Life

The Angry Email I Got Over and Over

On the final episode of Man Up, a conversation about #MenAreTrash—and how it ties into the central complaint many men had about the show.

Ismail sitting cross-legged on a couch, looking to the side
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Aymann Ismail.

On the final episode of Man Up, Aymann Ismail talked to four Muslim guys from his friend group text about the #MenAreTrash hashtag—what it means to them, why it bothers them, and what the reaction to it says about masculinity. Then, Aymann reflected on the show as a whole and revealed the most common complaint he heard about it. This transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Aymann Ismail: I totally empathize with the fact that this hashtag even needs to exist because there are just men out there who are trash, objectively. But on the other side of it, I feel like if we’re trying to include ourselves in this movement, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. Like if I were to say to somebody else “all men are trash,” what I’m saying is I’m trash. And I don’t feel like trash.

Raihan: Well, I think trash is a difficult word with some damaging connotations. But I think it represents either that we’re flawed or that we have engaged in behavior that’s negative and harmful, not just to women, but also to ourselves. A lot of women complain, “You’ve got to heal yourself before you can come holler at me.” And that’s what I’m trying to say: There’s personal work that has to be done.

Omar: Because all men benefit from male privilege, we all at some point are complicit in the patriarchy. At best, we have some trash tendencies.

Aymann: As Muslims, we deal a lot with generalizing, and we know how hurtful it could be when people expect us as Muslims to be held accountable for the worst Muslims around the world. I’ve spent my entire life trying to convince people that I’m not a terrorist, so why am I inclined to feel comfortable with a phrase that’s meant to make me feel accountable for men that aren’t me?

Shaiful: I don’t like the comparison because there’s no one in this room that has engaged in terroristic acts, but we are all complacent in patriarchy.

Raihan: So all generalizations are not equal, and some are more factual.

Rami: Can we take a step back? When I say I dislike the statement “all men are trash,” it does not mean I don’t want to uplift women. It just comes with a lot of assumptions about me as an individual. Like, what if a guy wants to help a woman out, he wants to help the movement, he wants to help them thrive? But then he hears “all men are trash.” The expectation should be that this man should be reflective and inquisitive of himself and reflect—maybe he doesn’t want to be [trash]. You know?

Aymann: Does anyone here co-sign the phrase and agree with it wholly?

Omar: Absolutely. Myself, definitely.

Shaiful: It doesn’t offend me. And when I’m around a group of women and they say men are trash, like, say what you gotta say. That’s how you feel, and they’re expressing life experiences that I will never, ever be able to relate to. I won’t say I don’t find it hurtful in certain ways, because obviously if someone came up to me and was like, “Oh, you’re a man and you’re trash,” I’m going to be taken aback. But my response can be to really aggressively be like, “Not all men,” “I have sisters,” and all this extra stuff that guys usually say. Or I can be like, “What could I be doing better as a man?” I think that language is super important and getting us to be more active and really pushing us forward as a society. It’s about leaving that comfort zone and sticking up for what’s right. And that’s why it doesn’t matter to me—it’s more so about amplifying the voices of women.

Aymann: I really like what you said just now. I feel like you’ve swayed me. When we started, I was thinking, Oh, man, this is offensive, and I feel excluded. But now I think you’re helping me understand that that’s maybe the point.

Rami: Can I disagree a bit? Personally, I’m always taking a step back and looking at the collective movement. I see it as harmony between the sexes, not competition. So when I hear “men are trash,” I feel like that takes us away from this world where people can work together and collaborate with one another and acknowledge their genuine emotions, because you’re basically saying one opinion matters more than the other. At least that’s what I hear. And I think that’s what a lot of other men hear too, specifically in the case of “men are trash.”

Raihan: There’s a saying in organizing spaces that those who are oppressed are closest to the solution. And if you listen to those who are oppressed, whether it be women, whether it be folks who live in formerly colonized countries, whether you listen to people of color, that involves ceding power. And when that happens, it gets deeply uncomfortable, and it’s actually painful, but that’s the point. Trash means you’re throwing something out—literally. You don’t need it anymore. So when you hear that, do you feel that you are not needed?

