Brad. 23. Birthplace: Manhattan, New York. Currently: Manhattan, New York. Not Religious. Music/Photography. Retail Industry.
What does the concept/word “feminism” mean to you? What does the concept of equality mean to you?
In the beginning I thought the concept of feminism was female empowerment and the disempowerment of anyone else. But as I grew older and feminism became a bigger concept in the world, I realized that it just meant believing in the equality of women and men by bringing power to the females of the world that have been oppressed for so long.
What do you think is the most pressing struggle for women today? What is the most crucial aspect in your eyes?
Their sexuality. Being oppressed just for being alive. Women can’t choose their bodies – they get categorized into different subjects that have nothing to do with them or they’ll be judged harshly or not taken as seriously as they would be if they covered up. Society has taught people to believe things like that. If you look a certain way, if you act a certain way, if you’re not conservative enough – any of these stigmas oppress women and make them feel like they can’t just be themselves or they can’t be without triggering a tripwire somewhere and become boxed into a specific idea. That’s really difficult. Just being a woman in general. You don’t even have to say or do anything, just looking the way you do or speaking a certain way will automatically trigger something somewhere. It makes everything really difficult – difficult for women to be themselves, truly and honestly. So yes, just being alive and taking up some space.
Is feminism a subject you think about? Have you ever read a book or seen a documentary about feminist issues?
I haven’t because I don’t read very often. I haven’t seen any movies about feminism specifically so I guess no media really. In my regular life I do think about feminism. I do all the time; especially being a man, having been a feminist basically all my life, because I was raised around women. My femininity is probably more heightened than a lot of other men who are surrounded by more male figures in their lives. I identify more with women because I’ve been at the heart of feminist issues that have been arising since I was little. Even now; being a feminist from a young age and growing up still being that same kind of feminist is difficult because I feel like I have to conform to fit in with society. I have to deal with it on a regular basis because people see a man and think that they’re going to have the same ways of thinking so they feel like they can say certain things around me just because I’m a man. It’s hard to deal with that kind of stupidity or ideology. Just because there’s a room full of males doesn’t mean they’re all going to think the same way. Whenever I speak out about feminist issues or correct someone for saying something stupid or anti-feminist, I get cast out so I identify a little with feminism because not everybody still understands it (even some women themselves). I deal with it all the time, especially around heterosexual men.
Why do you identify as a feminist and how/when did you learn about it? What were you taught about women growing up?
Growing up I wasn’t really taught anything. I was taught to not be ashamed of who I was and to embrace parts of me that other people might reject. Regardless of society and the stigmas that are upheld in our communities of being a certain way, acting a certain way, dressing a certain way – I kind of identify with feminists because even at home I have to conform to a certain stigma in order to feel accepted. In this world I have to be a specific kind of masculine, have to act, talk and dress a certain way in order for me to blend in and not ruffle any feathers or make people feel uncomfortable. That’s been something I’ve dealt with my whole life, especially at home. I can see how women feel like they have to put on this facade and wear a certain costume in the public eye even though that’s not who they really are. They’re afraid to be who they are because feminism isn’t in everyone’s head, it’s not something that everybody believes in or knows about. I guess I was taught to think my own thoughts and try to stay as original and true to myself as I can possibly be.
You’re saying you don’t want to ruffle any feathers – do you try hard to conform to society’s ideas?
In certain settings I definitely do. I don’t really label my sexuality because it’s floating around, but at home I feel like I have to be a heterosexual person. I’m a lot more attentive to the way that I act, the things that I say, the way that I appear to others because it’s something that’s been a huge issue with my family being traditionally Hispanic. The men in my community, in my family, in my generation, in my race and my culture are super masculine. They’re the bread-winners, they’re super into sports, they’re after all the women, they’re disgusting, they’re pigs and alcoholics. So if I’m not any of those things it automatically sends out a red flag. With my family first the questioning begins, then the gossip begins. At home I don’t perform exactly as that stereotypical heterosexual person obviously because I can’t no matter how hard I try. I can never just act like a fucking idiot to make my family feel like: “Don’t worry about it, I’m straight”. I definitely do dance on the line between feminine and masculine, because the world feels like they have to categorize things in order to understand them better. I dance on that line in between and people get confused sometimes, but when I’m at home I’m more on one side of the spectrum than on the other. When I’m around friends or in public places, I adapt a lot to the situation – I feel out my surroundings and it happens naturally.
