I came to Ileana Jiménez’s feminism class with a limited understanding of what feminism is. I, like many, believed that feminism was only for women and my role in the classroom would be limited. However, during our class visit to a one day conference called Global Radicalism: Solidarity, Internationalism, and Feminist Futures held at The People’s Forum and hosted by the Barnard Center for Research for Women in New York, it was made clear that feminism isn’t exclusive to women.
One of the opening speakers was a white male scholar named John Munro who said: “Black feminism is for everyone, but does not belong to everyone.” This is the moment where I realized that I too, can be liberated and incorporate feminism into my life.
During my time with my feminist teacher, Ileana, I have been able to shave off my past misconceptions of feminism. One specific misconception that I had was, “I have nothing to gain from feminism, and I will just be blamed for everything.” However, as soon as I got over myself, I was able to see the true implications of feminist thought and action and how everyone, including men and boys are needed for the liberation of all people.
During this class, I was introduced to the idea of self-examination and its essential role in feminism. It is the idea that we cannot take part in the liberation of others unless we are conscious of our own oppression. Although there is so much that I have yet to discover, I have seen a change within myself and how I understand the world. Being raised in a traditional Latino family is not only about great food and music: it is also about receiving false gender roles and problematic messages from the men and women around me. From a young age, I was told that a man had to be a specific way: strong, assertive, and stoic. My Aunt Alicia would reinforce these ideas through her words. She would brush off my cousins and me by saying “stop being a little girl,” if we cried.
And yet, while I was growing up, there were always women in power within my family. Therefore, I was never taught that men were better than women, however, I quickly learned that as a man, I was expected to be and do different things than women and girls. For example, my family would find it appropriate to ask me “¿cuántas novias tienes?” or “how many girlfriends do you have?” because they, too, were raised to believe that men and boys should first of all, be straight, and have a lot of women and girls in one’s possession. This was seen as a way to show masculinity in the form of domination. I now see that members of my family are carriers of this disease known as toxic masculinity; in Latino culture this can also be called, machismo.
Men and boys of color are pressured into upholding the patriarchy. Our culture and surroundings force us into the confinement of unhealthy norms of masculinity. We are raised to believe that we must be the toughest, fastest, tallest, and “get the most girls,” as women are nothing but a conquest that solidifies our position within the social hierarchy. In addition, under a racist patriarchy, men and boys of color have also been taught to deny any presence of emotion. Lorde makes a distinction between pornography and the erotic when she states that watching porn “emphasizes sensation without feeling,” and this idea also connects to how boys and men are raised. We need to realize that we need to feel real emotion with our partners instead of just collect women for “sensation without feeling.”
Coming to consciousness has offered me the ability to notice my own experience of anguish within the patriarchy. One source of my agony is growing up hearing the phrase, “man-up.” Whether it came from a man or a woman, it was always a loaded term. The phrase that glooms over boys for the rest of their lives. In the past, I have mentioned insecurities about myself to members of my family, which would lead into the punch in the gut known as “man-up.” For me (and for many boys) this has created the foundation for emotional suppression, hyper-masculinity, and overall dysfunction.
Guante expresses this idea through his poetry: stating; “ the massively, deep-voiced, leather-duster, wearing Superman who defends the world from, I don’t know, feelings.” The qualities Guante explains is the personified version of masculinity. The standard of “Superman” that is set for men is unrealistic, and after all, he is fictional.
When I was younger, I would wipe away my tears and stay quiet, and the actual cause of my tears was never taken into account. Later, when my mom would try to speak to me about something that was bothering me, I would say, “Talking about my feelings doesn’t do anything.” I was nine.
But at the same time, my mother has allowed me to be emotionally expressive. My true character and the contradictory ideas I was fed from both my mother and my culture became a constant battle throughout my childhood. Although I still struggle with what it means to be a man, I wouldn’t have made as much progress as I have if it weren’t for my mother. Over time, she broke from her own falsehoods and urged me to express myself. She taught me that there doesn’t always have to be a “man of the house.” She taught me that it’s acceptable to cry, but also how not to wear my heart on my sleeve. Selecting when to display emotions is important because of the systems we take part in everyday such as school, work, and other institutions that do not allow us to feel. Therefore, my mother believed it is her duty to prepare me for the harsh world.
The readings and discussions in our feminism class have allowed me to be mindful of how men and boys are also victims of the patriarchy. In addition, I have been given the privilege to be acquainted with a text that has resonated with me as a young male feminist. For example, as a class, we read and analyzed Audre Lorde’s collection of essays, Sister Outsider. My introduction to her idea about the “erotic” has benefited me; and although it is discussed within the context of women, men can still take these beliefs and put them into practice within their own life.
A line that resonated with me states; “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.” Sitting with this line has allowed me to notice the ways in which I don’t have a complete “sense of self” or any idea of how to handle “the chaos of [my] strongest feelings.” This is due to the deceitful ideas of manhood that have been fed to me my entire life. There is so much to gain and extract from feminism; men have to try.
Sister Outsider has given me a more spiritual analysis of feminist theory. Lorde uses her black and lesbian identities when tackling racism, sexism, and homophobia. She uses her body and the environment around her in her essays and speeches. Her use of beautiful language has allowed me to have a deeper understanding of feminism.
It is our responsibility to take part in feminism and notice the violence we are causing on women and girls, the LGBTQ community, and ourselves. We are complacent with the imprisonment of men and boys and we need to fight to free ourselves. However, we are our biggest enemy.
As Guante says, “Why fight to remove our chains, when we can simply compare their lengths?” We, as men, need to understand that the length of our chains are nothing but a damaging trademark placed on us by the patriarchy.
Men are sometimes weary when the topic of feminism is brought up. Although men are quick to not identify with feminism, very few have a concrete understanding of it. The sexist socialization of boys is the reason for day-to-day sexism. We belittle girls in our conversations and group chats. It’s important for us to see how we are the main pillar upholding the patriarchy. From birth, we are imprisoned by misleading expectations of masculinity.
We hurt ourselves with being emotionally inarticulate and not knowing how to seek help. These toxic ideas are passed down to our grandsons, sons, nephews, and cousins, creating an everlasting cycle. We need to be the ones who end this cycle.