“Primum non nocere: First, do no harm”.
When the Hippocratic Oath encourages this, I don’t think it is ever meant to be an easy motto to live by. Within us all – female, male, transgender, gender fluid – is the potential to harm. When we say that you are trash, we don’t mean that every man we’ve met has hurt us individually; physically or emotionally. What we mean is that in you, is the potential to harm. Paired with your inherited patriarchy, your male privilege and the normalised violating behaviours that you’ve learned and thus perform uncritically, the threat of harm you can and do cause, is elevated.
So yes, men, you are trash. Excuse me if this hurts your fragile masculinity, but you need to hear it. When Karabo Mokoena died at the hands of her boyfriend, her family and friends experienced and are still experiencing the pain of the patriarchal mentality and power that makes you trash. The #MenAreTrash movement doesn’t mean that all men are rapists and murderers, it is the shedding light on a much bigger picture – one that we as women, unfortunately, must paint and spell out for you because it isn’t clear enough. When we tell you that you’re harming us, listen.
Men, if you want to help dismantle patriarchy, a thing you are so often blinded by and have thrust upon you whether you ask for it or not, you must understand the #MenAreTrash movement. That a thing is still a thing even if it isn’t your thing. That pain is still pain even if it isn’t your pain. It’s the fact that one in every four women in South Africa is physically abused by an intimate partner and every six hours a woman is killed by a current or former intimate partner. It’s the privilege men have in their ability to walk in the dark without fear.
It’s that fathers do not want their daughters dating as teenagers because fathers ‘know how boys think.’ It’s that girls and women are fearful when walking alone day or night and see a man approaching. It’s enough for women to learn how to reject men politely instead of men learning how to politely accept rejection. It’s the fact that women need to learn how not to get raped instead of teaching men how not to rape. It’s enough that women are taught that their first sexually penetrative experience with a man also equates to losing a part of themselves. It’s that girls and women would rather say ‘I have a boyfriend’ than to simply say ‘no thank you’ to a guy in a bar.
It’s enough for mothers to put their daughters on the pill, not because they’re sexually active, but in case she is passively exposed to it against her will. It’s that girls need to go to public bathrooms in groups and that public residences in South Africa are stocked with choice condoms, even when it isn’t always a girl’s choice. It’s the fact that the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ even exists. It’s that a woman is ‘weak’ for staying in an abusive relationship instead of the man being shamed for abusing. It’s that men defend the hashtag more passionately than you defend women. It’s Tupac singing “And since a man can’t make one, he has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one.”
Men, when we tell you we feel unsafe getting into a taxi alone – believe us. When we tell you to stop looking at us lustfully because we feel uncomfortable – stop. When we tell you that your catcalling is harassment and not a compliment as we walk down the street, midday, and fully covered up – understand. When we do the same, in short shorts and a low-cut top – listen. You don’t have a right to my body because I choose to reveal it. This is me, and this is my body.
One more time for the people at the back: this is me, and this is MY body. You have no right to it; you are not entitled to it because I choose to show it. Women are not on display for you to claim and use to inflate your masculine ego. We are women, these are our bodies, and this is our pain.
Primum non nocere. Live carefully, listen intently, and try to do no harm.