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Rebelling Against Hegemonic Masculinity

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Rebelling Against Hegemonic Masculinity

What are little boys made of?
Snips (bits) of snails, and puppy dogs tails
That's what little boys are made of!
What are little girls made of?...
Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of!
    -Nursery rhyme from the 19th century

The issues on gender and gender norms are very pervasive that they are very much considered as deeply seeded ideas of femininity and masculinity in America. These cultural and gendered messages proliferated in our societies are also merely ripples from the norms instilled in us by our families. Although it is quite hard to say who really is to blame for these social malignancies, it is difficult to eradicate from our mind that our own families have a major participation in the establishment of these ideas. In school, we are also exposed to dominant discourses. We are fostered and taught, consciously or unconsciously, to adapt these discourses and incorporate them to our identity. Moreover, these spoon-feed social discrepancies poisoned our mind and obliged us to see reality as one dimensional.

Growing up, I was never the typical boy. I never fitted the mold expected from a six year old boy. Although I knew I was different, I was rather oblivious as to how different I was. I was unaware to the fact that I had more girls as friends than boys; or that, although I played with toy action figures with other boys my age, I was not focused on defeating the opposing team of action figures but was too busy fabricating a plot love story between G.I. Joe and Cobra Captain. I also hated participating in contact sports and loathed playing dirt with other little boys – wallowing in the mud will never be synonymous to fun in my dictionary. I never liked camping, although I was a scout when I was small, I always had a lame excuse why I couldn’t participate in camping trips.

These “unnatural behaviors” did not go unnoticed not only by my parents but also by family friends. I vividly remember overhearing a conversation between my mother and one of her friends:

“Your son seems to be hanging too much with the girls. The other day, I saw them playing ‘dress-up.’ I am just concerned about your son’s behaviors,” my mom’s friend commented.

To my defense, my mom replied, “I am sure it is just a phase. He’ll grow out of it.”

But I never did.

When I was in second grade, my mom was called to the principal’s office. Apparently, a few girls from my class told the principal that I was caught peeping in the girl’s bathroom. My mother was very apologetic to my actions. She was silent all the way home. I was almost ready to burst out and explain to her that I only went to the girl’s bathroom because all the cubicles in the boy’s bathroom were full, and I really needed to go when she surprised me with her response. I thought she was going to reprimand me but instead she just smiled and a look of relief was evident in her face.
The response from my father was quite more surprising. When he found out that my mother was called to the principal’s office because I was caught peeping in the girl’s bathroom, he immediately called his best buds to brag about his boy’s “activities”. I was glad that I was not grounded for my action. This incident however confused me on how my little mishap was seen positively by my father.

Looking back and remembering these small incidents made me realize how gender masculinity and femininity seem to be two juxtaposed realities where no one can cross in between. People are forced and expected to fit in certain molds: if you are a boy, you should be made of “snips of snails and puppy dog tails” and if you are a girl, you should be made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” And, at an early stage, such disparities became a dilemma of fitting in the form.
After a few years of being exposed to such disparities, I was able to understand more about the incongruities in our society regarding gender norms. Being deficient in illustrating the gendered expectations the society have on me proves to be very problematic.

The other day while preparing breakfast, I noticed my mom looking at me all funny. I almost dismissed her unusual behavior when she finally told me what has been bothering her.

“Do you have a girlfriend yet?” my mom inquired.

I flatly said, “No.”

Not being able to help herself, she asked, “How come?”

When I did not reply, she followed her question, “It is abnormal for a twenty-one year old not to have a girl friend.”

Although I know that having a girlfriend is very unlikely in my “condition”, it is difficult to comprehend that my own parent deemed her son as “abnormal.” It is quite hard to understand how influenced my parents have become due to the social inaccuracies regarding gender. Even though this was the case, I was able to realize the fact that the expectations society have enforced on the norms of masculinity and femininity is too great that it blinds the public from seeing the multitudes of people that transcends the specificity of gendered norms. My parents have been too trapped in a unilateral way of thinking. They are too influenced by the dominant discourses of gender that they see anyone who steps across the boundaries of the socially constructed norms of gender as abnormal.

The general perception of the nature of gender ripples to other faculties of society. When I was high school, the boys from my class gave me all the necessary information I needed to understand social Darwinism. I was considered as different from their group. To fit in, I tried playing sports. When I heard that my high school basketball team is having an open try out, I decided to see if I could make it in the team. It was an opportunity for me to prove that I could also be athletic. It was my chance to fit in and make more guy friends. To no avail however, I did not even make it to junior varsity. Frustrated by the fruitlessness of my hard work, I decided to just focus on theatre.

During one of my school’s production, I auditioned for one of the main characters. Despite my frustration of not being able to make it to the basketball team, I kept my motivation to win the lead male role. I thought my audition went really well. However, when I saw the list of characters we were to play, I was disappointed to find out that I did not make the male character. Once again, I was to play the “comic relief.” Although I was grateful to get a really good part, I can’t help but feel defeated by not being able to get the lead male role. To understand what I needed to improve on to get the lead role next time I audition, I decided to speak with my director.

