On one of my few and far between days off recently, I visited El Museo del Barrio in NYC with my mother, where they currently have an exhibit on the Young Lords.
The walls were plastered with pictures, documents, and small TV screens that detailed the Young Lords’ activity in NYC back in the 60s and 70s. I read their doctrine with pride, reverence, and awe, but stopped short when I came to number 10:
“10. WE WANT EQUALITY FOR WOMEN. MACHISMO MUST BE REVOLUTIONARY…NOT OPPRESSIVE.
Under capitalism, our women have been oppressed by both the society and our own men. The doctrine of machismo has been used by our men to take out their frustrations against their wives, sisters, mothers, and children. Our men must support their women in their fight for economic and social equality, and must recognize that our women are equals in every way within the revolutionary ranks.
FORWARD, SISTERS, IN THE STRUGGLE!”
I was filled with a sickly mixture of validation and discouragement: validation that someone articulated something so many women of color have struggled with for generations, but discouragement because it is something I’m all too familiar with, 40-something years later.
For me to even try to begin explaining what sexism, misogyny, and Latino machismo in particular feels like is sometimes a task too daunting to attempt. The effects of all three and their manifested actions
are so frequent and pervasive that to call it out every time it happened would be to argue with someone at least ¾ of the day. And ain’t nobody got the time or energy for that, especially when you feel the people you’re surrounded with will in no way take you seriously.
Funnily enough, the men I know that will fight me most vehemently about the need for feminism are the same men who are some of the most aware when it comes to the structures of modern racism. Men of color who seem to think that me pointing out women’s issues is somehow the same as me stating that they don’t know what it feels like to be oppressed.
No, booboo. I know you do. I know you know what that feels like, and that’s why it’s so infuriating when you try to tell me that I’m making up sexist oppression in my head. You should know what it feels like to have someone say, “You’re reading too far into it/being too sensitive/being overdramatic/blah blah blah.”
Much like racism, sexism is a lived experience. You won’t ever know what it’s like, and all you’ll have to go off of is numbers, statistics, studies, and trends, along with the personal testimonies of myself and others.
How do I even begin to explain what it feels like?
How do I begin to explain how humiliating and embarrassing it is to be catcalled when walking down the street? What an invasion of personal space and comfort it is? Or how infuriating and degrading it is to lower your head and try to draw attention away from yourself to prevent it from happening in the first place?
How do I begin to explain what it feels like when you’re conversing with all men and you keep getting cut off? Or to have one of them say the EXACT same thing you said, only to receive the entire credit for it?
Better yet, how do I explain what it feels like when you’re trying to seat patrons at your restaurant job, only to have the majority of older men walk right past you and your greeting of “Hi! How many?” like you’re Casper the Friendly Motherfuckin’ Ghost and beeline directly to your boss, who will subsequently seat them at a table without consulting you, disregarding the fact that you’re the one who’s supposed to be in charge of reservations and you were saving that table?
Or what it’s like to have a customer asking you a question, only to have your boss cut in like you weren’t talking so that he can give the exact same answer you were in the middle of giving?
How do I explain what it feels like to have worked for someone in the past who made lewd, sophomoric innuendos when you were bent over cleaning a sink? Or your intense discomfort with the way he followed you, or randomly and frequently touched your shoulder, or once pulled an expiration sticker off your pants without asking?
How do I explain what it feels like to constantly have to assert to people that you are not property, and then to be subjected to their taunting when you point out their unfortunate use of language?
How do I explain re –thinking and re-dressing and constantly checking yourself in the mirror before leaving the house for the fear of being perceived as “too slutty?”
How do I explain the training that started from day 1 that teaches us to be as small as possible; small in voice, small in stature, small in needs, small in outrage? How do I explain the ways that those initial learnings make us feel like we are too much; how we will perfect ways to be invisible without completely disappearing?
And that’s not even getting into the Latino machismo side of things; hooooo boy. CHILE.
Latino machismo is the result of colonialism, catholicized ideals, and slavery-induced disciplinary methods. The problem with machismo is that the more secular we become socially and even in our Latino communities, the patriarchal effects of all three of those things stay in place.
My dad was the favored son in a family of 7 girls and 2 boys, raised by a single mother after the abrupt and unexpected passing of his father. Throughout my childhood, he bragged frequently about how he was waited on hand and foot, and how a now deceased aunt of mine was a brilliant writer who did his homework and wrote his school compositions, for which he received all credit and even plenty of rewards for the work’s quality.
