My Misinformed Male Brain Needs Feminism

I need feminism because how else will I see the truth? (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).
I need feminism because how else will I see the truth? (photo credit: Ileana Jiménez).

Before I took this high school class on feminism, I had all the wrong ideas about feminism, but I did not know I was wrong at the time. I saw feminists exactly how everyone else saw them and how I was taught to see them. I was taught to see them as just a bunch of angry women who couldn’t seem to stop begging and “bitching.”

Of course, this was just a terrible stereotype and I had not realized the fact that stereotypes are not true.

When I was in middle school, the principal and faculty tried to inform us about rape and sexual violence but I could honestly say that I did not care about any of it because I thought that these issues were not pertinent to the U.S. I was against violence against women but the thought of hurting girls and young women was unfathomable to me. I did not care about the topic of rape or sexual abuse until it happened to a close friend of mine. It filled me with so much rage and hatred but then my interest on the topic quickly deteriorated. The story stuck with me but sadly, it was the least of my worries.

It was not until my sophomore year of high school that I became interested in feminism because of my sister. She had started taking a women’s studies course at Lehman College. I will be honest and say that at first when she was taking this class, I found her pretty annoying. This was only because I did not enjoy hearing a ton of things about my everyday life correlating with male dominance and superiority.

Right around the same time, however, I was reading texts in my American literature class such as The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, In the Blood by Suzan Lori-Parks, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and suddenly, what my sister was telling me about sexism and racism started to make sense and I really started to listen. I finally decided to sign up for the feminism course taught by my same American lit teacher, Ileana Jiménez, and I do not regret it one bit.

We started the course with more of an international lens by exploring infanticide, commercial sexual exploitation, and gender-based violence in countries such as India. Watching documentary films such as Half the Sky really made me feel terrible in the sense that while I was growing up living a “normal” life, these girls were born straight into violence and for a large part of my life, I had turned my back on these girls who really needed help.

Then, as a class, we started prepping for our big International Day of the Girl assembly and celebration. This really filled me with so much hope because of girls like Parvati, who even though is a part of the group that is oppressed and denied an education, she still finds the courage and will to be the first in her family to learn how to read and write and finish school. That’s something that really encourages me to be a better person and if Parvati can do it then so can everyone else, but they need help along the way.

Gloria SteinemAfter that, we started to focus on feminist issues in the United States which was great because I didn’t know these issues were happening at home. Learning about the history of feminism and the three waves of feminism was great.

I was inspired by the documentary on the great Gloria Steinem. The film was called Gloria: In Her Own Words and I just found so much inspiration in seeing the struggle that Steinem, the co-founder of Ms. Magazine—which is also an inspirational and influential feminist magazine—went through from being an undercover Playboy bunny to being a feminist icon as well as a target for conservatives. It’s amazing the amount of progress that has been made under her leadership. It really made me feel like there was so much that I could do and be a part of this movement.

I think it is safe to say that the biggest and most influential part of taking this feminism class was when we started getting closer to home and talking about sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children in New York and the sexualization of women in the media.

We watched films like Miss Representation and I wrote a blog post reflecting on how watching this film gave me a new lens to understand the video games I’ve been playing all my life. I did not realize that the media was injecting gender expectations into my developing sponge of a mind. This film really forced me to sit down and re-evaluate my values and think about the effects that sexualized images in the the media has had on me.

For one thing, I surely did think that sexualizing women in ads and videos was wrong or a bad thing. I accepted it as something natural, that guys had hormones and their demand for sexualized images needed to be satisfied. Of course, I believed that until I realized I was utterly wrong. As a male classmate of mine said, “It made me come to the realization that I was a completely brainwashed American male who really had no idea what the media was doing to the public.

It was a pretty messed up truth, but a truth nonetheless.

The next part hurt even more because we discussed GEMS and the memoir that was written by Rachel Lloyd, the founder of GEMS, called Girls Like Us. The reason that this was hard to digest was because some of the girls in her memoir had been trafficked at Hunts Point, an area that I have grown up around my entire life.

Reading Lloyd’s memoir dismantled my way of thinking about Hunt’s Point that had inhabited my head for 16 years. The whole memoir is just filled with these depressing stories of girls being kidnapped, forced into the business, and tricked into loving their pimps and selling their bodies. I was disgusted and I could not be any more angry.

A dark street corner in Hunts Point with a sexually exploited women walking down the street.
A Hunts Point corner where girls and young women are trafficked.

