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The Real Trash is the Patriarchy We Made Along the Way

7 Sept 2020

Jess Wilson

The Real Trash is the Patriarchy We Made Along the Way

Buckle your seatbelts, pals. We’re talking about it.


How did that make you feel? Empowered? Horrified? Offended? Validated?

‘Men are trash’ is one of those phrases, along with ‘Karen’ and ‘Never kiss a tory’, that has been made topical largely by the reaction to it, rather than the importance of the phrase itself. Everyone seems to have strong opinions on it, to the point where its significance has been blown out of all proportion, as anyone who reads Brumfesses will know. It’s been called everything from hate speech to a bold revolutionary cry. In my opinion, it’s neither of these things, and everyone should probably calm down a smidge.

So, why isn’t it hate speech? After all, if almost any other group was negatively generalised in this way, we’d call it racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, islamophobia, anti semitism etc. And rightly so. But, the fact is, men are not like these other groups. We exist in a patriarchy and, in the gender struggle, cis men hold the power. They just do. Sometimes this leads to negative results for cis men, such as higher suicide rates, harsher prison sentences and a lack of paternity rights and resources. But, though this is the patriarchy backfiring on men, it is still a symptom of patriarchy, and it is not an example of female power or part of any matriarchal plan. The system is built by and for cis men, regardless of the fact that not all men sit comfortably within it.  A square peg in a round hole has a harder time fitting in than a round peg in a round hole. But at the end of the day, we’re all in a bloody hole.

Therefore, the phrase ‘men are trash’ is an example of punching up, not down. It is in no way comparable to calling women whores or bitches, in the same way that white people using the n-word is racism but black people using words like cracker is not racist. There is no centuries-long history of systemic and personal abuse, oppression and pain behind the word ‘cracker’, or behind the phrase ‘men are trash’. The oppressed poking fun at their oppressors, for the purposes of comedy relief, a grasp at empowerment or a miniature rebellion, is not the same as oppressing. It’s not even the same as truly threatening the oppressive system. If only the patriarchy was so fragile that simply saying “men are trash” could destroy it.

The other major criticism of the phrase is that ‘NoT alL MeN ArE tRaSh!!!!!’.

WE. KNOW. No one truly believes that every single man in the world is individually a bad person. The phrase refers to the fact that we have all been born and raised inside the patriarchy, a system which was built with cis male comfort and superiority in mind, but which is ultimately constrictive for everyone. The nature of the system is such that most cis men (lucky round pegs) don’t feel its effects on a daily basis, and therefore remain largely ignorant of what others go through, except when they deliberately educate themselves. This leads to most cis men (often accidentally) being insensitive or ignorant at least some of the time. Pretty much every woman will have had an experience where perhaps only one man was being deliberately abusive, but all the men present looked the other way, and all the guy’s friends chose to appease the behaviour, and any man she confided in told her to brush it off, or failed to realise the extent or systemic nature of the trauma. It’s easy to see why, sometimes, it really does feel like maybe men are trash.

However, most of the time when I hear “men are trash” being used, it is a reductive, off-colour, jokey expression of very real, very pervasive pain. It’s indulgent and evocative, without being informative. This is why I don’t condemn the phrase, but I don’t scream it from the rooftops either. It’s used by many women because it’s an easy, accessible, condensed way of pushing back against misogyny and expressing our frustration. But we must remember that men don’t experience misogyny, therefore they often don’t see it or recognise its effects. Annoying and unfair as it is, we have to be the ones to educate them. “Men are trash” is not educational, it is divisive. To many men, it’s simply a misandrist attack that alienates them from the feminist cause. These men are in need of so much education that three cheeky, defiant words won’t scratch the surface of their ignorance. The men who are more enlightened probably aren’t affected by the phrase anyway, they know what it really means. This begs the question...what is the point of saying it to men at all?

Instead, we could, and definitely should, say “Many men are not deliberately sexist, but all men were raised in a sexist system and therefore often fail to recognise, or choose to ignore, sexism in front of their very eyes. They may also accidentally contribute to it due to a lack of education. This leads many women to perceive that most men are, at worst, abusers, or at best, enabling abuse. If this perception of your gender makes you uncomfortable, it is your prerogative to prove women wrong by educating yourself and being actively anti-misogynist”. But, when among friends and short of time, “men are trash” isn’t truly hurting anyone.

Art by Suzy Exposito