Why I Am Not Showing Up For “All Men Are Trash.” by Tina Phillips

Women have no obligation to be “nice” to men. Women don’t owe men anything. There is absolutely a place for anger of women and it is totally justified given how women are treated (mostly by men). However, what there is not a place for is dehumanization, and calling all men ”trash” is just that. 

We must admit that’s exactly what it is. To justify making blanket statements about entire groups of people is not okay. Nor is it helpful. I think that is the larger point. How is calling men trash helpful? Is it really healing? Is it really helping men transform? Is it helping women? I don’t think it is.

I truly believe dehumanization  is counterproductive. From a strategic socialist feminist standpoint, using that phrase isn’t effective in building a movement for socialist feminism. It certainly doesn’t motivate men I know, even leftist men. No one hears that and thinks, “Oh, I must be trash. Let me see how I can stop being trash.” That’s just not happening. It puts men into a defensive posture. And it feels very much like a put down. How does putting people down help anything ever? It doesn’t.

Generation Five, an organization that is working to end childhood sexual abuse in five generations, have put forth their conception of an alternative to the slash and burn retaliation method in regard to sexual abuse. They created a document called the Transformative Justice Handbook, which is a long, but essential reading.

This document explains thoroughly how disproportionate power throughout society creates situations of abuse as a root cause. People who feel powerless take advantage of those they consider more vulnerable in order to feel more powerful. It’s pervasive and systemic, often inside families, including my own extended family.

Is the solution to lock up all sexually abusive people? I can say I am very against that idea personally and politically. I am for getting people the help/treatment they need, and having that done separate from society, if safety is a concern, in a humane and ethical manner. Prisons in America and most parts of the world are not anywhere near that and basically the opposite. We need to be careful not to support carceral feminism, as its counterproductive to our movement.

Furthermore, punishment as a response can never be transformative. We have to start there. Having that as a core value is very important.  Punishment doesn’t help anything, ever, period. And I include calling all men trash as a method of punishment. It’s social punishment. I don’t think “eye for an eye” is a good thing and I have a deep hope that feminists and leftists would agree. Of course my experience has sadly shown me different. Many are stuck on punitive and retributive ideas as a form of justice or even necessary for safety.

How is it a solution to call all men trash? I understand some may be using the phrase as a symbolic rallying cry of some sort, but I don’t think the results are worth it. In my experience it pushes men further away, when what we need to do is pull them in and say, “Get your shit together.” Accountability should be our aim. Being put down for being a man isn’t helping anything. It’s actually making shit worse. That’s why there is so much push back on it, which in my experience is being totally ignored. Even when I bring it up and point it out, people dismiss it or mischaracterize it.

Anyone who dares to say, “Look, that’s not okay,” gets told they are part of the problem and shamed further into silence. I have been told I am “blaming the victim,” “taking men’s side,” “valuing the opinions of men over women,” and was even called an “internal misogynist.” The truth is that I attempt to balance the needs of all human beings. I see that women are more impacted by sexism and patriarchy than men and face more violence, often at the hands of men. I openly acknowledge that. However, that doesn’t mean the solution is to beat men up. That may be an emotional reaction in response to abuse, but it’s not a effective one. If we want to have a healthy community and social relationships, and try to build a socialist feminist society together, how can we do it while putting down men? It just doesn’t make sense to me at all and is counter-intuitive.

I have heard from men who openly identify as feminists, and who I believe aren’t “feminists in name only.” Self-righteousness alienates men  and makes them not want to participate in feminism at all. That is alarming. We don’t need people turning away from feminism. How do we ignore those voices knowing the potential consequences? I don’t ignore any voices and I don’t say some voices are more valuable than others. I don’t discount anyone. Doing so is a grave mistake. Men represent  50% of the planet’s human population. They are absolutely necessary, if we are going to solve the problems of patriarchy and sexism. Solving those problems must involve engaging men, not pushing them away.

Central to the empathy necessary to get men on board is seeing men’s behavior within a framework of patriarchal conditioning. Men too suffer from patriarchy. Understanding this means we see the systemic reasons behind their actions. Blaming individuals, or even an entire group, completely ignores why they do what they do. They do what they were taught to do. How do we undo that? Saying, “All men are trash” isn’t going to inspire change. When we say, “All men are trash,” we are saying men aren’t worth saving. We are saying they are inherently bad. That they aren’t worthy of redemption. They cannot be brought back. There is no reconciliation possible. “Men are trash” means men are disposable, that we need to throw them away. When a person is told they aren’t worth shit, do you think that helps the situation? Do you think it motivates them to want to change and to see how patriarchy hurts them and others? I don’t.

We must acknowledge that patriarchy does impact men directly in a negative way. In my experience, giving men empathy about that is a good place to start the conversation. When men realize they too are treated like shit because of patriarchy, they might start to realize they are perpetuating that cycle onto others as well, that the entire thing is a trap, and we should get rid of it wholesale for the benefit of all humanity.

