Black Masculinity, Chivalry, Contradictions, Dahlia, Damsel-in-Distress Syndrome, Father-Son Relationship, Feminism, Masculinity, Misogyny, Mother-Son Relationship, Nice Guy, Owning Imperfection, Patriarchy, Phyllis, Sexism, Womanism
I finished up a chapter in Boy @ The Window with the closest approximation to my contemporaneous thoughts about Phyllis (a.k.a., “Crush #2” at times on this blog) in August 1988:
I must’ve rewritten these two paragraphs at least a half-dozen times before putting the book out for limited consumption. The thought process that I went through at eighteen years old bothered me then, and looking at the words even today leaves me wanting. Probably because there is more than a bit of sexism contained within these words.
But I wasn’t wrong, of course, not in ’88, not when I wrote and rewrote these paragraphs between 2007 and 2011, and not now, at least in terms of how I perceived things then. While I believed in reproductive rights, in equal pay for equal work, and in passing the Equal Rights Amendment growing up, I also believed in saving damsels from distress and in distinguishing between “ladies” and “bitches.” Or, as my father put it when he argued with my Mom in front of me when I was four years old, “You’s a black bit’!” Or, my contradiction could’ve fully formed when my father tried to set me up with a prostitute a couple of weeks before my seventeenth birthday, in December 1986.
There was no way in 1988 I could’ve understood the contradictions between the idea of feminism (in any form) and the notion of “being a nice guy.” I hadn’t been exposed, or, rather, exposed myself to Paula Giddings, Elsa Barkley Brown, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, and Zora Neale Hurston. I hadn’t yet been engaged in the hundreds of conversations I’d eventually have with women folk I’d become friends with, people with whom I bonded because of their suffering, people from whom I’d hidden my own suffering during those years. Date rape, physical abuse, the more typical abuse of serial cheating, among other issues. With many of these women, I recognized the sexism and misogyny I saw in myself in 1988, and saw them again when I wrote down my contemporaneous thoughts in Boy @ The Window. It didn’t occur to me until the mid-1990s that women could be just as sexist and misogynistic as men, and often could pass down their notions of masculinity and patriarchy to their children. And that thought scared me.It scared me because I realized I may have learned more of my contradictions from my Mom than from my father or idiot ex-stepfather. After all, she was the one constant in my parenting, the one person who engaged me in ideas like chivalry and manliness, who through her acquiescence to Maurice might have made it okay for me to see women, especially Black women (and to a lesser extent, Latina women) as ones in need of help, even when they decide not to take it.
And it may have made it okay for me to see myself as the victim in my incident with Dahlia in June 1987, when I accidentally (the first time), and later deliberately smacked her on her left butt cheek. Maybe I was the victim in a way, at least of my own deluded thought process. And there hasn’t been a time in the past twenty-nine and a half years in which I haven’t regretted that second, deliberate slap, in response to Dahlia accusing of thoughts I didn’t have, because my only obsession in 1987 was Phyllis. I’ve said and written this before, including in Boy @ The Window. To Dahlia, I am so sorry.
I may never be the perfect intersectional womanist feminist I’ve tried to be since I told my Mom to abort my future (and since deceased) sister in 1982. I still believe that professional women’s tennis players should play best-of-five-set matches at the Gram Slam tournaments. I think more women — particularly White women — should stop calling themselves feminists if their feminism stops when dealing with women of color or poor women in general. I think that most men who aren’t feminists are assholes. But I also know that, just like with racism (as now well noted by Ibram Kendi) and with narcissism (my next project, maybe), sexist ideas are as pervasive as smog in L.A. and Beijing. I don’t have to like it or accept it, but I do have to accept that I am a man, and I will make mistakes, including sexist ones. I will have to own up, and keep trying to do better.