Are You a Man?

Men are afraid of feminism because of the culture of hypermasculinity that we are raised in. I’ve seen others get so caught up in judging feminism that I realized that they don’t even know what it means to be a man. The biggest reason being a feminist is frowned upon is because of the negative representation it receives in the media.

Prior to taking a high school feminism class with Ileana Jiménez in the fall of 2017 at LREI, over 80 percent of my associations with feminism were negative. This was largely because of journalists like Peter Lloyd disrespect women and feminists regularly, and sexist videos which can be easily found on Youtube. These two outlets alone have large audiences and disseminate stereotypes to thousands, many of whom are kids learning about feminism for the first time.

Few men of influence are stepping up to learn about feminism and recognize the merits it contributes to society. The culture of toxic and hyper masculinity contributes to both the oppression of women and the fact that many men are unwilling to recognize their privilege as well as learn about how their privilege contributes to the marginalization of many groups.

During the fall of 2014, I was a high school freshman. At that time, an older peer, Jaron Evelyn, our former student body president, took the same feminism class with five other boys that year. I thought this was interesting because outside of the LREI community, most of what I heard about feminism was negative. For example, I often heard that feminists do not like men and their goal was to put women in charge of them. This was not helped by the fact that the critics of feminism were always men and feminists are almost always female.

I was unaware of the fact that men could be feminist.  

However, I have learned more about the boys, specifically boys of color, who have taken this class in the past. During the fall of 2015, Henry Gonzalez and Adrian Pinos took the feminism class. Later in the winter of 2016, there were a record six boys in the feminism class. The process from thinking young men couldn’t be feminist to knowing that a good number of boys took the feminism class in the past was very transformative for me.

Part of the reason why I took feminism was because of the model that other young men of color set in my community. I do not think I would have considered taking the feminist class if black males who I respected like Simon and  Joseph hadn’t taken the class before me. They made being curious about feminism acceptable.  

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Jaron Evelyn was in this feminism class in 2014. That year, the class had five boys in it (photo source: Ileana Jiménez)

When I asked Jaron back in 2014 why he took the feminism class, he told me that, “It’s important to understand something before you form an opinion on it.”  Jaron’s words had an impact on me. Now, as a senior, I decided to take feminism because I hate being ignorant. I think it’s wrong to judge feminism without being educated about it.

I wanted to test two things: 1) Challenge hypermasculinity by learning about feminism. and 2) Test whether feminism is bad as the media portrays.  

As I have taken this course, I have thought about what it means to break cycles of toxic masculinity and hypermasculinity. For me it means being unafraid of being judged by my male peers. I’m in an unusual position at LREI as a young Black man at a majority white school, because my Black and white male peers both respect me. When I decided to take the feminism class I knew I would not be judged. The way I look at it, being masculine means not letting the opinions of others dictate how you act; more specifically how you treat women.

I respected Jaron for taking the feminism class. My experience as an underclassman at LREI has helped me form the belief that no other man can tell me how masculine I am. Some myths about this class were that it warps the minds of young men, or that in order to take this class you had to be a woman, or member of the LGBTQ community.

In society being masculine has become a competition that begets misogyny and ignorance towards the problems caused by every male being afraid of not being perceived as a man. In other words the reproduction of the hypermasculine male.

It wasn’t until I discovered Audre Lorde’s essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” that I realized the connection between homophobia, misogyny, and hypermasculinity. In her piece, she elucidates how racism, sexism, and homophobia are inseparable because they are all a part of systemic oppression. For example, you cannot separate racism and sexism from homophobia because the most marginalized and assaulted group of people in America are trans Black women.

I have learned from having a classmate who is also a trans/non-binary student of color that self identification can not define a person as a whole. In this society it takes tremendous amount of strength to be able identify as trans/non-binary, and it says more about character than it does one’s gender identity.

