Validating Social Movements - Neo Khambule
Social Movement; (noun): A loosely organised effort by a large group of people
to achieve a particular goal- typically recognition as well as social or systematic change.
If you’ve chosen to read this piece, it means one of two things. Either, you inherently agree with me, or you undoubtedly don’t. As much as I write this clouded by my own biases, I understand that, and it is important that you do too. The purpose of this piece is not to discuss perpetrators, or those who feel empowered or generally privileged individuals who are often found to be the opposition of social movements.
The purpose is to discuss the movements themselves, and thus encapsulates victims,
survivors, fighters, and allies. Social movements are about them, as well as for them, and to break away from that is to prove the very reason they are necessary.
As I did my nightly scroll through Twitter, a routine we all know too well, I came across a thread which had been retweeted by many boys from primarily single-sex boys schools in Johannesburg, many of whom I know personally. The tweet that had sparked this particular discussion was a repost of a TikTok trend, wherein non-english speakers would attempt to pronounce the word “trash,” and would say the word “men,” a reference to the long-standing movement “#MenAreTrash”.
For those of you that haven’t heard of this before, let me update you. #MenAreTrash is a social movement, primarily on social media, which aims to allow women to speak out against patriarchal, sexist and toxic masculine behaviour. It also encourages educating men on the toxic traits which are ingrained in them from birth.
Sounds good right? These high school boys seemed to care about a movement that forced them to acknowledge their own responsibility in the disassembly of the patriarchy. Well, unfortunately, not exactly.
See, the part of the thread that was widely retweeted were not the numerous comments that spoke out about the female experience. The part of the thread that was widely retweeted were the comments written primarily by men which said one of two things. The first: some variety of the words, “Are you guys not bored of this already?". The second: “Would agree, but they forgot the word 'most'”.
While the first is clearly pure ignorance, which I’m sure isn’t something I need to prove, the second is a viewpoint that I’m aware many boys and men hold, even in the most progressive spaces I’ve experienced.
So, why don’t we just say “#MostMenAreTrash,” seems easy enough right ? In the simplest of terms, if we do this, we give people (in this case men) the ability to place a movement outside of themselves. The people that one aims to target with a movement are the
people that take issue with the movement in the first place. If we use the word “most,” we give the very people we are targeting the ability to say that they are somehow exempt from changing. If every person that the movement targets does this, then what change do we achieve? I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met a man who doesn’t benefit from sexism in some way or another. Let me know if you have.
It’s as simple as this: the men that actively understand the inherent power they hold, do not have an issue with this hashtag. It is completely futile to try to validate or agree with a movement that targets you, by believing that it is applicable to everyone except yourself.
Now, here comes the most important question; what should you do when you are the target of a movement that you want to support ? The first, and arguably most important thing, is to acknowledge why this movement exists, and what role you have, or haven't played in that - both currently and historically. With that base understanding, it is extremely difficult to go wrong. The second thing is to know that, by supporting a movement, cause, or viewpoint which targets you, you are identifying with a group of people that expect change, or action from you, and you need to be willing to accept that responsibility. Embracing this responsibility may take the form of internal change as well as trying to influence others - your family, friends, school etc. There are many ways to participate in and inspire social change.
No one can tell you how to make a change that feels meaningful to you. And that, reader, is what I want to leave you with today. If you’ve read this piece, it means one of three things: you still agree with me or you still don’t or maybe, just maybe, you’ve changed your mind.
I said earlier that no one can tell you how to make a change that feels meaningful to you. Personally, what makes me feel empowered is the ability to express these views and opinions openly, and to engage with people who see things differently. It could be naïve to believe that this changes anything, but I have the responsibility and desire to try anyway.