When the ‘wave’ of feminism began at the end of the 19th Century, it was associated with the ideas and actions of the women’s liberation movement. Activism focused primarily on gaining political power, although some feminists were active in campaigning for women’s sexual, reproductive, economic rights, and legal and social equality.
Many, however, argue that the recent wave of feminism contains internal debates between different types of feminists, that is; those who believe there are important differences between the sexes, and those who believe there are no inherent differences between the sexes and contend that gender roles are due to social conditioning.
Last year, a series of attacks on women across South Africa dominated headlines and spawned the movement, which strongly denounced the wave of femicide in the country.
The social media movement, #MenAreTrash gained traction in South Africa and spread to other parts of the continent. It draws attention to the systematic way in which men are ‘trash’.
Feminists in favour of the movement argue that it is not about singling out individuals, rather, exposing and addressing the abuse, injustice, discrimination, and disrespect experienced by women at the hands of men, in public and behind closed doors.
Consequently, several men have become involved in discussions related to gender-based violence and are starting to notice how patriarchy had blinded them.
However, just a few weeks ago, Winnie Bange on Twitter, in trying to replace #menaretrash revived the #menarekings hashtag, arguing that feminism advocates for social, political, economic equality of the sexes, as opposed to trashing men.
“I agree. They exist. Trashy men exist. We have tolerated them too long. I must talk about the good apples. Your #menaretrash doesn’t. Good apples exist. And I need the good apples to help me get rid of the bad apples. I can’t do it alone,” she tweeted.
Her tweets have sparked a debate on social media, where feminists believe that she is preventing the evolution of a discussion that could lead to real change, and replacing what matters with yet more pampering of male egos.
Frank Rutayisire, an ICT expert, believes that the debate all depends on people’s perceptions and how they view men. He says that feminism is supposed to preach equality but some women have toxic behavioural patterns, then claim to be feminists.
“The latter wave of feminism is instead celebrating sexuality as a means of female empowerment. Feminists have been doing harm to women by making themselves very unpopular, not only with men, but with other women.
“Feminists don’t like to discuss the natural interdependence of the sexes. They are so busy “empowering” women that it doesn’t occur to them that they are instead encouraging a sense of entitlement. I believe that most women want protection and support from men, especially from their fathers and the fathers of their children. Feminists fail to address this basic human reality, just like women also have the ability to civilise men,” he says.
Jemima Kakizi, an artist, believes that many of the activists react basing on the events that occurred to them. She says that nowadays, feminism has been misinterpreted by some women to mean that women should be superior to men. For her, it’s about each party respecting the other.
“Some men are not in support of feminism because some people are misusing the term. Feminism at first was all about advocacy and thus necessitated getting men involved in fighting for equal rights and protecting victims of gender-based violence.
“It’s an insult to call all men trash because not all of them are against feminism and neither do they all understand it, although this still doesn’t give them the right to mistreat women,” she says.
Axelle Umutesi, a TV presenter, also believes that the whole movement has been misunderstood and is now fighting against men, in a world where “we need their support.”
“Women are moving away from the real idea of exposing the evil and generalising all men, yet feminism is now becoming anti-men. If we are calling ourselves queens, a kingdom has a king so if you don’t respect him, how will he respect your crown?” Umutesi says.
She adds, “We have seen women who have mistreated people, should we also come out and say women are trash? If men were to come and expose what women do, then women will call it patriarchy but in the end, women are also trying to put men down and I do not believe in putting others down to lift myself up.
“There are so many men in the world who are empowering women, like Obama and our president, and if we say men are trash are we including them? Do we want to isolate this world for women alone?” she wonders.
Its effect on the younger generation
With all the debate going on, there is concern as to whether the debate will have an effect on how the younger generation views the opposite sex.
For Umutesi, the young generation will always learn about these issues but the effect on them will depend on how they are raised by their parents.
“It comes down to how parents explain all this. If you are the kind who calls all men trash, definitely your sons will grow up thinking that they are trash, while your daughters will live with resentment towards men. I wouldn’t want my child to grow up thinking my father, who has been more than a man, is trash. What kind of person would I be raising?” she says.
Pascal Niyonsenga, a gender activist, believes that feminism still has a long way to go in empowering women, and that whatever people’s perceptions are, young people should join the movement to prevent history from repeating itself.
“Before the rise of feminism, few believed women were capable of achieving something remarkable in various fields other than housekeeping. Feminists managed to break this stereotype, resulting in a world where both genders have equal rights and privileges.
“We are in the 21st Century, where women and girls still face discrimination, unequal status, and violence. Feminism opposes exploitation and abuse based on gender and sexuality; we need feminism to achieve social justice, he says.
Niyonsenga says that stereotyping presents a big obstacle to the achievement of real gender equality and breeds gender discrimination.
“Stereotyping limits the development of natural talents and abilities of the different sexes, their educational and professional experiences, as well as life opportunities in general. We need, at an early stage, to sensitise young people on equal rights for the betterment of the generation,” Niyonsenga says.
Kakizi says that the right way to put an end to the stereotypes is by understanding each other and learning to respect one another “because truth be told, there are things a man can do that a woman cannot and vice versa by virtue of nature.”
For Kakizi, it should not be a competition, rather, productivity, as we play different roles.
“We need to teach young people what equality is really about and change the mindset. A man should not feel manipulated because a woman earns more than him, times have changed. A man in this age should be able to change diapers and be part of the family because we all work for similar hours,” she says.
Umutesi, on the other hand, believes that women should confront the past the right way.
“We do not need to praise men, rather, individuals, because not all of them are good. We need to go back to the initial point of empowering women without putting men down, expose the evil and not the people. That is when men will join the movement,” she says.
What is feminism?
Feminism, for me, is not wishing that women have the same rights as men. Feminism is having basic human rights and being able to live life freely and safely, without being judged. Forcing the idea of pseudo-feminism will not bring freedom from patriarchy.
Christine Iribagiza, Human resource manager
I believe feminism is equality in all aspects and not judging a person’s skills and talents based on gender. It can never be something where females are above males, but it is something where both are equal. What’s disheartening is that sexism exists even among the educated.
Steven Nkotanyi, Photographer
I believe that feminism starts with us. Feminism, to me, is about equality of men and women, not “similarity”. Women, because their bodies are different, are not the same as men so there can’t be equality in that sense. Men and women have different physical capabilities and these physical differences mean equality is not possible.
Isaac Keishe, Technician
I am a Christian and therefore believe in the Biblical perception of gender roles. However, some men are not playing their roles and this has forced us to stand up for our rights because society expects us to carry out men’s roles.
Rebekah Talitha, Nurse