“I was hoping to get a better role on our production. I am appreciative though that I was able to get a wonderful role in our production. To get a better role next time, what advice would you give me?” I asked my director.

She simply replied, “Act manlier.”

Although it did not shock me to get such criticism, I can’t help but think how even in a field where masculinity and femininity is interrogated all the time that I could also be disadvantaged. It was at that moment that the realization hit me hard in the face: that the dominant discourses of gender are highly placed in society and that those who are brave to cross between the boundaries of masculinity and femininity are seen merely as caricatures.

Before my family moved to California, I had an opportunity to attend a private, Catholic university for a year. As a part of the school curriculum, I had to take a religious studies class. It was quite interesting how the tenets of religiosity blurred the very distinct line between freedom of self-expression and conformity. In school we were taught to appreciate each other for our uniqueness. We were asked to show tolerance and appreciation for our differences. It was celebrated in my class the diversity of our culture. However, I proved that there is a big intellectual disconnect. In class, the dominant discourse of heteronormality was celebrated while the issue of those who stepped outside the gender norm were ignored and avoided. Taking this class, I cannot help but be intrigued by how such an intellectual disconnect can occur.

In that class, the tenets of Christianity and how these tenets should be incorporated to our daily lives were discussed. By talking about these tenets in class, I was able to tease out how these tenets influenced our lenses on how we look at masculinity and femininity. During class participation, I cannot help myself but ask about the church’s stance on gender and homosexuality.

“What is the basis of the church’s stance on homosexuality?” I inquired.

“I don’t think it’s on a hermeneutical basis since the bible does not condemn homosexuality. Does this mean then that the reason why homosexuality is tolerated yet not fully accepted by the church is because of the church’s patriarchal hierarchy?” I added.

The professor answered my question with silence and ignorance.

Although the response that I got from my question was very frustrating, I had to understand how my professor, like many people, has been highly influenced by the dominant discourses regarding gender. Because of this detachment between what is and what should be, I became more cognizant of how us, as the general population, has been infiltrated and highly manipulated by these hegemonies.
We are living in a society constantly bombarded by dominant discourses. From television, music, movies, and print media to language, clothing, traditions and norms, we become witnesses to the swift influx of these discourses. Despite of being a witness to these social anomalies, we fail to see through the layers that have made these discourses. Our failure to dissect these discourses blinds us from understanding the possible repercussions of these discourses. Such dominant discourses of gender shackle us from achieving an understanding of its true nature.

Being raised in a society that insidiously poison our minds by forcing us to look at gender as being either man or woman prohibits us from understanding that the attributes that is tied to the said genders. Our societal construct ostracized us from recognizing the multiple realities that is wrapped around the dominant discourses of gender. These assumptions regarding masculinity and femininity prohibits us from scrutinizing their real nature and thus bar us from truly achieving the opportunity to internalize or reject such assumptions. Moreover, due to societal pressures, many of us fail to recognize that we have the option to deconstruct these false realities and comprehend that we have in our hands the ability to choose and seek alternative discourses.
Victimized by hegemonic masculinity, I became more aware how the society wants individuals to take on the gender-specific roles expected of them. It is quite ironic how I see this victimization as an opportunity for me to look at our society using an independent pair of lenses free from social influence. Having these discourses attack me on a daily basis while growing up forced me to become more critical of the suppositions our society has imposed on itself and its members. Hoping for a possible alternative reality – to understand and accept that I am different – also strengthened this awareness. I understand that although some men are stereotypically masculine and some women are stereotypically feminine, this does not sanction to generalize all men to show purely “masculine attributes” while women have to show purely “feminine qualities.”

The 19th century poem, despite its age, remains to echo the primitive and obsolete ideas of masculinity and femininity. In the poem, we are barraged by inconsistent ideas using subtle and playful devices. It is frightening to know that even in poems commonly taught in preschools, social discrepancies regarding gender remains alive. By exposing our children to these harmful discourses, we instill in their minds one reality. We degrade them by providing them with only one option. We neglect to teach our children the concept of possibilities and alternatives. By constructing these concepts in their young minds, we corrupt them into thinking that they can only behave in the manner constructed for them. Without realizing our actions, we rob our children the opportunity to express their full potential and achieve their dreams.
This predicament is in fact very challenging since it is impossible to shield our children from these discourses. However, by being cognizant of the discourses that surround us, whether be dominant or alternative, we would be able to have a better control in helping our children steer to a truly independent path of thinking. Never would we be able to escape social nepotism brought about by these dominant discourses. We do however have the power to position and reposition ourselves to see these dominant discourses at their barest. Through this, we would be able to internalize and independently decide how we want these discourses to affect us.

by: psycho_babble      

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