Last week I spent three days in court for a reporting assignment. The assignment exposed me to more than I had mentally prepared for.

Three out of the seven cases I listened to were criminal cases on murder and rape charges. This meant sitting one bench away from somebody who had allegedly raped or killed (or both), a woman or had been found guilty of doing so.

Hearing the details of murders and experiences of rape victims during cross-examination and trials left me shook. The victims were an ex-girlfriend, wife or woman who knew the accused.

I couldn’t comprehend or accept that these were actual occurrences. Two of the men accused of rape and murder didn’t fit the image of what I had thought a murderer would look like. The first, arrived with a branded track suit, clean shaven and seemed unshaken, while the second individual who had been charged with four counts of rape, attempted murder and kidnapping arrived in a fitted suit.

The only reminders that these individuals had allegedly committed crimes were the chains on their ankles. As much as it didn’t feel real while I listened to the court cases, it started affecting my day-to-day interactions thereafter because it is now difficult to encounter a man who I don’t know without questioning their motives.

With the upsurge and current spotlight on gender-based violence following the death of Karabo Mokoena, Nosipho Mandleleni and numerous unnamed victims, the rise in females speaking out on their experiences on social media has made it overwhelming to be a female. The violence has reminded me of a line from an untitled poem by Nayyirah Waheed: “All the women inside of me are tired.”

The ‘Men Are Trash’ hashtag on social media sparked debates on gender-based violence and also brought issues of patriarchy in our society to light. Many men and even women on social media disagreed that #MenAreTrash, insisting that #NotAllMen are trash. The #MenAreTrash, however, allows the traditional concept of masculinity, which is currently problematic to be questioned as a whole.

The hashtag should be seen as an opportunity to engage issues that not only include women, but all members of society. Men should not feel attacked as a result of the hashtag. Women and even men should be allowed to discuss the challenges of being a female in society without being told that there are men who are good and responsible in their own spaces.

#NotAllMen, as a response, is a measure of consoling oneself as a man while overlooking  the fact that women face problems such as groping, cat-calling, being afraid to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, to name a few. It seems as if because men feel attacked by #MenAreTrash, the leaves of a problematic tree are being pulled, instead of the roots.

The cycle of patriarchy is vicious and leaves even the males who do not agree with patriarchy in a negative position where they, just as women, become vulnerable when speaking against patriarchy because it means they are disqualified from what it means to be a man.It is okay and courageous for a man to speak up against patriarchy.

Patriarchal norms and gender-based violence need to be collectively challenged. If being a good and responsible man in your own space means #NotAllMen are trash, then why has being a ‘good woman’ not reaped its fruits?