When I was 14 years old, another aunt of mine told my mother and I with fervent passion that if a man works hard, pays the bills, and takes care of his family, why shouldn’t his wife cater to his every whim?
This coming from the same woman who raised two boys on her own, on one salary, literally without an ounce of financial or emotional support from their father.
When I was 10, my dad told me to get away from the window I was looking out of on a snowy day, while two teenage boys I had been paying no mind to were shoveling the car port across the street. When I asked why, his answer was, “Because I don’t want them to know a young girl lives here.”
When my parents’ divorce proceedings were in progress, my dad asked my mom why she decided to leave, saying, “I know the kids are important to you, but I should have been the #1 priority.”
Here’s the thing: I could keep listing personal examples, posting numbers, showing you facts until the end of days. Whether you choose to believe me or not is up to you, but bruh: the evidence is there.
Me pointing out my experiences as a woman is not to invalidate your experiences as a man of color. My identity as a feminist is not to destroy yours as a black or brown man, but rather to highlight what it is to be black or brown at the same time as being woman.
That, my friends, is a little thing us feminists like to call intersectionality: the idea that people are a combination of many identities that merge and inform one another to create their whole person. More simply put, the idea that people can be many things at once.
And as long as we’re covering some basics, let me make this distinction now:
Sex, gender, and sexuality ARE NOT the same thing.
Sex is your physical makeup; i.e. having a vagina, uterus, ovaries, and breasts, or a penis, testicles, and testes. Essentially, anatomy and genitalia. And that’s not including intersex people, who are born with a
combination of both. Gender is who you are and how you behave on the scale of “masculine” and “feminine.” It is a socially constructed performance of predetermined characteristics and behaviors that are assigned to you in accordance with your genitalia. Which is ridiculous and lacking nuance. Which is also why “manhood” and “womanhood” varies across cultures and societies.
By that logic, men can, and do, have vaginas. Women can, and do, have penises. Shit ain’t rocket science.
Then, sexuality is who you’re attracted to, according to your gender identity.
And in our ever-growing definitions of gender and identification, feminism has (or should have, at this point) expanded to intersectionaly promote femininity to the same level of respect and reverence as masculinity, as well as allowing for masculine-presenting and identifying persons to behave in a “feminine” way as their hearts desire without having to adhere to the rules of patriarchy and toxic masculinity. “True masculinity” should in no way be defined as exerting power over femininity and those who practice it.
Feminism seeks to free us from restrictive gender roles and the limitations of their behaviors. It is not anti-men, and it most certainly is not anti-woman; i.e., tearing down other women and the way they present themselves to highlight all the ways in which you are different from the perceived norm. In fact, that is one of the most un-feminist things I can think of.
It also does not mean not holding women accountable for unacceptable behavior. I get tight as fuck seeing all these memes (ESPECIALLY POSTED BY WOMEN) that are like, “Girls ask too much from their boyfriends, he’s not your bank account,” or “Women only want you for what you can give them, as soon as you got nothing they wanna leave.” Yeah, and divorce rates are higher for couples where the woman
has had a double mastectomy and men are more likely to cheat on their wives after she’s had a miscarriage. In other news, people suck regardless of gender. Story at 11.
The idea that “bad” behavior only comes from one gender or another literally makes no sense. Shitty people are shitty people, and what they do as part of being shitty is only in accordance with the social tools they are given as men or women. You don’t like it? Hey, one more reason to become a feminist and abandon traditional roles.
“But this is all bullshit! Men have their issues, too! Men can be raped! More men are raped in prison than women are raped!”
Yes, men can be, and are, unfortunately, raped; at the hands of both men and women. Part of combatting this phenomenon is destructing the stigma surrounding men who report or talk about their assault through the deconstruction of toxic masculinity. But I always find it troubling that rape is one of the first go-to topics men who are against feminism seek to discuss; like they’re trying to diminish the significance of the prevalence and commonality of sexual assault against women. It’s like if a firefighter went, “I have an increased risk of dying in a fire, and that scares me,” only for a dentist to go, “Yeah, but
I could die in a fire if I forget to turn out a candle while I’m sleeping. Quit whining.”
