In an earlier post, I mentioned the slogan “men are trash”. It’s a frequently uttered statement in feminist circles, as well as a popular internet meme, and I said then that I supported it. Yes, it hurts to hear it as a man, but after enduring millennia of male oppression, women have more than earned the right to say it. A man complaining about it is like a lion complaining to the antelope it’s eating about how it got winded from the chase. It’s ludicrously biased. Besides, the slogan doesn’t in fact mean that every single man is a garbage human being. It’s the patriarchy that’s being attacked, the sexist structures upheld by men as a group. Those structures are what’s trash. No one is claiming that men can’t be good people. For these reasons and more, I was in favor of the usage of “men are trash”, and I saw the arguments against it as understandable but misinformed offense taken by the fragile male ego.
But I’ve changed my mind since that post. I now think the slogan does more harm than good, and I urge my fellow feminists to consider letting it go.
Why? Well, let’s look at the current state of things. The internet is a war zone right now, and us feminists aren’t winning. We’re facing a massive army of reactionaries who have been mobilizing for years, united by their disdain for gender studies, affirmative action, menstrual art, and new female leads in traditionally male-dominated film series. And this army has already conquered large parts of the virtual world. We still hold dominion over Tumblr, and most mainstream news channels appear to be on our side, but the overwhelming hatred for the all-female Ghostbusters reboot back in 2016 made it clear that both IMDb and YouTube have fallen before the manly might of the anti-feminists. (No, I’m not saying you’re sexist if you didn’t like that movie – I disliked it myself – but I don’t believe for a second that it would have been so universally despised if the new cast had been male.)
But the thing is, anti-feminists see themselves as the underdog. They think they’re the ones being oppressed by an increasingly feminized world, persecuted by the estrogen establishment for simply being men (yes, there are female anti-feminists too, but they’re a clear minority). I’ll probably dive deeper into the psychology of anti-feminism in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say that their hatred of our ideology is rooted in a view of the world very different from ours, where feminists are not a much-needed response to millennia of gender inequality, but the aggressors who are threatening a perfectly acceptable status quo. In their minds, men and women already have the same rights, and when feminists are pushing for women’s rights, they’re actually pushing for female supremacy. Thus, when a feminist says “men are trash”, anti-feminists see only enemy fire. They won’t stop to think about what it really means. They won’t ponder whether or not women are historically justified in saying it. All they see when it’s uttered is one more reason to go to war. One more feminator to kill.
That’s why I’m wary of our trash slogan. When we use it, we’re feeding the flames. We’re reinforcing the anti-feminists’ perceived victimhood. We’re supplying them with more evidence for what they already believe: Feminists are either power-hungry man-haters, or sheep who regurgitate misandric memes.
You might want to stop me right now, and say that it’s not the fault of feminists that uninformed people misunderstand their ideology. And you would be right. If a man cries “misandry” at a woman who’s just demanding equality, that’s on him, and it shouldn’t be the woman’s responsibility to make him aware of his own ignorance. Not in a million years. But then again… that man is never going to understand it on his own. He’ll stick with those who agree with him and only become further radicalized. We sort of need the woman to educate him, and not in a hostile way (even though she has every right to be furious), but in a gentle way. She shouldn’t have to, and it’s unreasonable to ask it of her, but how else will we ever win? That’s the harsh truth I think us feminists must realize if we are to turn the tide in this online conflict. We have to quell our anger, no matter how justified it may be, if we want the other side to understand. We have to show them compassion that we don’t really feel, and patience that we don’t really have, if we are to get through to them. We have to lower our furious banners, even though we have every right to hold them proudly high in hand. Yes, if we want to end this devastating war, we must go above and beyond our moral responsibility and be superhumanly understanding and kind.
How exactly do we do that, then? How can we be understanding and kind towards the other side without betraying our cause? Oh, and isn’t there some old quote about how we should never be tolerant towards intolerance?
Well, the next time you engage an anti-feminist in online debate, focus on the individual. Deep inside every angry man is a boy who’s afraid he isn’t good enough, and he’s been conditioned by the patriarchy to take that fear out on women. The existence of that boy doesn’t excuse the actions of the grown man he’s become, but that boy is the one you should try to reach. Try to understand his feelings, even if they are misguided. Don’t hide or alter your feministic opinions – I can’t stress enough how that’s not what I’m advocating – but bring them forth gently, in a way a child can understand. Don’t tell him he’s sexist, because he’ll never agree – he’s convinced that he hates feminism for purely logical reasons – and the debate will quickly deteriorate into a flame war. Ignore his jabs (until you absolutely can’t) and give only kindness and calm reason back. Show the boy that he has nothing to fear from you. Yes, it sucks that we have to be so considerate of a man’s fear when women have lived in fear for most of human history. But once again, I think the solution lies in being unreasonably understanding.
You won’t get through to that boy then and there. But keep trying. It doesn’t even have to be a debate. Let the non-confrontational, educational (but still firmly feminist) attitude permeate your political tweets, artwork, blog entries, and TikToks, or at least try it once in a while. If we keep at it, I do believe the anti-feminists will eventually start to listen. But if we keep calling them trash (which, again, we are neither morally nor factually wrong in doing), we’ll only fuel their fear and anger further. For the good of the political climate, and for our future, let’s recycle that slogan into something more constructive.
P.S. Okay, now that I’ve thought about it for a while, I can’t in good conscience demand that women be nicer to anti-feminists. What road will that take us down? If today I’m asking women to appease the patriarchy by condemning it less aggressively, what will I ask tomorrow? That they avoid sexual harassment by dressing “less seductively”? No, submitting to the bully is never a good thing, and I can’t stand for it. So, perhaps this post is mostly directed at allies. Feminist men, such as myself. We’re in a position where we understand the horrors of misogyny but haven’t had to endure it ourselves; consequently, we do harbor anger towards anti-feminists, but it’s not a deeply personal anger that we must be allowed to express. Perhaps it’s up to us, then, to be unreasonably understanding towards the other side, to be the antelope that lets the lion complain.