“Access to open publishing platforms has enabled us to bring to light the things we were socialised to eloquently hide in the darkness..”
Violence against women’s bodies is nothing new to us, but advancements in technology and the rise of social media has made such acts more overt. The feeling of an increased presence of such violent imagery is been exacerbated by the fact that social media as a platform ensures that people are always on, so there is no limit to how much media people consume. Our timelines are constantly flooded because there is no gatekeeper to filter how much people publish, in the same vein, social media has desensitised how people feel and react to violent acts on women’s bodies over time. The more people consume such imagery and stories, the less they are likely to continue to really see and react to them accordingly.
Like most people have stopped reacting to famine or acts of terror, they will eventually stop being as angry when they see stories of abductions and rapes because they would become part of the ‘every day’. The violence that provoked the expression Men Are Trash is not a novelty to our society. Access to open publishing platforms has only served to enabled us to bring to light the things we were socialised to eloquently hide in the darkness. It only served to heighten the stories we are only used to seeing and hearing about in the mainstream media over the 16 days of activism month. Everyone knows someone who was killed by a boyfriend, beaten by a drunk husband, disappeared after a night out.
Society, culture and the people who enforce it have long brainwashed women to hide their bruises under layers of makeup and even made it commendable for them to take the blame for the actions of the men who treat them like punching bags as though their bodies don’t bleed. We taught women to ‘take it in their strides’ and with pride, like child-bearing, ‘sticking it out’ is how we express the strength of our ‘womanhood’. The violence itself is even embedded in the languages we use as black people, we tell women ‘bitla lamosadi ke bogadi’ because divorce is not an option we should exercise.
We’ve long allowed the perpetrators of such crimes to get away with it because we didn’t expect them to take accountability, as victims, we found a reason to justify why they behaved as they do. We have protected them with our lives and at the cost of our lives because that’s all we know to do. We also have had to deal with a justice system that only serves to re-traumatize victims of violence whilst protecting victimizers, making it impossible for women to reach out and get help.
Once again being socialised to accept that ‘men will be men’, to propel us to stay and to forgive the inflictors even when forgiveness was never expressed. Almost a month has gone by since the brutal killing of Karabo and other young women like herself have made headlines, weeks have gone by since Men Are Trash was ‘trending’ and was therefore considered newsworthy’ by mainstream definition. Young girls being abducted, being found dead and being raped was ‘the thing to talk about’ until it wasn’t. Very few of us now continue to share posters and images of missing pupils on our timelines, even that simple act of ‘humanity’ has become mechanical.
The empathy is there but because the surge of the news flooded our lives for a bit that one time, as usual, we’ve sort of become desensitised to the tragedy that still continues to plague our country. We seem to be becoming less outraged as the course of our lives return to ‘normal’, whatever the normative looks like for different people. We should not with good conscience allow the momentum to die out of Men Are Trash the movement without having taken meaningful action that could save lives. We have a moral and ethical responsibility to keep the conversation going, make sure the fire doesn’t die out because our lives depend on that. We owe this to the young women who have paid with their lives, to those still living in fear and the future generation of women we want to raise.
“It comes down to raising a generation of men who don’t take women’s as their target practice and grooming fearless young women who don’t allow anyone to turn their bodies and minds into objects of victimhood..”
The time is now to take the power back and empower those who have long been disempowered by the people they trusted to protect them. This is the chance for us to advocate and demand a social justice system that actually protects women when they are still alive and able to speak for themselves. Let’s propel our outrage into meaningful action before we return to our usual place of complacency and hope someone else would do something. If we continue to allow mainstream media to dictate to us which issues we should care about, when we should care about them and how long, the young women whose blood has soiled the very land we walk on will be a distance memory.
I don’t know what that act of revolution looks like, it could be workshops or discussions that teach women and men to unlearn all that we’ve been taught, it could be finding more ways to hold our police to account, it could be curbing the surge of poverty that many women find themselves in in order to ensure they don’t stay with abusive partners out of desperation.
It’s about making sure women have reliable places they can trust to go to for refuge in their areas, making our cities and spaces safe again so we wouldn’t worry about the possibility of an attack, it’s about providing us with reliable support and ensuring we have access to that information. It comes down to raising a generation of men who don’t take women’s as their target practice and grooming fearless young women who don’t allow anyone to turn their bodies and minds into objects of victimhood. Each of us has a role to play. We can’t just rely on activists or people who work in fields that help victims or prevention of such crimes to do something. We often keep watch from a distance because we lead ourselves to believe that such are things that only happen to other people, but we now know that not to be representative of reality. This could affect anyone of us.
Chimamanda Adichie recently said something that stuck with me, she made the argument that standing up for social justice often means being and putting ourselves in situations that make us uncomfortable. The idea that it’s not enough to merely speak and fight for the voiceless within our mists, often times overcoming the struggle requires us to create the right kind of social conditions that would both enable and empower the formerly voiceless to fight for themselves. Alluding to the old saying that ‘teach a man to fish, and he will be set for life’.
Thus the same principle applies in South Africa’s current state, we need to be able to get to a point where we ‘arm’ women with enough tools, resources and information so they are empowered to take the right kinds of steps and make better choices when and if the need arises. Part of that is making sure that perpetrators pay heavily and duly for crimes of such a nature. The truth is that the fate of Men Are Trash the hashtag was sealed at its inception like the many that came before it, it peaked and then the momentum surrounding it began to fade.
But can we ensure that Men Are Trash the movement isn’t dealt the same hand because social injustice has no expiry date? Our humanity should prevail in order to drive the movement because empathy shouldn’t be subject to a lifecycle. We would be failing as a society and as people if we allow Men Are Trash to die like just another hashtag.