Yes, men can be raped, and if it’s going to happen, it’s most likely going to be in prison. Prison is a concentrated and enclosed population, which increases the likelihood of assault. Prison rape is a pervasive, real problem, but is too often made into a punchline thanks to our perceptions of masculinity.
Don’t get me wrong, I love The Boondocks- but there is an entire plotline surrounding Tom DuBois’s fear of prison rape, depicted in a comedic light. Either prison rape is funny, or it’s not. (It isn’t.) And if it stays funny in the public mindset, that diminishes its significance and lowers the chances that reported prison rapes are taken seriously. You can’t have it both ways.
On top of that, those who use prison rape as their primary form of argument against discussing rape culture are disregarding the intersectionality surrounding the fact that inmates who are gay, mentally ill, or transgender, particularly trans women placed in the incorrect facilities, are at higher risk of being assaulted. Not to mention the fact that prison rape happens in women’s prisons, as well.
The fact of the matter is that in the population at large, 1 in 6 women will be the victims of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. For men, that number is 1 in 33. It’s not comparable.
My discussion of rape culture and its prevalence is not to say FUCK YOU to the men who are assaulted.
It’s discussing our social trends, and acknowledging that simply being female-identified and presenting or being perceived as effeminate increases your likelihood of rape. And if you’re so concerned with my apparent lack of inclusion, let me ask you this: are you including those marginalized populations I mentioned earlier in your argument? Or are you simply trying to make a point and silence?
“Okay, well, women are given preferential treatment in custody battles! They’re more likely to get the kids even if they’re mediocre or terrible parents! And then they want child support and alimony, too!”
Sorry, but wrong. Again.
Looking at them on the books, all custody, child support, and alimony laws are gender neutral. It’s our perceptions as people that shape outcomes. Let me explain.
According to a 2012 study published by the state of Massachusetts, 67% of fathers who asked for primary custody got it. In another portion of the study, 65% of men who asked for joint custody received it. Operative word there being “asked.” In short, men are not asking.
And that’s due to a lot of things: personal lack of interest, beliefs held about which gender the responsibility of child rearing should fall upon, or, as the study citied, the fact that litigation expenses and the perceived likelihood of losing discourages many fathers from even asking for primary or joint custody in the first place. In regards to child support, the laws are, as I stated, gender neutral and require that the parent who makes more money pays a larger percentage. No surprise there, it’s usually the father; which is, in and of itself, a commentary on the wage gap and gender equity in the workplace.
Women are much more likely to give up their careers to stay home and take care of children, as per the standards of our social constructs. If she isn’t working, she isn’t making money. Women also tend to fare much worse financially at the end of a divorce than men for many of the same reasons.
Simply put, continuing to enforce gender roles and the perception that women are inherently maternal
(no, the mother is not always the best parent for the child) continues to inform the way these litigations are approached. You can’t enforce gendered parenting while demanding that proceedings surrounding child rearing remain gender neutral. It’s contradictory. Should child custody proceedings be gender neutral? Yes, and that’s why parenting needs to remain so, as well.
“Uhhh…more men commit suicide than women!”
Yes, that’s true- and here’s why.
Research has consistently shown that rates of suicide are higher in men than they are in women. The most commonly cited reason appears to be strict adherence to typical “masculine” and “feminine” roles.
Men are shamed for being emotional, and only 41-58% of males who complete a suicide have visited a mental health professional, compared to 72-89% of females. There’s also a direct correlation between unemployment and suicide in men; they are taught their worth is providing for themselves and their families, and often cannot see worth past that.
“…Man, fuck this! Feminism has only ever benefitted white women. Case closed.”
Well, you see-
Okay. You got me there.
The problem with discussing feminism is that oftentimes, the version that is highlighted in the mainstream is lovingly referred to as “white feminism.”
White feminism lacks intersectionality and completely ignores the implications of race on womanhood.
White feminists may bring up the wage gap, body image, and representation in the media, but may ignore the fact black women make 64 cents to a white man’s dollar and Latinas make 55, compared to a white woman’s 77; may ignore the simultaneous hyper-sexualization and shaming of black and brown female bodies; and may ignore the double whammy of a woman of color being less likely to be seen on TV. They may also ignore issues of police brutality, mass incarceration of black and brown folks (women included), or micro-aggressive racism.
It’s important to note that not all feminists who are white are white feminists, because there are plenty of white women who understand the intersections of race and gender; but all white feminists are white.
If that makes sense.
