The day I discovered my own prejudices… in my teenage book club | Opinion


By Cherie Fernandes

Dear Aiden,

I’ll be honest, I’ve never liked your occasional weekend book club invasions too much. You relax outside our circle of poufs, put your muddy cleats on the furniture, and most blatantly, steal our snickerdoodles by the handful.

And yet you taught me something in one of your rare contributions, during our discussion on Alice Walker’s The color purple.

Another member explained Shug’s famous rejection of gender roles when you interrupt him through a bite of cookie: “Harpo is pretty interesting.” We were waiting for you to continue, and you pointed out that he really enjoys cooking and cleaning. “He just looks like he’s getting criticized for being girly and… sappy,” you shrugged. The rest of us narrowed our eyes.

The story was clearly about feminism, we thought. I joked that you should ‘watch this male privilege’ you rolled your eyes and went back to your game of Clash Royale, and the discussion continued. Except… I didn’t.

Your argument echoed in my head until I sat down, did some research, and came to a conclusion.

Considering outdated gender roles, we reject the idea that women are unsuited to the temperament of demanding professions – and rightly so. However, the opposite hypothesis is not so easily disputed; we always assume that men are meant to be emotionless and aggressive, not fit to raise children.

For a girl, crying or a display of weakness elicits sympathy, while men are much more likely to be scolded and begged to toughen up. Girls share feelings and seek solace, while men – like Harpo, you were right to say – are encouraged to push them back for fear of being seen as weak.

The assumption that men are naturally aggressive serves them poorly by several criteria: paternity fraud and false accusations of sexual misconduct only affect men, and should we man is victim of domestic violence, there are few resources at its disposal.

In fact, men in such situations are often looked down upon for their “weakness”, with male rape – “don’t drop the soap” – and domestic violence is appallingly played for humor in today’s media. hui. This is of particular concern because 1 in 7 men (compared to 1 in 4 women) report having been seriously injured physically by an intimate partner, according to the 2010 CDC. Report of the National Survey on Intimate Partners and Sexual Violence. Yet given the associations of the #MeToo movement and the way abuse is often portrayed, we tend to assume that domestic violence is an issue that rarely affects men.

Another consequence of this over-represented ‘aggressive man’ narrative is that fathers rarely get custody of children in the event of a legal battle, and on a smaller scale, men are rarely encouraged to take on the role of child. main caretaker, with a stay-at-home fathers and men entering the traditional nursing / parenting professions often mocked; outdated gender roles work both ways and can be just as damaging for men.

I had known these things, fuzzy on the periphery of my understanding of gender issues, but I had never connected them before.

I’m ashamed to say that my first instinct was to insist that while men can have problems, women have much worse. It took me replaying our conversation in my head a few times before I understood that maybe it didn’t matter.

This is not a competition for the “most disadvantaged”, women do not need to be empowered to the detriment of repressed men.

I believed that as a woman of color, I and those like me were uniquely placed to discuss gender issues. And to some extent, I was right – I’ve had experiences you just can’t understand firsthand, of finding myself alone in an otherwise all-male advanced STEM class to being whistled on my way to school. ‘school.

But you have had experiences that I will never understand so well. I will never be laughed at or called “weak” if I am assaulted, and I will never be told “to be a man” if I cry.

The concept of ‘male privilege’ ignores how inequalities affect men, which removes stories of men who would otherwise be able to influence sexism and gender issues and how to deal with it. solve them. When we as a society tell men that they have a ‘male privilege’, like I did that afternoon, we alienate people and their stories, the exact opposite of nurturing a open discussion.

Just as there was room for the two complex stories in “The color purple, “ it is the same in our conversations. I resolve not to reject the important voices, yours among them. And so, Aiden, thank you for teaching me something new that day, and I’m sorry I didn’t realize it back then.

Hope you are willing to bring your perspective to future book club meetings – if you keep your sneakers out of my bean bags, you are welcome to snickerdoodles.

Cherie Fernandes grew up in Princeton Junction and attended Lawrenceville School. She is now a freshman at the University of Chicago. His essay won the “Think for yourself”High school essay contest sponsored by Let grow, a non-partisan, non-profit group.

Our journalism needs your support. Please register today at

here is how to submit an editorial or letter to the editor. Bookmark Follow us on twitter @NJ_Opinion and on Facebook at Opinion Get the latest updates straight to your inbox. Subscribe to newsletters.


Comments are closed.