Recognizing and understanding my male privilege
Thursday, October 18th, 2018
Written by: Felix R. Martinez-Paz, Men and Boys Engagement Coordinator, Casa de Esperanza
When I share my story, as a Latino man, I would like to remind everyone that it is the result of my experiences and what I have learned over the years. It doesn’t necessarily reflect everyone’s experience and should not be used to define the Latino male community. All these experiences define me and move me to reject false concepts of masculinity and to reconstruct what I believe today makes me a man.
I share my story with the hope to encourage and engage others to take action and to help understand and reflect more deeply on what masculinity truly is. Our actions, customs, and actions (often unconsciously) promote a toxic or unhealthy masculinity, which hurts, denigrates, and limits the equality and rights of women; it also provides a privilege and shield that many men don’t want to renounce and few want to talk about. I hope my story is one of many future stories in which reflection is the tool to help us promote healthy masculinity and support other men to break with this behavior and begin a change that promotes a society of respect and equality for future generations.
I was born in a hospital in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico where my proud grandmother shouted with joy, “It’s a boy! It’s a boy!” filling the room with amazement and surprise with her euphoric reaction. It was her first male grandson after six granddaughters. It was a moment of total joy for the family, now that a boy had been born to carry the family’s surname and legacy — something which was not very realistic and didn’t take into account that I had only arrived in this world a few minutes ago. Although I was just a newborn, my life was already filled with the expectations and responsibilities that society often imposes on male children.
During my adolescence, gender roles helped my parents to discern and differentiate what my behaviors and responsibilities should be as a future man. Or at least, that’s what they thought. It should be noted that, in my family’s eyes, going against any of the roles imposed by our society at that time would have put my masculinity in question and brought consequences for me. This subconsciously compelled my parents to follow the roles to perfection, giving dolls, babies and kitchens to the girls of the family, while giving the boys toy soldiers and cowboy pistols. Thus, what should be the roles for men and women were defined for the future.
In my youth, these behaviors were further instilled, to the extent of objectifying women. Television, movies and commercials instilled in me a patriarchal system where man had and deserved an advantage when it came to getting opportunities. I learned that as men, we had the privilege of making decisions without taking women into account, and that a woman’s role was a more passive one that was usually to raise the children and cook. It’s something that’s clearly endorsed and taught by gender roles and encouraged by a patriarchal system, which, at this point of my youth, had already been normalized in our society. All this promotes the male sex as dominant, and of course indoctrinates hyper-masculinity and limits women’s opportunities, equality and rights.
Given societal expectations of men, I always felt pressure from my family and friends to have a partner. If I didn’t bring a girlfriend home, they’d look at me funny. In my community, if I did not brag to my friends about women, they would think I wasn’t man enough. And as a young man, that your friends doubted or tested your masculinity was the greatest fear and insult a man could face. Being called effeminate or some other vulgar labels for gay men was a reason to fight or attack the challenger and ensure that they never questioned your masculinity again, even if it would cost you to be beaten up. As a young man, it was necessary to bust out a sword and shield to demonstrate that I was macho, that I did not cry, that I did not show feelings, that I was strong, that I had many girlfriends, that I was successful, and that I fulfilled all expectations of being a man; expectations that I didn’t fulfill and that affected me for fear of what society might think of me. This made me focus my life on the superficial rather than focus on my values and the qualities that would make me a better person and a better man. But at the same time, it made me complicit in promoting many unhealthy behaviors that had to do with masculinity.
During my college years, I upheld many of these toxic behaviors, not because I was part of them, but because I tolerated them and didn’t speak up. I saw and heard men and youth objectify women and I didn’t take into account that that woman could have been my sister, my mother, my cousin and now one of my daughters. In our society, we unjustly judge a woman simply for having had several partners, while we celebrate it for a man. I am ashamed that as men we don’t embrace equality and respect among ourselves, and we live in an individualistic world and not a world in which we help each other.
It is time for men to take action. To begin to create safe spaces where men can reflect on our attitudes and behaviors. Where we can feel safe to discuss and define what could be a new masculinity or what deep down we have always known but don’t dare see or understand because of the consequences it could bring to our image.
A masculinity that understands, that it is not about giving women permission to participate but affirm that it is their right, and that does not judge or define people just because of their sex assigned at birth; a masculinity that renounces the negative and authoritative nature of the patriarchy, which focuses on power and control. I’m not saying that everything I’ve learned about manhood is negative, but I think it’s time to identify what the really important values are, such as wanting to be part of caring for your family, but aside from mere collaboration — working as a team, not just as a provider. It’s time to start having conversations with our children about consent and healthy relationships, and especially with our sons because for a long time we’ve had these conversations with girls, again always holding the woman responsible for her safety and security, and for our actions. It is time to stop victimizing survivors, to listen, to support and to believe them. It is time to stop discriminating against people because of their sexual preference and/or identity, to learn to listen without judging and to ask when we don’t understand without assuming. It’s never too late to start; I’ve already started.