It’s like when Patricia Arquette talked about the wage gap at the Oscars this year, saying that it was time for queer people and people of color to stand up for women, since women have always stood up for them; completely ignoring the fact that there are people who live at the intersections of ALL THREE.
Or when Taylor Swift decided to butt in to Nicki Minaj’s commentary about the policing of black, brown, and large bodies, citing that she was “tearing other women down,” despite the fact that Taylor was nominated for an award for a video in which she does THE EXACT SAME THING THAT NICKI’S VIDEO GOT SNUBBED FOR. (Still so tight about this. But that’s a story for another day.)
Or how Amy Pohler approved a joke recently made on the show Difficult People about R. Kelly peeing on Blue Ivy.
Or the picture posted on Facebook for Women’s Equality Day, illustrating women of color who apparently “voted,” despite the fact that even though white women got the vote on August 26, 1920,
Native women couldn’t vote until 1924 (although many didn’t actually get to until 1967), Asian women couldn’t vote until 1952, and black women couldn’t vote until 1964. Latinos who spoke little to no English weren’t allowed to vote until the 70s.
Essentially, white feminism erases half of its population by whitewashing history and talking over the voices of women of color. Movements of color often erase half of their population by ignoring the contributions and issues of the women. So if you’re a black or brown woman, you’re kind of fucked either way. Yet we still march for reproductive rights with white women, and are some of the first ones who take to the streets when a black or brown man is murdered at the hands of police.
But where are we supposed to go for solidarity?
That’s a question I find myself asking often.
And when I ask that question, I can’t help but try to conceptualize the vast power structures that continue to oppress millions.
I can’t help but feel like people don’t realize that so many systems play into one another and feed off of each other. I thought about this most recently and intensely with all the media attention surrounding Caitlyn Jenner.
Let me explain.
I cannot even begin to describe the outcry and transphobia I was seeing from so many men I know once Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair; men of color, in particular. They were out in droves discussing how the coverage of her story was a “distraction;” how she “wasn’t brave;” not to mention how many continued to refer to her as “Bruce” and with male pronouns.
I even saw a viral post, written by a woman and shared by a Latino brother, declaring that she wasn’t a “real woman” because she’d never experience period cramps or childbirth; disregarding the millions of cis women who are infertile, cannot have children after having their ovaries removed due to cancer, or have experienced amenorrhea (no period) for a variety of reasons, or those who simply choose to not have children. As a feminist, maternity and motherhood has never been my measure of “real” (what is “real,” anyway) womanhood, and that’s where I drew the line. I started thinking.
The problem with Caitlyn Jenner’s narrative is not that she came out as transgender; it is that she is rich,white, famous, and forever tied to the Kardashian clan, whose entire empire relies on heavy media coverage. The problem with her narrative is that it is not the typical one.
In 2015 alone, 19 trans women, mostly black, have been murdered.
Papi Edwards. Shot.
Lamia Beard. Shot.
Ty Underwood. Shot.
Yazmin Vash Payne. Stabbed and burned.
Taja DeJesus. Stabbed.
Penny Proud. Shot.
Bri Golec. Stabbed to death by father.
Kristina Gomez Reinwald. Found dead.
Keyshia Blige. Shot.
Mya Hall. Shot.
London Chanel. Stabbed.
Mercedes Williamson. Found dead in a shallow grave.
Jasmine Collins. Stabbed.
Ashton O’Hara. Beaten.
India Clarke. Beaten.
K.C. Haggard. Stabbed.
Amber Monroe. Shot.
Shade Schuler. Shot.
Kandis Capri. Shot.
Elisha Walker. Beaten.
Tamara Dominquez. Vehicular homicide. Run over 3 times.
67% of anti-LGBT victims are trans women of color. Black trans women have a life expectancy of 35. One fifth of trans people will experience homelessness. Trans people of color are 6 times more like to experience violence at the hands of police. So when exactly do black and brown lives matter, again?
The irony of the continuation of misogyny, transmisogyny, misogynoir, and transmisogynoir in our own communities is that patriarchal standards are, in and of themselves, colonialized and a tool of white supremacy. To combat racism while directly ignoring gender issues is virtually impossible.
Speaking from my identity as an Afro-Latina, we are the combination of indigenous populations, enslaved African peoples, and European colonizers. In both indigenous populations and African populations, there was a very, very visible presence of a third gender.