When it is finally normal for everyone to protect trans Black women, we can conclude that society is equal because if the most marginalized group is protected we all are. Hypermasculinity is a master’s tool like the aforementioned because it perpetuates notions division in society based on the notion that straight, cisgender men are superior in society. In many ways transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny are a result of that fact.

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One moment in this class that really awakened me was when Black feminist Barbara Smith, who is one of the co-founders of the Combahee River Collective, came to visit my class via Skype. The moment that resonated with me was when she talked about how black women felt prone in the Civil Right movement, more specifically the Black Panthers movement. She explained how sex was used for dominance during the movement, and how the men expected to lead while women were expected to take a back seat despite being laden with the same burdens. I realized during our conversation with her that this was an extension of the master’s tools, essentially a system were men always maintained power. This was an eye opening experience for me because despite the fact that a Black group had power, the Black Panthers’ social construct failed to discard the mold that white society left behind. That mold was hypermasculinity, which is a part of white supremacy.   

As an LREI alum once said in a video featuring the feminism class from 2014, “not a lot of men are violent but most men are silent,” which is a tagline from Breakthrough’s campaign on stopping violence against women. Silence is a form of violence because it means submission to a society that oppresses women. It means that you as a man are not moved enough by love or mutual respect for women as human beings to fight for their rights as you would your own.      

Changing the tradition of hypermasculinity, like in my personal story, is all about leading or being led by example.

I now realize that hypermasculinity is passed down in large by parenting. From a very young age, my Guyanese grandmother would make fun of gay people while we watched television together by calling them “butterflies.” She would even go as far to say that I better not bring a man home ever to my mom, while we watched gay fashion designers on HGTV.  I thought to myself, “Thank God I’m not gay,” which seems pretty messed up in retrospect, but it just goes to show how parenting and society effects the thought processes of kids from a young age. As a result, I like many other young black men cast away anything dealing with homosexuality and femininity without realizing it because I did not fall under the category of being a woman or gay.  

Now I realise that homophobia, misogyny, and hypermasculinity are passed down from generation to generation.

My grandmother grew up in Guyana during the 1950’s and 60’s. Without a doubt, being gay was not accepted as she grew up. I recall her telling me many stories when male students in her high school got boiling pots of water thrown on them for sleeping with other men, and this cruel violence still occurs here in America today. My grandmother has continued to pass down the messages about homophobia and gender roles she learned in Guyana. One minor way I notice this is when she talks about work. When she is working for gay clients she shows them respect, but makes fun of them when she talks about her day with her family. She questions how two men could raise a kid.

My mom tells me me to ignore her jokes because they are rude, but I feel like she only supports me respecting other people’s sexual identities because she never had to question whether I am straight. I feel like my mom would love me the same but respect me less if I were gay, which is the result of my grandmother’s parenting.

Sometimes my grandmother is hypocritical. She’ll tell me not to use a straw while drinking out of a glass because she thinks only girls do that. Then she’ll tell me to wash the dishes five minutes later, and I’ll retort that I don’t know how to wash the dishes because only girls do that. Her response in that situation is always silence and I think it is her acknowledging that there is an error in the way she has raised me.

That being said, the fact that I am a straight man who is not discriminated against based on sexual preference is a privilege that I have always taken for granted. I want to change that. Taking this feminism class helped me understand my male privilege, and my ability to reach and hold the attention of males at LREI, especially during our feminism assembly on violence against women. I decided to be visible during that event by starting and ending the assembly by asking the audience, specifically straight boys, “why aren’t you a feminist?,” while giving my reasons so for being one.

By doing so I hoped to use my gender for solidarity with the feminism class rather than creating a schism between women and men like in the Black Panther Party. I hope to be a man by supporting and elevating the non-binary and transgender members of my community. I believe that breaking hypermasculinity means being unafraid to do so.

Most people aren’t feminist because they do not understand it. As a straight, cisgender African American man, it is my and other Black men’s duty to learn about the struggles of others and take action even if we as Black men think it does not concern us.    

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