I’ve been following the #menaretrash movement on various social media platforms with much interest. As much for the indignant responses it has elicited from the very individuals who benefit from patriarchal society as for my own rather mixed reaction to the hashtag.
As a woman I am fully in support of a movement that exposes how vulnerable women are as a direct result of the existing structure of society. Violence towards women shows no sign of stopping its steady trajectory.
We’ve all read the sobering statistics. Women are murdered by their former or current partners so often it has a name - IPV. Intimate Partner Violence. (In South Africa every 8 hours was the last I read). I say sobering but is it? If you’re a women I doubt these numbers surprise you.
Just as concerning as the lack of surprise women may feel in response to these numbers is how some manifestations of our fears have become so inherent that we’re hardly aware of them.
Recently I was walking in Newlands Forest and it occurred to me that I was holding my keys like a weapon. Holding them in my fist so that the metal part protrudes from between my fingers to act as a sharp, defence tool.
Then I realised that I always carry my keys like that. In the forest. From my car to work. From my car to the shop. From my car to my house. And I tried to remember when I’d started doing that and where I’d learnt it from.
I learnt it after attending a talk at university about safety on campus and ways to protect yourself. (A talk not attended by any men as far as I recall.) What this means is that I have been carrying my car keys as a self-defence item for about 20 years now. Without really realising it.
If you’re a man reading this right now, tell me, ‘How do you carry your keys?’
As a mother, I read #menaretrash and I see red.
Not MY son.
Come at me with your hashtag.
But this is the thing about this hashtag. The emotion it evokes. The work it is doing.
Because of course my son is not trash.
He’s ten. No one is trying to burn him at the stake for the misogyny, rape culture and sexual violence that surrounds us. The hashtag serves to highlight the siege under which women are and we need to be careful of allowing the discussion to move from that to ‘not all men’. Because ‘not all men’ shifts the focus from the experience of women to protecting men.
While my son is currently being raised in a patriarchal society, he is not being raised by this society. He is being raised by me. So while the hashtag does its work fighting patriarchy and raising awareness within our existing gender-biased society, I will do mine.
I am a woman and a mother.
That is my power.
I teach my son to know himself, to show his emotions and to know how to manage his feelings of rejection, disappointment, jealousy and anger. I teach him to take care of himself and others, and to stand up for others when injustice occurs. I teach him to treat people equally.
I teach him that he can be anything he wants to be and to love himself enough to follow his dreams.
I teach him never to apologise for who he is.
I raise my son the way I would raise my daughter.
As a woman and a mother.
That is my power.
What are your thoughts on the #menaretrash hashtag as a parent? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we could publish them.