Starting from an early age, young men and boys subconsciously form ideas about gender identity through the hypermasculinization of men and hypersexualization of women that are depicted through media such as film and television, and through our immediate communities, such as our neighborhoods, schools, and friends.
The internalization of these messages creates a cycle of young men and boys believing that in order to “be a man,” they must convey violent and aggressive traits to exhibit their dominance over women. They begin to objectify women in the sense that women, or the number of women they’ve been with sexually, become a factor in their personal representation of masculinity.
This mindset, however, strips women and girls of their individual identity and distances men and boys from their connection to their emotions. If their understanding of masculinity is through the forces of dominance that they are exposed to, they’ll subconsciously belittle anything but those same forces, and make homophobic remarks to combat them. However, doing this only contradicts the goal of feminism. As Black feminist bell hooks writes, “Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression. Therefore, it is necessarily a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels, as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.”
What is hindering boys and men from becoming active members in the liberation of all people are their illogical homophobic fears that were formed through their early socialization around the topic of their gender identity. Oftentimes, when a boy calls another boy gay, they are referring to them doing something that is seen as more ‘feminine’, which does nothing but reflect the sexist mindset that they possess. They’d rather dismiss something that doesn’t reflect the superiority complex that they developed instead of working towards the eradication of these ‘[ideologies] of domination that permeate Western culture on various levels’.
I am now taking a high school feminism course and our reading of the Combahee River Collective’s Black Feminist Statement from 1977 taught me the necessity of intersectionality in order to engage in meaningful feminist work. Although the term “intersectionality” was coined by critical race law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, the queer Black women who wrote this statement in the 70s were able to effectively convey this theory about how to address the interlocking systems of oppression, namely, racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. They essentially outlined that the liberation of Black women would signify the liberation of all oppressive systems, highlighting the necessity to become an active member in the fight to dismantle the white supremacist and sexist patriarchy.
During a class trip we took to the U.N. for International Day of the Girl, I was able to understand intersectionality as it applies to everyday situations nationally and globally. Listening to the various speakers at the Girls Speak Out event, I was able to identify the ways in which they applied an intersectional lens to those issues. For example, the girl activist who spoke on climate change illuminated for me the necessity to provide safe humanitarian aid for girls of color following a natural disaster, as I learned that there are alarming rates at which girls of color are sexually assaulted after a disaster.
I previously ignored the influence that intersecting identities have on all people. I disregarded and separated the issues that girls and women of color face as issues that could not be related to feminism, which made me complicit as an agent of the patriarchy. Doing so carries the same subconscious narrative as saying the phrase “women and people of color.” It implies that the term ‘women’ addresses only white women, and disregards the fact that women of color face issues based on their gender and racial identity. In the past, I had grown silent during conversations about feminism because I, again, viewed feminism as a struggle for women based only on their gender identity. However, as Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian poet explains in an essay titled, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” she writes, ”to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, [it’s important to recognize that] it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence.” Silence is another form of violence. The ability to stay silent on an issue that doesn’t affect you exhibits your privilege to not be affected by that issue. And when I stayed silent in conversations about feminism, I failed to acknowledge my male privilege.
I now strive to act as a positive role model to my little brother. Although I know I can’t be a perfect shield that blocks him from all negative influences, I can make sure that I instill positive messages in him. As a Latino boy, I understand that it might often be hard to navigate life due to a lack of positive male role models, specifically men of color. The depictions and expectations of Black and Latino men that are shown in media, movies, and television convey false ideas and perceptions around masculinity. For example, Latino men are often hyper-romanticized and hyper-sexualized in the media, instilling a heteronormative expectation of masculinity into young Latino boys. The internalization of these ideas creates a cycle of young men and boys who subconsciously/consciously uphold the patriarchy, and perpetuate it in their daily lives through their language and everyday interactions. To continue the cycle, and allow my younger brother to succumb to the patriarchy is my biggest fear, and I strive to prevent this at all costs.
I initially decided to take a high school course on feminism taught by Ileana Jiménez due to the positive recommendations my friends gave it. I was also interested in exploring the ways that I could contribute to feminist conversations as I was generally confused with what my ‘role’ as a man would be. Oftentimes, I return to the first thoughts piece we wrote at the start of the trimester. In the beginning, I solely viewed feminism as a struggle for equality by women based only their gender identity. I now see the importance of recognizing the ways in which we are socialized to succumb to the patriarchy and how I must work against the silences that try to keep me complicit in upholding domination.