This truth was just being served right at me with no restraints and it really hurt but it was a truth that I needed to hear because now when I look at Hunts Point, I do not see a disgusting wasteland filled with sex, drugs, and evil; instead, I see a community of victimized girls who are crying for help.

Feminism has shown me a really messed up truth that I could no longer stay misinformed about. That’s why I need feminism, because now I can join the fight for freedom that was ironically kept hidden from me by the American media.

Now I know about other forms of media that are helping to stop trafficking, such as this PSA from MTVu:

Or this PSA about stopping trafficking in Europe:

I do believe that the next course of action for the feminist movement should be trying to reach out to the young boys of America because it is clear to me that we need some help too. Considering males are the most dominant in society and in politics, and knowing how misinformed I was, we should start focusing on educating young boys on the effects of the media and the sexualization of girls and women on both males and females.

Having a much larger group of males growing up and contributing to the feminist movement will be very beneficial and it will help us reach the change that we want to see in the United States and around the world.

If boys are allowed to grow up with these destructive gender-based expectations without educating them, they will end up continuing the cycle of oppression and misogyny. I can only imagine where I would be without feminism.

“I realize now that it will take time. That the road to freedom is long and shrouded in darkness, but I find comfort in knowing that I do not fight alone.” (Connor, Assassins Creed 3)

5 thoughts on “My Misinformed Male Brain Needs Feminism

  1. Awesome post! I like how in the end you brought it back to your interest in video games! I found it really interesting and sad that when people talked to you about Hunts Point, they said to stay away from everyone there, but especially the prostitutes? Why the “prostitutes”? Aren’t they the ones least likely to physically harm you, compared to the pimps? But it is society’s way of looking down on the women, even more then the men, involved in the sex industry. Despite the fact these men are selling young girls on the street, society looks down more on the girls themselves, because there is an expectation of girls and women to somehow be both worldly, but also innocent and virginal. The difference in attitudes towards the pimps and the exploited girls is ridiculous. Really great job!

  2. You really encapsulated a lot of things in this post. First of all I like how you kind of laid out the curriculum of the class because I feel as though other people reading our blogposts don’t know everything we have studied and don’t get the full picture of everything we have covered in the class because we don’t write about everything that we do in class or about everything we experience.

    You also really captured the preconceived notions of a lot of guys that I talk to who don’t have the sort of feminist lens or even the open mind that we acquire when we attend LREI. Just like when you mention that, “I did not enjoy hearing a ton of things about my everyday life correlating with male dominance and superiority” a lot of people with an upper hand in society don’t like talking about their privilege because it makes them feel like society has made them the antagonist. That’s one of the preconceived notions about feminism: that we are all “bitches” ranting about things that the rest of the world finds extreme or uncomfortable to talk about.

    You also touch upon the gender expectations that perpetuate this ignorance and I agree that guys will have to become more open to the issues that surround us in our lives. So I definitely think that men need to be included in the conversation.

  3. The photo of Hunts Point reminds me of parts of the movie Very Young Girls. In the film, some survivors of sexual exploitation showed where they had been trafficked. Some of the streets seemed more empty (like the Hunts Point photo) and others were very crowded with people during the day. It’s weird and horrifying to think about how at night everything changes.

  4. I appreciate how open and honest you were and I am happy that this course has made you a more dedicated feminist and that it unveiled the stereotypes that surround it. I also shared the enlightenment of feminism through my sister, who was the main reason why I too took the class because she talked so highly about it.

    “If boys are allowed to grow up with these destructive gender-based expectations without educating them, they will end up continuing the cycle of oppression and misogyny. I can only imagine where I would be without feminism.” This quote really emphasizes how scary and destructive we can be as a society if we let these ideas perpetuate themselves.

  5. This is a very honest piece that you wrote Luis! I appreciate the first sentences that you wrote about how you misinterpreted feminism and though of it as just “angry women” complaining. And I liked reading how you thought rape and violence in the U.S. seemed “unfathomable” to you before because I thought a similar opinion too. But as you included in your picture, the truth “does piss you off.” It got me angry to know about sex trafficking happening in New York City. It got me pissed to know that the average age for a girl to become be trafficked was 13 years old. But what does not piss me off is that some have taken initiative into stopping sex trafficking. Your two videos proved it! More minds need to be informed about the painful truth. Great post!

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