Me and Junot Down By the School Yard…

This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of getting into a verbal altercation with a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Junot Diaz, who was visiting my college for its annual Writers Conference, debated me on one of my favorite topics: gender roles. While this conversation went in a myriad of unexpected directions – including taking some personal shots at each other – there was one aspect of the conversation that left me thinking deeply about myself and about the relationships that I share with some very important people in my life.

Essentially, one of Diaz’s main arguments about the state of “womanhood” today is that it’s been co-opted by men. He feels that over the past 10-15 years, society has created a generation (meaning, MY generation) of women who have sex like men (read: often and without feeling); embrace sports, aggression, and competition; strive for money, power, and status; and don’t value interpersonal connections, relationships, and motherhood. He believes that men have given up trying to keep women in the kitchen and instead have focused their efforts into turning women into men. Here’s the kicker, though: Diaz thinks that this has happened in order for men to fulfill their own long-standing homoerotic fantasies. Well then…

I have to say that he makes an interesting point. While on the surface I see nothing wrong with women taking on some seemingly “male” attributes and vice versa, I do think that with all we now know about dominant culture, it’s dangerous for any group to develop the oppressive traits of patriarchy. So, the rational, logical side of me agrees with Diaz. If men make women into men, then they can finally have a society completely run on masculine values, and men can get everything that they’ve ever wanted: women who watch football, make money, and give good head. But, the personal side of me is offended by what Diaz says because just like Elaine on Seinfeld or Deandra on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I, too, am and always have been seen as “one of the guys,” which means, to Diaz, I’m part of the problem.

Until I met Junot Diaz, I have never had a problem with this label. In fact, I have often prided myself in being able to both offer and stomach vulgar behavior and language, “hang” (and not be bored) in a sports conversation, command a crowd or be a leader, and watch a horror movie without shutting my eyes or shrieking. I also don’t mind sweating. And, for these reasons, I think men – including those in my own family – never minded having me around. They didn’t have to watch their words or plug up their butts or turn off ESPN.  I’m down with all that stuff (well, ESPN really has gone in the tank over the past decade, so maybe not that one so much…). But, since my conversation with Diaz, all I can do now is think about his claims, especially the parts about homoerotic fantasies, because so much of what he said relates directly to me and my relationships.

Does Diaz mean to say, then, that my dad loves me because he actually sees me as his son? Or, that my husband married me because he wanted a woman who was most similar to the guys he grew up with? Or, that my male friends have only accepted me into their circles because I’m basically THEM with a vagina? You can see how a woman, such as I, would be deeply disconcerted by the idea of this being the case.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited to see girls playing sports, talking shit, kicking ass, and taking names. I love that women are graduating college at never-before-seen rates, are taking powerful positions in the workforce, and making their own money. What concerns me, though, is how we’re getting there. If we’re getting there by trying to mimic men, then we may be missing the point of the foremothers who paved the way to make this all possible. The goal of feminism (or any civil rights movement for that matter) wasn’t for the oppressed class to succeed by becoming the dominant culture. The idea was to make a space for themselves in the culture and be afforded equal rights to succeed in that culture in their own way. Thanks to Junot Diaz, I now wonder if I’ve actually made my own space or if I simply sold out women (and womanhood) in order to skirt my way into the boys’ club.


About moniacal @ X Rated

On a lifelong journey to be a person in a place...
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9 Responses to Me and Junot Down By the School Yard…

  1. Hal Halbert says:

    You haven’t sold out: the problem is accepting the idea that sports, et al (including the love of good head) are gendered ideas. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Philadelphia, it’s that some damn feminine women love them some sports and can talk trash with the best of them. I’m not sure that somehow transforms them into heterosexual beards for latent gay men. Diaz’s point is fun, but it’s ultimately just another layer in attempting to co-opt any female agency by saying that anything you do that is feminine weakens you while anything “masculine” ungenders you.

    Besides, I think you are a damn fine woman even if you scream at your TV when the Eagles lose (again). I’m a damn masculine man even if I don’t like sports at all. F gender norms.

    • I agree, Hal. In fact, that’s what made me feel so badly about the conversation with Diaz. Here, all this time I thought of myself as a “well-rounded” woman, who had many interests that cross “gender lines.” But, then here he comes making it sound like I’m a product of the machine. It was a blow, certainly.

  2. I completely agree with Hal.The fact that particular hobbies or interests are defined as “masculine” or “feminine” is the problem – NOT which particular ones you like. Does the fact that I have zero interest in sports and love to cook and have always liked playing around with make-up make me June Cleaver – despite the fact that I have supported myself my entire adult life?
    The point of the feminist movement of the 1970s – and I’m old enough to remember it – was for people (both women and men) to have choices in life. The point was NOT to impose new judgments on them.

  3. Jana says:

    What a cool conversation you got to have with Junot Diaz! This reminds me of an article I may have put in your mailbox last year, by Linda Hirshman. She says mothers need to work and make a place for themselves in male-dominated culture before they can change it. Diaz’s argument is very interesting with regard to that idea. How do you change a system if you don’t get behind the scenes a little, I wonder?

  4. Leah Rosenthal says:

    I wonder what he has to say about men who enjoy cooking. Or what he would have to say about the men who stay at home with the children because their wives are the general bread winner of the family.

  5. Maybe he would say that women started the Women’s Movement to turn men into women to fulfill their own homoerotic fantasies. After all, it wasn’t men who wanted the change, at least initially.
    But maybe we shouldn’t even go there. Feminists already get labels like “femi-nazi” and “dyke” thrown at them often enough. Maybe we should just appreciate the fact that we have moved towards a society where women don’t have to feel trapped in relationships with no other options; they can be in relationships because they WANT to be there. We can appreciate that men don’t always have to feel the intense pressure to be the only provider, to always have to be the strong one; they might actually like having a real partner. Maybe we can just be thankful for those changes and let Junot worry about his own homoerotic fantasies without involving us in a lot of, frankly, sexist crap.

  6. dgriff13 says:

    hoof. this one hit home, Mon. I know I’m a bit late in reading/posting… but wow, I feel the same way you do. Do I really care less about most things feminine, or have I just been subconsciously disallowing myself to embrace them?

    Just don’t tell me to go shopping and drink cosmos to find out. I have sports to watch, comics to draw, and a 6-pack waiting in the fridge.

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