Omar: If a man is being truly introspective, I would imagine that they get to this point of, like, “Am I worth throwing out? Am I not worth anything to be kept?” And while there is some merit to the statement that the non-men of the world don’t need us—and there are plenty of spaces in which they don’t need us—maybe we need to know where those places are. We need to acknowledge that maybe I don’t need to help this young woman parallel park, just like every other dude on the street who sees anybody trying to parallel park.

Aymann: I’m thinking back to the Muslim metaphor and how angry I get at terrorists for fucking with our reputation as Muslims. I wonder if that’s the better reaction to have to this hashtag: I’m not going to be angry at the women who are using it. I’m going to be angry at the men who are fucking up our reputation.

Shaiful: That’s kind of what I’m saying: Why is it that we’re getting angry at women for expressing their experience and the way that they see fit to express it? Why is it that we aren’t correcting other men on their behavior? Because it may not be you, their idea of who might hurt them or something may not be you. Why are you OK with it being someone else? I don’t think the hashtag is solely there to make men feel a certain way. I think it’s supposed to get people talking about what we’re doing.

Aymann: I think that makes a lot of sense. I like thinking about it as the beginning of a conversation. Maybe this is a nice rallying cry that women identify with and they feel like they can use because it gets to the core of what they’ve been dealing with.

Raihan: It’s a call to action.

Aymann: Right. And as allies, it sounds like our job is to create our own little side hashtag to be like “it’s OK to feel like trash” or something like that, to keep the conversation going.

Omar: Wow, I love that. Because as soon as you said that you felt antagonized, I was like, “I’m here to feel antagonized with you.” Because I was there, I still am sometimes there, by the feedback I get, maybe at work, maybe at home, from Mom, maybe from my partner. There’s a pretty famous tweet, something like “Behind every woke man is 100 tired feminists.” So, I don’t need to be the 100th one that finally changed your mind, or the first one. There’s a lot of effort that goes in. I just gotta be one of them. We got five of them here. That’s five of them.

Raihan: And I think some more hashtags—you can include #wewontalwaysbetrash. Inshallah. Hopefully.

Jeffrey Bloomer: Thinking of all the criticisms and the responses and the things people have said to you and all you’ve learned from doing this show, if there was one takeaway, one particular thing that you’ve realized and that you would really hope that people take home with them from listening to this show over 40 episodes, what would it be?

Aymann: I do read the comments, and there’s this one particular comment that gets said over and over and over. It basically boils down to this: Why do you feel like you need to tear down manhood so that you can present yourself as someone smart or liberal or a social justice warrior, or as someone who wants to get laid or be a white knight or any of this shit?

It makes me wonder how the show is presenting. If you see the show and you listen to the episodes and you think to yourself, These people hate being men or They hate masculinity, then I don’t think that we’re doing the show correctly. Because that’s not the point at all. Every behavior is learned. And so I wanted to take apart those inherited characteristics for manhood and see what holds up and see what doesn’t. That was the intention: to see what was real, what mattered and what didn’t. And it just frustrates me to no end that there’s a lot of people out there who are apprehensive to that kind of criticism because they see a criticism of masculinity as a criticism of all men, or a sweeping condemnation of all men, which it’s not. I mean, that’s how we become better men. That’s why the show is called Man Up. This is an opportunity for us to be better men. Who wouldn’t want that?

If the only way for us to criticize masculinity is if we’re also at the same time praising it so that those kinds of people don’t feel threatened by it, then we have so much more work to do than I originally thought. It seems like we needed a prelude to the whole series all about why it’s OK to criticize masculinity before we got into the nitty-gritty and talked about whether or not it’s OK for a man to be afraid of doing yoga, or a man to be afraid of crying, or a man to feel like they have to be the man of the house, any of these things. And if you’re that person and you’re listening right now, it’s OK. That’s valid, that apprehensiveness is valid, but also realize that it’s necessary to criticize something in order for it to grow and improve. And so we’re doing important work, whether you’re on board or not.

To hear the entire episode, subscribe to Man Up on Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Look for the episode “The Angry Email I Get Over and Over.”