“Te mirabas tan guapo con el pelo corto.”
On one of my days in Argentina, I went to go drink some Mate with my Godparents and my cousin. They started to speak about how this (my) generation was undergoing a degradation of morals and character, especially women, and that women were just reckless, sleeping with half the world, doing drugs, dressing like prostitutes, and so on. Here we go again, I said to myself.
But before I get into the conversation itself, I was to start with a disclaimer. I am not a feminist, because I can’t be. I’m a man. I support feminism, but I have male privilege, and am part of the perpetuation of patriarchy. I am also not, in any way, trying to speak for women or tell women how they should act. This post is to highlight a struggle, that of deconstructing patriarchy as a man, and the issues that come with it.
To make the conversation short, my Goparents were advocating for the good old days, how in the past women were much more respectful of themselves, of their bodies, didn’t do drugs, and were not as promiscuous: the point to be made was that women, in the old days, were better.
I started by pointing out the role of women in older days – as caretaker, being legally and socially blocked from working/earning money, having to take charge in taking care of children, etc., was oppressive and denied women basic choices that men had. The response I got – So? A woman’s role is to do just that. When I asked why – the response was always “Porque es mujer” – Because she’s a woman. That was it. It was her role, her destiny, her fate.
My Godmother did acknowledge that this meant less liberty than men, but who cares? Women were still better off than today. Then came the barrage of examples of how women now were being raped, beaten, and drugged more than ever before. That is when I brought up patriarchy. I asked, well, isn’t the problem men? I asked why we don’t tell men not to rape, not to drug women, not to do this and that. Why don’t we start telling our male citizens to stop the abusive and oppressive behavior. The response I got – they’re men, and they will always be that way. But my Godfather quickly came to his own defense in saying that men were different now too, not just women. Men were far more respectful in the old days. All I could see in my mind was the “Bitch, Please” meme. I wasn’t about to whip out thousands, if not millions, of pages on evidence about how women have been historically oppressed and are still oppressed and how men have not really changed. And even if I did, I knew it would be of little help.
My goal was to try to highlight the contradictions to my Godparents. Less liberty, men were the problem, choice – I went on and on for several hours (I don’t know how we managed to stay so civil), but to no avail. Nothing was working. They then asked me – well, how should women act? I didn’t want to answer, trying to explain that by me saying what I think women should do is oppressive. I tried to explain that me having a vision of what women should be like was was at the core of the problems they were bringing up.
Every time I get into a conversation concerning women and their behaviors, I get into this problem of refraining from having an opinion on how women should act to trying to highlight that the problem is not how women act, but how patriarchy has so successfully reserved the right of defining how a woman should act to men. That is male privilege, that we, men, by virtue of having a penis (a genetic accident) can do whatever we want while also being able to define gender normative roles. Historically, and today, men have told women how they should act. Women need to clean. Women need to cook. Women can take care of the children. Men even gave themselves a gender normative definition that made us stronger and women weaker. Then theres the paradox of “inherent male behavior”. My Godfather says men are men and will always rape, beat, and be abusive – but his generation was not as abusive as mine. What!? I tried again and again to explain that the problem was men, how we continuously perpetuate this system where women are below us because we are above. Nothing was working.
But aside from patriarchy being at the core of rape culture, gender norms, and how and why women are continuously oppressed, was something more disturbing. When I pressed my Godparents to tell me why women had to cook, clean, etc. and why men just rape and beat and have to be the over-masculine breadwinner, they gave me only one answer. Porque el hombre es hombre – y la mujer es mujer. A man was a man and a woman was a woman. That was it. I could have brought up an Andes amount of evidence trying to explain that gender roles had a history and it wasn’t as simple as a man being a man. But I didn’t. I didn’t because I knew it wouldn’t work. They had been so socialized to believe in gender roles that nothing I would say would change their minds. Even my long hair was strange to them – men don’t rock long hair, long hair is reserved for women.
I was more concerned with my Godfather not understanding patriarchy than my Godmother, because I believe men are the problem, and my Godmother understood what I was saying, she just didn’t agree.I gave up. After hours of debating with him, I took one last sip of Mate, and returned to my Abuelos house. That night, I went over it again and again in my head, on how to un-socilaize my godfather, and men throughout, when it came to gender normative roles and patriarchy. But I never figured it out. I drifted away to the comfort of dreaming.
Patriarchy and gender normative roles, especially those for men, are social constructs. And just as they were made, I believe they can be unmade. Its just about figuring out how thats the hard part.