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About a year ago, one of my favorite people blocked me on Facebook because I say “men are trash” a lot. This man—who is a friend of mine in real life, who gets it right like 90 percent of the time, who genuinely works hard to be a good man—just couldn’t handle seeing my constant critique of toxic masculinity.
He believes, as so many do, that the “men are trash” narrative does more damage than good. He would cite himself as proof that virulent anti-man sentiment is more likely to turn good, justice-seeking men away from “the cause” versus helping more men join it. And since feminism needs more men (we can argue that point later), our goal should be to bring folks in versus scaring them away or offending them.
For what it’s worth, there is some merit to the idea that “you catch more bees with honey” (or however that saying goes).
Good, true, real feminism (the kind that is intersectional and reparative and genuine) NEEDS activists/allies/revolutionaries who are kind, compassionate, loving, and gentle. Those people feed our souls and nourish our hearts. They forgive us, even sometimes when we don’t deserve to be forgiven. The work that they do reaches people and changes minds where a cold, aggressive approach just wouldn’t do the job.
I can appreciate that my friend wishes that I fit better into the “kindness” mold. But he’s wrong to abandon me when I don’t, and his rhetoric is dangerous.
Feminism has no need for men who prioritize their preferred types of activism above the genuine lived experiences of women.
If you know me in real life, you’ve probably heard me tell stories about the kind of person I used to be. I grew up in a racist town, in a racist state, in a racist country… full of privilege. While I was running away from my own queerness, I over-corrected hard and ended up deep in some Conservative Christian nonsense. Virtually all of my formative years were spent learning hatred, ignorance, and white supremacy.
I was not a good person. I believed I was a good person. I wanted to be a good person. And I got really upset when anyone suggested that I wasn’t a good person. I was a pro at white tears… weaponizing my desire to be good against anyone who tried to tell me I wasn’t.
When I look back over the transition I experienced, the key players in my life who helped move me from that place, guess who comes to mind? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the people who were kind and forgiving. It’s the people who held me accountable… the ones who made me cry. It’s the people who were mean. The ones who I hated.
For every person who needs kindness to grow, there is a person like me who needs to be held accountable. A person who will sit still as long as you give them a seat to sit on. A person who needs to hear the truth.
True feminism (the kind that is intersectional and reparative and genuine) ALSO needs fighters who are not going to take any shit. It relies on warriors who are strong enough to stand up and say what needs to be said, despite the backlash that may come. The ones who will not back down from the truth. Who won’t meet anyone where they are… the ones who demand that folks come to them. There is immense value in those folks, too.
Now, I don’t think that a person must choose one of these two “types of activist” exclusively. There are people in my life for whom I am unendingly patient… people for whom I will meet in the middle. There are times when I don the cape of kindness and be that particular type of superhero. And there are times when I’m a stone-cold bitch, unapologetically. I’d argue that most activists have at least a little bit of both inside them.
These days, I spend more time in Bitch Mode, and I’m not sorry about it.
In the year that has passed since my friend blocked me (we’re still friendly in real life, and he’s still one of my favorite people), I’ve only become more vocal about toxic masculinity and its dangers.
Recently I was scrolling Facebook and I saw a story about a woman who had a negative experience with a man. It wasn’t a story of assault or violence… it was more like Aziz Ansari-level grossness: unsolicited dick pics, general disrespect for women, not taking "no" for an answer. You know… just run-of-the-mill, cis-het manhood. I commented on the story and said, simply, “men are trash.”
If ever there was a “men are trash” comment that is not immediately followed by a “not all men” reply, I have not seen it. And this was no different… despite being a “no boys allowed” group setting, my words really upset a few people.
The conversation that followed was pretty civil. A couple of people participated on both sides of the argument. Aside from one sarcastic comment (from me), the whole thing played out pretty respectfully. The conversation ended quickly with a general “agree to disagree” vibe, and I moved on.
Many hours passed.
At about 3 AM the next morning, during one of my normal middle-of-the-night-pregnancy-pees, I decided to check my phone. I opened up Facebook and was greeted with a message: “Something you recently posted was reported for being in violation of our community standards” (or something like that).
The message included a screenshot of the comment that was reported (which they subsequently deleted), along with a notice that I would be unable to post, comment, or react to posts for three days. My messenger was also on lockdown—I could receive messages and react to them, but could not reply.
Now I’ve known for quite some time that Facebook’s algorithm takes specific offense to the phrase “men are trash.” Women from around the world have stories about being sent to FB jail for the utterance. I knew that, eventually, I would rub the right person the wrong way and end up there myself. So I wasn’t surprised… at first.
It wasn’t until I looked closely at the comment that was deleted that I got REALLY MAD.
Let me back up just a little bit. During this comment thread, I posted several replies to folks. It was a conversation… There were four or five active participants and several spectators… It was a normal Facebook discussion. No unkind words were shared about the other participants. No ugliness, no name-calling, no shaming. Just people with different perspectives talking about an issue of disagreement.
At one point, the folks “on the other side” of this conversation landed at this general point: it’s unfair to say “men are trash” because it suggests that ALL men are trash, which is really unkind to the many good and decent men we personally know and love.
(The assumptions there being as follows: that the men they know and love actually ARE good and decent, and that the majority of men are much like them.)
It fits the general narrative: that most men are good, and it’s unfair to paint them all in a negative light for the actions of a small minority.
