Dear men, changing the fear behind ‘Am I Next’ starts with you. Here’s how you can start to fight against gender-based violence. You need to recognise rape culture, take accountability and create safe spaces. If you want to help us change the narrative, here’s what you need to do.
1. Ask for consent
Understand what is and ask for it. Remember that consent can be withdrawn at any stage, including during sex. A woman is allowed to change her mind at any time, for any reason. And – say it with your full chest – WOMEN DON’T OWE YOU SHIT.
Also, the word ‘no’ is not an invitation to negotiate. If you’ve had to coerce a ‘yes’ out of someone, that’s not it. Read body language. And guys, if you don’t get consent, then what you’re doing is assault.
This should go without saying, but we’ve seen really f*cked up things in the news, so I’ll say it anyway: Minors and unconscious people cannot give you consent.
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Related: How to Withdraw Consent During Sex
2. Stop saying #NotAllMen
It’s a weak, tired, unhelpful response. If you use it, you’re missing the whole point and letting your ego overshadow a national problem. The point is: gender-based violence and rape culture are systemic. It goes to the core of our society.
Femicide doesn’t happen in a vacuum, there’s a culture around it, that enables it. If you feel some type of way about #MenAreTrash, good. Introspect. Here’s how one man has done it:
‘I cannot understand how so many men are reacting to #MenAreTrash with #NotAllMenAreTrash. Gentlemen the response needs to be #ProtectOurWomen!!! It is OUR responsibility to eliminate the rot within our OWN kind. Why are we allowing our women to take responsibility for what we are doing to them? WE should be the ones marching to protect our women and eliminate the scum! We need to step up and eliminate this. It is our responsibility! #MenAreTrash #ProtectOurWomen #EliminateTheRot!!!!’ – Lee Jacobs (Pilot, 27).
There’s a lot of accountability in this statement. And that’s what makes this so great. It challenges men to stop trying to shrug off responsibility for the ways in which toxic masculinity plays out. We’ve all witnessed it in social situations. It challenges men to step up. Change is up to all of you and each of you.
3. Call sexists out (from a mate at a braai to your boss)
We need you guys to act. Imagine if every time a man catcalled a woman, all the men around him made him shut TF up? That’s what we need. Be that guy. Make it a problem in your presence.
If you see someone harassing a woman, say something, do something. One of the worst things about catcalling and harassment is that it happens in public, it’s brazen, it’s so normalised that all the other men just look away and pretend it isn’t happening. That’s pretty f*cked up. Don’t look away. Act.
Similarly, when you see more “nuanced” sexist behaviour, call it out in the moment. Whether it’s at a braai, in a Whatsapp group, at the office or on the street. This includes your uncles, cousins, fathers, grandfathers, friends, strangers, colleagues, bosses.
If you turn a blind eye to it, you are making it acceptable in that space (physical or digital space). This includes sexist jokes (sexist jokes normalise sexism), sexist memes, and more overtly, violent behaviour, like harassment. It’s all on the same continuum.
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4. Call YOURSELF Out
So key. It isn’t easy to do. But it’s so, so important. It starts with you. It’s okay to admit it to yourself and others that you used to forward or laugh at sexist memes, for example. If you’ve learnt why that’s not ok, and now you do better, speak on it and be honest about it.
There’s huge power in taking accountability and being self-reflexive.
There’s so much potential for change and dialogue in this alone. It’s also okay to admit that you’ve gotten defensive at the phrase #MenAreTrash. It’s okay to admit that you’re improving, and it’s important to reflect on how. Here’s another stellar example from a self-reflexive man:
“When I first saw the #MenAreTrash hashtag, my ego was immediately bruised. But when you realize that 100% (not 80/90/99.99%) of our South African women are living in fear of being next, you put that ego aside and get on board!!! And when we do find the real trash men, you take it up with them my brothers. But for now, I’m not going to water down the campaign with #rapistsAreTrash, #notAllMenAreTrash or the other lame ones – I’m committed to doing my best – to protect our women and children. Even if its calling out your best friend, team mate or colleague at a braai, or locker room or whatever. Non trash men – are you committed to protecting our women and children too? #itStopsNow #enoughIsEnough” – Sam Christian.
There’s nothing better than seeing this. Personal, internalised reflection and progress.
5. Believe Women
Trauma is not for you to doubt. It is not your place to question when or why someone decides to speak out about abuse or harassment. Studies show sexual assault can affect your health for decades. Believe women, believe survivors.
Don’t dismiss their narratives, fears and lived experiences. Instead of trying to make a point, just listen. And when you listen, don’t victim-blame. It’s never the victim’s fault, don’t make it about what she was wearing, whether she was drinking, the time of day, the location. Women get assaulted sober in broad daylight, as children by relatives, in post offices… the list goes on. Stop blaming the victim and the circumstance.
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6. You Don’t Decide That You’re An Ally, We Do
I don’t care if you’re standing topless with your pecks out at a women’s march holding a big-ass sign saying #MenAreTrash. Nothing automatically makes you an ally. We decide if you are.
At the #AmINext protest last week, our (male) President said the following to a mass of protesters: “I know what you are going through”. The crowd was not having it. First of all, no. You don’t know and you never will.
Support the movement, speak out when you see men being trash, take action. But don’t act like you know what it means to be a woman in this country, and to hold all the fear that comes with that. Because you just don’t.
7. Don’t Rape, Harass, Catcall…
Or stare daggers into us, send us dozens of unsolicited dick pics, slut-shame us and bombard us with messages when we’ve indicated we’re not interested. Also, see this slippery slope for exactly what it is.
Don’t rape. I can’t emphasise this enough. South African women are tired of weaponising their car keys, carrying pepper spray, looking over their shoulders in fear at night, second-guessing their clothing choices, watching their drinks – we’re on guard all the time. All of the time. And we still get raped, assaulted and harassed.
So, at some stage, the message has to become: DON’T RAPE (and not don’t get raped). That stage is now. We will not be next.
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