“All Men Are Trash” Is Just Woke “Boys Will Be Boys”

All men are garbage. All men are mud. All men are dirt, bile, sewer water, birthed from the bodies that deserved more than sons. 

Spoiler alert: None of these statements are true. What’s more, they’re all a play on the infamous saying, “All men are trash.”

Yet, all of my variations on this statement feel harsher than its predecessor. There’s a severity to my language. My words possess an uncomfortable energy that will make some stomachs drop.

Is calling all men garbage worse than calling them trash? Is the term mud a lie? Is the established phase both different and truthful? Is there a clever joke being weaved here, that sewer water can’t capture?

Or, is calling all men trash the same as saying, “Boys will be boys.”

Part One: The Origins of Men Are Trash

Warning: This section deals with the topic of domestic violence and sexual assault. It could be triggering for some readers.

The saying, “all men are trash,” isn’t original. In fact, it’s a play on the saying, “men are trash.”

In 2016, #MenAreTrash took off across South African Twitter. It was focused on critiquing men that physically and emotionally abused their partners. Then, in 2017, the phrase exploded in use cases. This took place after a 22-year-old woman, named Karabo Mokoena, was murdered by her boyfriend.

Karabo Mokoena
Image: Instagram

The phrase, “men are trash,” was incredibly important in the late twenty-tens. And in 2023, the saying’s still vital.

Men are trash: It calls on men to not hit their partners. It calls on men not to scream at their loved ones. It calls on men not to burn their girlfriends, bury them in shallow graves, and then pretend to search for their bodies with the help of the police. 

Additionally, “men are trash,” isn’t an all-encompassing term. It’s like saying, “High school relationships don’t last.” Or, “Adults drink and drive.” When we say such statements, we don’t have to qualify them with a “most” or a “some.” 

As per the writer Jesse Vhasy Rasoesoe, “We all know that snakes are dangerous, yet there are some snakes which are not deadly at all. However, you never hear people say, ‘Some snakes are dangerous, some are not.’ They just say, ‘Snakes are dangerous.’ Because it is hard for the average person to tell which snakes are dangerous and which snakes are not, so they urge people to be cautious of all snakes.”

Therefore, if you critique this phrase by saying, “But not all men are trash,” then you have missed the point. You have self-reported. ‘Cause, my dude, this phrase doesn’t encompass all men. And if you think it does, then your framework might need a tweak.

Over the years, #NotAllMen has been weaponised by the far-right on Twitter. It was used to divert attention away from Elliot Rodger’s 2014 killing spree. It was used to defend men after a mass molestation event took place in 2017 India. All while folks like Karabo Mokoena get forgotten.

If this section brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Part Two: All Men Are Trash

Sometime after #MenAreTrash took off, another phrase was popularised. This phrase being, “all men are trash.”

However, while “men are trash” is a useful phrase, “all men are trash” is inept. This is because the latter phrase prevents men from undergoing a metamorphosis.

A garbage bin
Image: Unsplash

If men are trash, then some men are rubbish and some men are decent. This means that rubbish men can work on themselves, and become decent men. What’s more, it means that decent men can slip up and become rubbish men. 

Men are trash: These words provide a framework of accountability. They push men to be better to the Karabo Mokoenas that surround them.

But, if all men are trash, then all men are trash. Rubbish men will always be rubbish men. Men have nothing that they can inspire to. There are no ladders to climb. All men can do is go downwards. 

All men are trash: This phrase is a prison. It claims that our cycles of suffering can’t stop.

Part Three: The Origins of Boys Will Be Boys

In 1589, the phrase “boys will be boys” was recorded in English for the first time. However, the original version of this statement is even older. This saying derives from the more discerning Latin proverb: Children are children and do childish things.

Boys Will Be Boys book
Image: Book Adventures

Over the years, the saying “boys will be boys” has been sledged by many a person. This is because it’s been used to rationalise some cringey male behaviour. It’s been used to excuse boys when they fight, yell, and hide their feelings. It’s used to explain away men when they threaten or hurt other people.

According to the poet Fortesa Latifi, “We think we’ve come so far, but we hear ‘boys will be boys’ all the time. It feels like we’re poisoning little boys, telling them that aggression is okay. It’s decades and generations of trauma.”

But why are we discussing this ancient phrase? Why bring it up now? Well, because it’s eerily similar to the phrase “all men are trash.”

Both of these statements limit the male experience. They both box men from self-improvement, growing empathy, and becoming sanctuaries. The only difference between these two sayings is the packaging.

It’s time to wrench these phases from the souls of our vocabularies. It’s time to throw down more gauntlets at the feet of all dudes. ‘Cause men aren’t inherently trash, nor are they inherently decent. Men are capable of being super generous, unspeakable acts of evil, and everything that sits in between.

Men are trash, let’s pray that blokes transcend this legacy.

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