But to yourself you’re gender non-conforming?
Yes, to myself I definitely am. I feel more like myself around strangers because they don’t know me yet so I can just be myself and I don’t have to worry about it because if they don’t like me I don’t care. But with family or people that would be uncomfortable with the fact that I am not as masculine or that I’m into men as well, I have to put on this weird costume so they can feel comfortable. With certain parts of my family, being feminine would definitely not be OK. I would say with the older generations it’s a really big deal, like my grandmother. One of my grandmothers is super super religious and she dropped little hints when I was a little kid that I’ve been more feminine than other kids. It was always in their heads so as I got older I began to adapt more to what they wanted me to be which is kind of fucked up. I only started exploring my sexuality at 22 and I felt like it was time to branch out more because I’d been with women my whole life. I had girlfriends in high school but when I got older I felt like it was time to test the waters because I’m not a full adult yet, so I can just feel everything out. If I were to meet a man that I fell in love with, it would just be time for me to tell everybody. I’ve had girls that I liked but I haven’t dated any girls recently. Maybe I haven’t met anybody that’s interesting to me. Dating is kind of difficult in that aspect – the guys that I have had certain encounters with have been just encounters, nothing serious. So I haven’t crossed that bridge yet because I’m not there yet.
When did you learn about feminism?
I never really heard that word until maybe 4 years ago. I always knew that it meant female empowerment and in high school we learned about Susan B Anthony and some women’s history. Then a few years ago social media picked it up and celebrities picked it up and it began to make a bigger wave. I was friends with feminists since high school and I didn’t even know it until recently. There was this group of girls that used to go to a high school near me and I was friends with them. It was basically a group that would do a bunch of stuff for female empowerment, do graffiti, and rebel against boys in their school who used to make fun of them (like they used to say they wouldn’t amount to being amazing artists because they were women), or they would rebel against their parents and go out and get high or something. I was friends with them for a couple of years but things went sour. They kind of introduced to me what feminism was and what it meant to be a sisterhood. Even though they didn’t really reflect the morals they would speak of, I saw it in the beginning – it was a beautiful thing to see a group of women so involved in each other’s lives, their romantic lives, their personal lives, their school lives. That power of attraction to each other as a female group was really intoxicating for me to be around all the time. I went on a trip with them to Los Angeles and it was a completely different trip than I would’ve had with anybody else because it was just a group of girls and me in the middle of this whirlwind. It was really cool but also really hard sometimes. They taught me about aspects of feminism but now the word feminism means more to me than it did before.
Is feminism enriching men’s lives? If so, how?
I feel like it is because you start to break out of that stigma of believing that women are less and start to see the world in a different light. You know that regardless of how you were brought up or how bigoted your parents were or what society you grew up in, it’s a different world now. It’s been the same world, you’ve just been seeing it differently because you didn’t know what feminism was before. It makes you appreciate things more because even though you’re aware of the stigma, it’s still rigged in your favor, so you feel enriched in a way that you have everything a woman doesn’t have because she can’t get things as easily as you can. You’re also more self aware that you can make a change in whatever you’re doing in your society, in your community, in the world, just by knowing and being more conscious of the fact that there are ways in which you can help. By spreading feminism as much as you can and speaking about it whenever it’s brought up – It can be enriching because you live a more enlightened life. I dug really deep to get a meaning because I don’t really feel like men can benefit from feminism in a way.
How do you think men don’t benefit? If that’s how you feel, you should answer the question in that way.
It’s not as enriching for us because we already had our turn. Even though feminism is something that’s supposed to balance the scale, it’s never going to really be about men no matter how much you preach it and try to spread the word. It’s still not something that’s going to affect you directly every day so you can believe in it and definitely support it; it’s a beautiful thing, but doing so won’t really enrich your life as much because you already have as much as you can get since life is already rigged in your favor.
