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Unbecoming Myself in Pursuit of a Feminist Manhood

When it comes to implicit, explicit, and sometimes fatal coercions to “Be a man,” I’m just like, “Nah, I’m good.”

Like, for real, that whole staunch masculinity bullshit is played. I’m over it. Leave your gendered cowardice, your masculine fragility hiding behind diffident displays of cultural proverbial (and sometimes literal) dick-swinging at the door. ‘Cause, seriously, I’m done with it.

As a Black feminist man, my feminist aims are in many ways to undo my masculine socialization, a pursuit that I fail at everyday, unfortunately. My aims are to tear down the toxic masculinity that is touted as authentic and “real,” a masculinity that is too often violent and inimical toward female and trans bodies. This is hegemonic masculinity: that pervasive, masquerading-as-real, hostile masculinity that thinks its dick can fuck its way through life. This is what needs to be cast away never to be permitted to show its cowardly countenance in these here parts again.

Hegemonic masculinity is that which “cat-calls the day away,” as spoken word poet Joshua Bennett says in “What’s In a Man.” It hijacks brothers, fathers, sons, nephews, and cloaks them into papier-mâché cut-outs of ill-fitting manhoods that terrorize women on streets, severing integrity and safety with each “Yo, how you doin’, shawty? Let me talk to you for a minute.” Fun fact, fellas: that line—or any of its numerous discursive incarnations—has NEVER worked. What it is, I gather from conversations with various women who have been cat-called, is a kind of verbal assault that acts as an uncertain allusion to more dreadful acts. Your “Yo, how you doin’, shawty” is your enactment of a domestic street terrorist hurling ballistic language at women, women who are then abruptly uncertain about whether they are safe in this public space.

This hegemonic masculinity, coercing countless men into its toxic template, demands of us to be Football Captain, to be Bicep, to be Huge Dick, to be Ladies Man, to be a Real Tough Guy. Masculinity, go somewhere. You’re annoying, and you smell bad, and you straight up suck. Period.

So when you tell me “Man up,” all I can muster, like poet Guante, is “Fuck you.” To unbecome myself—to undo the hegemonic masculine infection that’s undoubtedly seeped into the fabric of my being—is pretty much to not be a man. I’m totally cool with that. (Though, to be sure, this is indeed not to say that if I were to achieve this “not-manness” I would be absolved of the privileges ascribed to my cis male embodiment.) What my Black male feminism means is to undo myself; that is, to unlearn or radically rewrite the hegemonic codes and tenets of masculinity that have contributed to my subjectivity as a heterosexual cisgender male. Feminism, for me and the specific social position in which I find myself, is very much the commitment to become other than myself insofar as “myself” is predicated, in part, on being coerced into typical heteropatriarchal ways of thinking and being in the world.

Unbecoming myself is to answer the demand to “Man up” with “Nah. Man down.” Dial that shit down—way, way down. It’s killing us (literally, in some cases—just take a look at Jackson Katz’s masterful documentary Tough Guise). I say, in a clarion call for justice, man down, man down! Like a slain comrade in the line of battle, toxic masculinity should fall victim to unflinching bullets of feminist (friendly) fire. I wanna hear on radios and walkie-talkies, [that cool static sound] we got another infectious, violent hegemonic notion of masculinity and manhood down. He’s bleeding real bad. He was trying to coerce another young man, but was caught by unsuspected feminist motives and, well, was obliterated. Should we call in an ambulance, headquarters?

Nahh, leave him there to rot…

Yo, masculinity—that toxic gendered behavior within me, within “male” bodies, and that all bodies are subject to—here’s what’s gonna happen: you’re gonna chill with the bravado, because no one is impressed; leave women and other people whom you find attractive alone in public (and private) spaces when you have no prior connection to them—they do not want to talk to you, you’re creepy, and you’ll be just fine if you say nothing; and check your privilege: no, women do not have “female privilege” because they sometimes get free drinks (that $5 drink is nowhere near equaling the gender wage gap, and that drink is usually just another trap set to try and own them anyway), men are far less likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted simply by virtue of their male identification, and our sexual expression is not vilified (in fact, it’s glorified: dude has sex with ten people by the end of college, “Nice job, bro!;” woman does it, “Damn whore!”) This isn’t even to mention the literal illegalization of women’s bodies, which is to say if I walk out of my apartment without a shirt I am hailed as a Black Adonis, having proverbial roses of adulation thrown at my feet via the attracted gazes of mostly women, and some men and trans folks (as well, I apologize for the implicit hubris and conceit). A woman does the same and she is either sexually objectified (not to mention the potential for assault, only to then be blamed for “leading the assailant on”) or arrested for “indecent exposure.”

I do not want to be this man I am said to be. In some sense it’s inescapable as long as I inhabit this body that appears staunchly hegemonically masculine. But I must do all I can to unbecome my male/masculine self. I must undo the vicious mandates of what it means to “be a man.” I must do it, because if I don’t, lives are at risk.

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Written by Marquis Bey

Marquis Bey is an unapologetically Black feminist Ph.D. student in Cornell University's English department studying Black Feminist Thought, African American Literature, and Transgender Studies. He has published a number of academic articles on race and gender, and also writes for more public forums on the topics of feminism, Blackness, and language. Aside from his "academic jam" (thank you for the phrase, Kristen), Marquis enjoys watching cartoons, working out, collecting cat posters, and losing touch with the outside world by receding into the tumultuous recesses of his own mind.

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