I believe in “prefigurative” politics, which means we must embody what we aspire to NOW, in order to bring it about in the future in the way we intend in the NOW.  Not say, “We’ll be this way or that way after the revolution.” No. The way we get there is to start trying to consciously create a new society now, out of the shell of the old. Yes, it takes time and education, consciousness raising, self-reflection, hard work, being humble, being willing to make mistakes, and allowing others to learn and grow from mistakes. Yes, it’s a messy process… but we have to start somewhere and we have to help men get there. They are not getting there alone. No one is forced to help them, but I am someone who volunteers to do so, and encourages others who feel they can to do likewise.

I do think all people need to be treated fairly, no matter who it is. Isn’t that what our principles are based upon as socialist feminists? “All men are trash” is simply inconsistent with our values. Are we human beings who get triggered and upset and feel threatened? Of course! But that’s why being a committed activist is really hard! Socialists are held to a higher standard because we are trying to become a higher form of human being and transform, not reproduce our routine and  awful behavior towards each other. That is perpetuating a cycle we claim to want to stop. Who do you think is going to stop it, if we don’t?

To be clear, I think people should refrain from calling “all men trash.” I never once “blamed the victim,” nor did I once say women were not disadvantaged. They are more oppressed than men and are more so survivors of violence, absolutely true. I never claimed otherwise. All I asked was how best should we handle it.

But if you say you are committed to truly bringing about a socialist feminist society you literally cannot do it while attacking men. I have seen what it does and it is destructive. That is just a fact. But let’s also be clear that some people don’t care if they are destructive. Believe me, I’ve run into so many, sadly. But I refuse to be one of those people. It has never felt healing to me to trash another person. No matter what they did to me. I have experienced plenty of abuse and bullying myself. But I never seek revenge because it’s toxic. In addition, I am not comparing women calling men trash to what men have done to women. I don’t compare like that. I look at the behavior alone and see whether it’s more helpful or hurtful to both my personal and activist goals. And on both accounts the “all men are trash” thing fails.

Recently Facebook has been removing the comment “all men are trash” and sometimes kicking people off of Facebook who post it, calling it “hate speech.” I consider this to be way out of line and violating free speech. This policy shuts down conversations about whether that phrase is actually helpful. I find this to be a very important debate that we need to have.

I want to appeal to folks by letting them know I have seen my approach work to help men understand and support feminism more. I have had many men come to me personally and thank me for helping them learn about and understand feminism better and how it impacts them directly too. So take that for what you will, but I have personal and demonstrated experience in my method working. It’s not about men’s “feelings” so much as straight out strategy, human psychology, what it takes to create an egalitarian non-hierarchical community, and being in a relationship with others. How do we relate to others In order to bring them into the fold, instead of rejecting them? Moreover, my method seeks to empower the oppressed because it brings men into the movement to support women and backs them up when needed. If you think we don’t need men to build a socialist feminist society than my arguments may fall flat. But if you think we do, it holds a lot of water. Women are not going to get to a feminist society without meeting men where they are.

Those who say we must treat oppressors equal or worse than they ever treated us are out of step with our principles. To buy into the idea that some “cannot be transformed” means you have already given up on the idea before even trying it. We don’t know who can be transformed. So we might as well try. And for those who cannot, what are we supposed to do with them? Seriously? I am not one to write them off, or suggest that we throw them in prison, or just shoot them already and get it over with. I am working to transform society. And focusing on the idea that it cannot be transformed ain’t helping that.

I know enough about sociology, psychology, and neurobiology to know human beings can be shaped and reshaped. It is very deterministic and essentialist to suggest otherwise. Change the social conditions and you change the person. We don’t stop violence, control, authority, hierarchy, inequality, and domination by putting people down. We do it through empathy. It’s a radical idea. And not everyone is going to be able to go there. But I have radical empathy for those who have harmed others, because so often they were harmed. That is how the cycles perpetuates itself time after time. How do we stop the harm? That is the only question that matters. And I don’t just mean for women. I mean for every human being on this planet. I don’t see how that’s dangerous at all. It’s actually the opposite in my opinion.

I see all people as human beings no matter what they have done. And I know that violence of all kinds has systemic causes. I don’t believe in treating people as less than human, no matter what. Humane and ethical treatment is the basic standard. As socialist feminists we have to stand on that principle. Are we working towards an egalitarian non-hierarchical society? If so, saying things like “all men are trash” is not in line with the society we say we want to create. That society doesn’t create itself. We have to consciously create it together. By saying “men are trash” it creates alienation, exclusion, division, polarization, drives conflict, drives myths about feminism being man-hating, and the idea that feminists want a society in which women are superior. It’s generally harmful. If we say we want a society where basic human dignity is respected, we have to demonstrate that in our own behavior. We have to stem and arrest harm —stopping the cycle of perpetuating pain. If we are committed to transformation, it takes working towards healing and reconciliation. It doesn’t mean no anger and no accountability. It means that putting down an entire group isn’t going to help make those people become any better. It’s like writing off half of humanity. We have no hope of transforming people’s behaviors through shame and derision. Demonizing people never helped and it never will. If we believe in redeeming humanity, let’s start with our own behavior. That will shape what is to come. Let it begin with us. Let’s show up for that.

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