Do you think it’s enriching if a corporate job hires more women so you get other perspectives and viewpoints that you might not have in a room full of men? Doesn’t everyone benefit from that?
Yes you’re right. It could be enriching in that way as well, I didn’t think of that. You get to involve yourself more in the lives of women who probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to be in your life if it hadn’t been for feminism. There are a lot of sides to that question. It is and it isn’t enriching. It opens more doors and viewpoints, you’re exposed to a lot more when you’re on the same playing field as women.
Why do you think the word “feminist” is associated with a negative stigma? What do you think it connotes? How do you think it could change?
I think it’s connected to a negative stigma because when I first heard about feminism it was the ideology of butch lesbians saying: “Fuck men, women are the world, all sex is rape” – it was just a bunch of ridiculous things that were casting a negative shadow on feminism. Then a lot of people were saying: “I would hate to be a feminist, it’s so extra, it doesn’t need to be”. But once you dig deeper into what it actually is and you strip away all these layers of negative connotations that were associated with it unconsciously, you realize that it’s literally just: men are equal to women and should be on the same playing field. I feel like it was connected through media too; it was exaggerated by cartoons, TV shows, comedy segments etc. and many of the ignorant people watch those things so the media gave it wings, making it a bigger idea than it actually was. When feminism first came out it was misunderstood and misinterpreted completely, but as the original core of it came to surface, people noticed more: “This is what it is and that is what it isn’t.“ A lot of people are still stuck on what it was. I think that’s super important as to why people say they’re not feminists; because they’re still thinking of what they thought it was before. A way we can knock the stigma down is to just simplify it and say: “Feminism is the equality of men and women”. The stigma is just remnants of archaic thinking.
What issues/reservations do you have with feminism today? What do you personally think needs change?
People say that they have issues with feminism? I’m going to be a major feminist regardless just because it’s a staple and I don’t see anything wrong with the cause. But I do feel that the way it’s portrayed is an issue. A lot of women of color aren’t as integrated whenever something is produced and portrayed through the media through ads or commercials. The media is more neglectful towards women of color. Or maybe they show black and white but there’s no in between of different races and places in the world. It’s not just one section of feminism that’s valid, it’s the scope of it. It’s just something that I don’t see on a daily basis. When I see feminism in my head, automatically what I see is white and black and maybe some Latina but not as much of a broad spectrum just because that’s what I’m exposed to by the media. Maybe it’s because I’m not as integrated in feminism as I should be but I feel like diversity is key. Diversity is what we’re striving for. There are also a lot of places where people have never heard of feminism. While it’s super prevalent in the U.S., it’s also a super pressing issue everywhere else, especially in places where women aren’t valued whatsoever. The way they’re oppressed in other places should shed more light on it rather than less.
We definitely have it easier in the U.S. than other countries. Why do you think your grandmother has such strict ideas about femininity in men?
My grandparents grew up in the Dominican Republic. My grandpa is Cuban and he married my grandma. I know that she’s very Dominican and in our culture it’s super prevalent for the male to be super macho, bring home the money, protect his family, be super aggressive, probably drink a lot, not do dishes or cook or clean. It’s super retro and my grandparents conformed to that. I’ve never seen anything else. My grandpa gets mad at me when I do dishes. When I was a kid he would yell at me and say: “Don’t do dishes because you’re not supposed to.” If I was sitting a certain way he would smack me with his cane and yell: “Men are not supposed to sit like that”. He wouldn’t beat me or anything but he’d just say: “Don’t do that”. I mean, I wasn’t raised with them so a lot of my personal attributes and childhood idiosyncrasies grew with me because my Mom and Dad and Stepdad were all super accepting of every single part of me. They’re just waiting for me to tell them what’s up because they already know that it’s there. They know that I’m into women but they know something else is up and they’re constantly pressing about it, saying: “If you ever want to come out to us and tell us things, don’t ever feel like you’re going to be judged”. So I definitely do have that support system in my life, it’s not like I’m starved of it. I never feel like I have to be scared to be myself but like I said; until something serious comes along I feel like there’s no reason to even bring it up just yet.
This post was originally published on the author’s Tumblr and isr republished here with her permission.
Photo credit: Deryne photography