violence in society. In the meantime, I, like many other women out there will continue to live in fear.

This article was written for and originally posted on the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction (CSSR) blog. The link to it can be found here

Posted by
Sibongile Matebese
*Artwork by Ellen Heydenrych