So I have to admit that, as a feminist, I have long been skeptical that there is any such thing as non-oppressive masculinity. Given the connection between masculinity and rape culture, I have had a hard time seeing masculinity outside of the context of sexual violence. But that all changed for me, thanks to a video and a song.
Let me explain. This past weekend I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the Civil Liberties and Public Policy (CLPP) Conference at Hampshire College, a convergence of reproductive justice activists from all over the country that reminds me, each year, of how the struggles to end all forms of oppression — ableism, homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, classism and more — are all connected in complicated ways. To truly be “feminists,” we must object to all forms of oppression, and that means being able to examine our own privileges, flaws and misunderstandings as well.
Which brings me to the Masculinities workshop at CLPP. Inherent in the panel’s name is the idea that there is not simply one “masculinity” (you know, the one at the other end of the gender binary) but many “masculinities,” including those embraced by people who were not born male. This year’s panel included Anders Zanichowsky Wyatt, who talked about the tendency of cis feminists to associate all masculinities — queer and otherwise — with trauma (and the need to talk about that association!) as well as the idea of expanding definitions of survival and violence to encompass the trauma of poverty, racism other life-threatening circumstances. Another panelist, B. Cole, founder of the highly badass Brown Boi Project, did not simply talk about the idea of non-oppressive masculinities — Cole showed a video of four black men on an Oakland street corner, dancing in the rain.
The men were not just any men and the street corner was not just any street corner. One of the men in the video (the one in the white shirt) had recently lost his brother in a shooting. The shooting had happened on that street corner. The dancing was an act of healing, Cole said. The dance moves were “masculine” and the dancers were men, but as a viewer, I saw only beauty, not a threat to anyone’s safety. (Now, apparently, an Oakland police officer had a different reaction. The opening seconds of the video show a police cruiser rolling up to the corner, appearing to question one of the men for the brazen act of standing on a street corner.)
Watch this video, please. It is beautiful.
Another presenter, Micah, performed a hip-hop piece. Now, if imagining non-oppressive masculinity is a tough one for feminists, imagining non-oppressive hip-hop masculinity may be doubly tough, given the powerful association of mainstream hip-hop culture with misogyny. But here’s where Micah smashed the stereotypes, while delivering powerful music — or as he called it, music with “intent.” Masculinity and gender are both a part of Micah’s music, but the “intent” seems to be about liberation and education, not — as with mainstream hip-hop — about asserting male dominance.
Watch this video, please. It is also beautiful.
As Feministing contributor (and Masculinities panel audience member) Jos Truitt said during the panel, words may only be able to take us so far when it comes to gender. Art is a powerful thing, both for healing from the trauma of gender-based oppression and for breaking down barriers to create new understandings. It sure taught me something.