"WAP", 616 East Lincoln Avenue, Black Feminism, Cardi B, Coming-of-Age, Feminism, Human Anatomy, Hypermasculinity, Masculinity, Maurice Eugene Washington, Megan Thee Stallion, Misogynoir, Patriarchy, Pussy, Self-Awareness, Self-Reflection, Stepfather, Vagine, Vulnerability, Weakness, William H. Holmes Elementary
The first time I became self-aware of myself as a male with male parts was when I was five. At our second-floor flat on South Sixth in South Side Mount Vernon, New York, sometime in the summer of 1975, I walked in on my mother in the bathroom. She had just finished peeing and was wiping herself. All I could do was stare at her vagina area, seeing mostly what wasn’t there. “Maywa,” I said (a mash of my mother’s name Mary with Mom) “what happened to your pee-pee?” My mother explained that she didn’t “have a pee-pee” — without explaining why she didn’t have one. “When I get some money, I’m gonna go to the pee-pee store and buy you one,” I responded.
There are maybe 20 stories growing up where it seems me and my mother both share and end up smiling, with a sense of real warmth and affection, and not just base-level love, and without irony or a hidden sense of jealousy or disdain. The pee-pee story is one of them.
But this is more than just about the time before sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, and a massive slide into poverty changed my sense of the world. It’s about how men learn to fear all things vagina and vagina-related, and how that fear so easily turns us into misogynists and misogynoirists. It’s about how we as men fail to educate ourselves about women, about patriarchy, and ultimately, about who we are and who we need to be to end patriarchy.
A few years after discovering the differences between the anatomically male and the anatomically female, I knew a bit more, in both an intellectual and social sense. I no longer accidentally danced under my mother’s and other older women’s dresses at the parties my mother took us to when I was five and six years old. I guess if you get slapped upside the head enough times, you recognize why acting like you’re playing hide-and-seek with your mother’s dress as a prop might be socially inappropriate.
But that’s not all. By 1978 and 1979, we had World Book Encyclopedia at 616. Once I began plowing through it to learn all I could — and not just as a way to punish my mother for punishing me — I learned even more about the body than any eight or nine-year-old ought to learn on their own. The “Human Body” section contained celluloid slices of the male and female body, which would layer together to form a full body. From bones to muscles, from muscles to blood vessels, from blood vessels to nerves and organs and systems, and then to derma and coverings for orifices.
I remember the reproductive system either being the last or among the last of the sectional celluloids to form a male or female body. I learned about ovaries, testes, scrota, urethras, and vaginas long before I could say these words correctly. This also meant that I understood where babies come from, without fully understanding the drive that led to human reproduction.
A year later, near the end of fifth grade at William H. Holmes ES (I think it was the third week of May 1980), me and my classmate Joe were on our way home (we both lived in the A section of 616). We were talking shit about girls, about boys, about life in general, maybe with a few “yo’ mama” jokes thrown in. Suddenly, Joe hits me with the question, “Have you ever seen a pussy before?” “No!,” I lied, and loudly too. Joe teased me about it, saying, “You can’t even say ‘pussy,’ can you?” I just laughed it off, not knowing what to say, really. Even at ten, I knew enough to know I couldn’t reveal I’d seen my mother’s vagina at five or that I had seen the encyclopedia’s White female rendering of one.
I didn’t use the word at all until June 1988. It was after I escaped yet another attempt by my idiot stepfather Maurice to make me see him as my father through the use of his fists. He ended up falling into a tub of bathwater meant for my youngest siblings Sarai and Eri. What made this even more ridiculous? This was after my first year at Pitt, a year where I knew more than enough about the world, about the predicament at 616, and about myself to recognize I didn’t have to put up with this bullshit. But I slid back into my old role as teenaged man-child anyway.
This was what happened afterward, via Boy @ The Window
All I kept muttering to myself was, ‘I’m a pussy,’ because I still could’ve gone to the cops for his attempted assault. After a couple of minutes, he said, ‘Get this through your head, boy. Me and your mother are happy together, and we’re gonna be together long after you leave here and go out in the world. The world’s a dangerous place, and we’re just gettin’ you ready for it.’
Huh? What? I knew not to laugh right then, but I was laughing at him on the inside. I knew right then that him and Mom would be over sooner rather than later.
Even in that moment, it felt weird to call myself “a pussy.” I never saw myself as weak, or women in general as weak. It didn’t occur to me that I was afraid, not of getting beat up or of being weak. I was afraid that I would never become the person I wanted to become. I was afraid that mfs like Maurice would continue to come at me because they saw the version of me that I presented at 616, the shell that seemed weak, just like how they saw women, just like how they saw anyone with a vagina.
This is the fear of all boys and men unknowingly or fully conscious of the patriarchy, masculinity, and the world, of folks on the verge of misogyny, misogynoir, and hypermasculinity. The fear of being seen by other men and women-as-patriarchy’s-footsoldiers as pussies, weak in body, mind, and spirit, and therefore as exploitable to the point of being used as a punching bag.
This was why there was such a ludicrous outcry over Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” last month. The responses weren’t about Christianity and morality. Not really. They were about the need to keep women from freeing themselves and their vaginas from the clutches of patriarchy. The angry gasbags on Instagram and Twitter venting their spleens were expressing their need to keep women and their pussies in a locked box, fully under the control of men and women-as-patriarchy’s-footsoldiers, for use only in case of wanting to make a sanctified baby (especially White ones). Anything short of this total control weakens men, weakens patriarchy, and makes us vulnerable to questioning ourselves.
The truth is, heterosexual men especially are scared because we as a group cannot be as strong as women, queer/transgender women included. None of us can be strong when we refuse ourselves the right of vulnerability, the need to feel feelings aside from anger, rage, and bravado, the courage of solidarity and love, and the humanity of affection with and for others — including for the men in our lives. This isn’t just about men needing to cry when in each other’s presence (although I am more than sure that would be helpful for millions). It’s about the need to connect with the parts of ourselves that we refuse to acknowledge. For most men, it’s as if we are all M1 Abrams tanks, ready to kill and destroy at a moment’s notice.
But as so many Black feminists in my life have reminded me over the years, the vagina is a really strong muscle. After all, the vast majority of humanity has passed through one on the way to being born. It is a muscle that can be strengthened, stretched, and even repaired, something we as a species and world so desperately need. Try as men might, there are no dick exercises in which any anatomical male can do reps with his penis and build strength. At least not yet.