Now, this was a casual discussion, so I didn’t have my textbooks out and I wasn’t writing a dissertation. I responded with a comment that was, essentially, nothing more than rape statistics. I said (please understand I am paraphrasing because I don’t have a screenshot from before the comment got deleted, but I’m trying to remain as true to the original as possible):
“I am always shocked by the seemingly instinctual need that some folks have to correct me when I say 'men are trash.'
Somewhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 2 women are sexually assaulted during their lives, the vast majority by men. Unless we are to believe that there is a very small number of serial rapists out there, I think it’s time for us to recognize that many, many men are trash.
I’ll stop saying it when it stops being true.”
(PS: if anyone happens to read this who was privy to the original conversation and can provide a screenshot of the original comment, I would love to share it here for the sake of full transparency.)
THAT, y’all. THAT is the post that Facebook says is in violation of its Community Standards.
I cannot fathom this, if I’m being completely honest. First that someone was so offended by this comment that they would report it at all. But second that Facebook (the same Facebook that didn’t protect us from Russian political interference on its platform) would consider THIS a violation of its Community Standards.
This conversation is not about “painting with a broad brush.” It is about the real, genuine, lived experiences of women all over this country and this world. There are facts… there are statistics available. And there’s common. fucking. sense.
According to RAINN, approximately 321,500 people are sexually assaulted in America each year. Of those, 82 percent of juvenile victims and 90 percent of adult victims are female. And thanks to the good folk at the NSRVC, we also know that EIGHT OUT OF TEN rape victims had a personal, familial, or intimate relationship with the person who raped them.
RAINN has a few more facts that I think merit discussion here:
- 94 percent of women who are raped experience PTSD during the two weeks that follow the rape.
- 30 percent of women still experience PTSD 9 months after the rape.
- 33 percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
- 13 percent of women who are raped attempt suicide.
- Approximately 70 percent of rape or sexual assault victims experience moderate to severe distress, a larger percentage than for any other crime.
And some more:
- 38 percent of victims of sexual assault experience work or school problems.
- 37 percent report problems with their family/friends.
- A vast majority of victims experience professional or emotional issues, including moderate to severe distress, or increased problems at work or school, including:
- 84 percent of victims of intimate partner abuse
- 79 percent of victims of abuse from a family member or close friend
- and 67 percent of victims who were abused by a stranger.
These statistics don’t even touch on military sexual violence, nor do they consider assault against trans or nonbinary folk. And all of this only touches on sexual abuse and violence, which is only one of many ways that men can, in fact, be trash. It doesn’t cover domestic violence. Racism. Homophobia or transphobia. Classism. It covers only one tiny aspect of what makes men trash.
All of these facts paint a clear picture for us: hundreds of thousands of men commit sexual assault every single year. And a majority of those men are not random strangers… They are men we already trust and love.
Their violence in our lives is not merely a disruption or an inconvenience… They take pieces of us and destroy them, they leave us broken and empty and confused. Our assaults contribute to the continued inequality between men and women in the workplace and are a cog in the machine of systemic oppression.
And yet… despite all that… sooooo many people still feel pulled to demand that I acknowledge that some men aren’t terrible. Despite overwhelming evidence that men are the biggest threat to women, people still want to force me to consider the good ones alongside the bad ones.
When I come home from a long day of existing in the world and I say, “Ugh, people suck”… I do not mean that every single human being on earth is terrible, and nobody jumps down my throat to force me to make that distinction.
When I see a video about dogs and I say, “Animals are better than humans”… nobody pops up to tell me about a really bad animal they knew or a really good human (who is definitely better than animals). Nobody needs me to clarify my thoughts on this particular issue.
When I say “kids are assholes”… nobody is like, “OMG THAT’S NOT TRUE, SOME KIDS ARE REALLY SWEET.” People generally understand that I am speaking in hyperbole to express frustration or anger. They know that I’m not speaking in absolutes.
But somehow… somehow if I say that men are trash, or that white people are racist, or any other number of things (that are truer anyhow)… people lose their ever-loving minds. They cannot stop themselves from coming to my side and asking for me to be clearer about my meaning. They feel the pull of ethical gravity to remind me not to generalize.
We need to talk about this.
Women experience no small share of gaslighting when it comes to our own oppression and the trauma it causes. We are blamed for our assaults. We are dismissed by the police. Our rape kits go for years untested. We do not see justice.
And, because of our nation’s crappy healthcare system and lack of support for folks with mental illness, our legitimate PTSD symptoms and the subsequent depression, anxiety, BDD, and other issues that follow sexual assault are often under-medicated or all together ignored. Instead, we are told to “stop letting it ruin our lives.” To “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps”. To “get back on the wagon.”
The last thing… and I do mean the LAST thing… that women need is to be told they are being too mean when they say things like “men are trash.” To add what is, essentially, tone policing on top of the already overwhelming weight we bare as survivors of sexual assault… it’s just one more way of gaslighting us into believing that our pain, our anger, and our voices do not deserve recognition. It’s one more way of saying “your experience doesn’t matter.”
My friend may never re-add me on Facebook. People will probably continue to report my posts. And Facebook is not likely to change their policy on this any time soon. But I’m gonna keep saying that men are trash. Nobody is going to take my voice away from me.
I will stop saying it when it stops being true.