A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle: a popular feminist phrase coined by Irina Dunn in the 1970s, indicative of a society sick of the patriarchal narrative being the only voice heard.
There is a certain iconicity to phrases which are utilised to push back against an abjectly oppressive narrative. Their adoption into our everyday speech reflects a necessity for women to articulate their independence, through their words, through their placards, and through their screams.
Is ‘men are trash’ the same thing? The twitter hashtag ‘men are trash’ went viral this past year. All contentions aside, the need to critique actions of any kind is imperative, particularly in this current political moment. James Brown put it best when he said, “this is a man’s world”, and with Donald Trump as president and Brett Kavanaugh just appointed as a Supreme Court justice, this is more true than ever.
This phrase reflects the venting of frustration by women across the world, when we live and breathe a society that seems devoid of hope. It shines a much needed spotlight on the unacceptable behaviour of men.
However, the argument that this form of resistance is polarising is understandable, as nobody wants to feel victimised or singled out for something that is so far removed from the way they live their life. When we strive for gender equality, it is essential not to ostracise anyone. There are prominent issues facing men in today’s society, particularly regarding mental health issues and the increase in male suicides. It is critical that nobody feels as if their voice is being restricted.
Furthermore, the argument that ‘all men are trash’ is a slippery slope. Not only is it inaccurate, it seems to designate the obscenities that are committed by some, or perhaps most men, to genetics. This then seems to provide an excuse for men’s actions, constructing a narrative of ‘boys will be boys’, which is counter productive.
What we see in the ‘men are trash’ backlash is similar to that of the backlash to ‘Black Lives Matter’. The same demographic of white men, feeling hurt and fragile, because the society that they have been raised in has only ever facilitated them.
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, more and more women are feeling able to vocalise their trauma. The internet is facilitating a movement whereby women are finally feeling able to break the silence, inflicted by men, surrounding sexual abuse and harassment. The courage and the honesty of these women is remarkable, as an increasing number of women feel empowered to share their stories. The #MeToo movement is breaking down boundaries, along with the stigma surrounding sexual assault.
When a man’s reaction to a sexual assault story is a defensive, ‘but not all men are like that’, scepticism seems more appropriate than sympathy.
The world is a terrifying place, particularly for women, and the mobilisation against abhorrent male behaviour that has taken place across social media recently, is a necessity if we ever want to see any form of palpable change. The Twitter thread, ‘if men had a 9pm curfew’, does much to illuminate the total fear that women live in day to day, as a direct result of men. These arguments, stories and movements are facilitating change, not hate speech.
The need for change against systems that facilitate sexual assault, violence and harassment is imperative. The need for a female voice is essential. Maybe it is polarising to refer to half the population as trash, but is it more polarising than centuries of systematic oppression?
Image: Sean MacEntee via Flickr