If you listen carefully on any given day, you’ll hear the words ‘men are trash’ like a gentle hum vibrating across the globe. An anthem if you will. A call to arms and a battle cry. A sign of solidarity even. Enter any room, social event, dinner party, creative gathering and you’ll hear the phrase from at least one corner of the room, and you’ll naturally gravitate towards that group of women because you immediately know you’ve found your tribe. It’s basically the password to the ‘pissed off at men’ club, which I have been Head Girl of for quite some time (flicks hair). Yes, that’s an accolade I’m proud of and I’m thinking about putting it on my CV before you ask.
But that’s just the thing, and exactly what the phrase is. It’s pissed off anger and frustration and hurt and pain all rolled up and squashed into three tiny words, because when questioned by a male friend (who I like a lot and think is a wonderful human), it turns out I don’t really think all men are trash. I was raised by a wonderful man, with only a brother for a companion and then grew up with lots of male friends. I know many wonderful men. Have even been in love with some of them. The women around me also know these things and despite the anger in their words, they’re not looking to end the entire gender, as appealing as it sometimes seems.
The phrase ‘men are trash’ can actually be directly translated into; ‘masculinity is in transition and it’s not moving fucking fast enough.’ THAT’S what it really means. For two things to support each other, they need to grow together in the same direction and when this doesn’t happen, it creates a horribly jarring experience.
By that I mean, women have been playing with ideas and constructs of womanhood and girlhood since we popped out of the womb and were shoved in a pink blanket. We have constantly grappled with our gender, not because we particularly wanted to, but because the world forced us to. We were asked questions from a young age that had us thinking about gender before we even really understood it. We were asked what type of girl we would be. Would we be a girly-girl, or a tomboy, or which Disney princess were we? As we got older we were asked if we were the marrying type, or the slutty type or perhaps the loose woman type. We never stopped thinking about the kind of girl or woman we were going to be, and with cultural influences that started with The Spice Girls and then onto Caitlin Moran, Lena Dunham and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, we had people to guide us through the minefields of femininity, feminism and what womanhood really meant.
The point is, we’ve been constantly playing with our gender and what it means to us and with that comes a constant evolution and greater understanding. It is the constant questioning by society of the types of woman we would be that has, in essence, lead to the rise of feminist movements and the watershed moments of #MeToo. The irony is not lost on any of us, and had the patriarchy not been so demanding in its questions, or forced us into so many boxes and types, perhaps it wouldn’t be experiencing the unsettling shift in power that it is so obviously struggling with now.
On the other side of the spectrum, boys were never asked, ‘what type of man will you be?’ There were no types and it was generally accepted that in the long tradition of a hunter/gatherer they would play with sticks and stones, do sports and be strong. Because their place in society was so firmly accepted and unchallenged, they never had to validate their presence in it. Masculinity was handed down from father to son, with little or no deviation from the typical provider/protector role.
But as ideas of womanhood have evolved and we’ve reached some of our greatest levels of independence, ideas of manhood have stayed stubbornly still causing this horrible jarring sensation between the genders. What we once needed from masculinity has become useless to us now. Women slay their own proverbial deer in the working world every day and bring home the bacon, while the digital revolution has made physical labour largely unnecessary. Superior masculine strength to kill an animal and drag home the carcass while building houses to shelter us from the elements is really not necessary. I can Deliveroo my dinner and buy a house in a government ‘help to buy’ scheme without even dating a man (unless you live in London in which case even the gender pay gap won’t make him enough money to get on the property ladder), so while men haven’t become redundant, their version of masculinity has.
So when women across the land cry out, ‘men are trash’, what it really means is, your ideas of manhood are no longer fit for purpose and your lack of evolution is hurting us all. It’s a plea to start talking about masculinity, defining new constructs, adding more definitions to the pot and being less one dimensional about what it means to be a man. It is our way of saying, we need you, we just need you to get there a lot faster. In short, it’s time to level up.