We’re pleased to feature this special guest post authored by Muhlenberg College (and Contemporary Racism) alum, Brittany Smith (’17). Brittany is at Columbia University pursuing an MPH focusing on health promotion and children’s health equity.
A few weeks ago, I went dancing at a few bars with some college friends who were visiting. I also encountered one of the most fragile and aggressive examples of masculinity I’ve ever seen. (And, as a woman who dates men, I’m no stranger to fragile masculinity.) When analyzing the situation, I found myself thinking about intersectionality; coined by feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality posits that we experience social structures in unique ways according to our overlapping and intersecting identities of race, gender, ability, age, socioeconomic status, religion, and more.
That night, I was following my friend down the stairs to the bathroom, when a man stopped me and began to compliment me. I politely thanked him but told him that I had to use the bathroom. After he continued to talk to me, I repeated that I had to use the bathroom and find my friend. I began to walk down the stairs.
His response? “THAT’S F$&#ING CRAZY!” along with a stream of insults, hollered my way down the stairs.
Caught off guard, I used the bathroom, told my friend what had happened, and then returned upstairs. To my surprise, the man approached my friend and started talking in her ear. I calmly watched him talk to her, prepared to step in if need be, but let her handle the situation on her own. I then walked over to her as he left.
He then returned to us and angrily asked me why I would tell her to not date him. I assertively told him to leave us alone. He returned to screaming at me, blaming the fact that he “can’t get a date” on his acne and his hair.
His next tactic? “You ignorant white girl, you just don’t understand!” This comment, I believe, was designed to put me on the defense. I replied that my reaction had nothing to do with race, but rather his aggressive behavior. He then stormed off and told me he hoped I die the next day. Charming, right?
There’s a few points to this story that I think are critical in our larger conversation about addressing issues of race from an intersectional lens.
First, I do not mean to discount the reality of racism that this man may face in his life. Although I cannot be sure of his ethnicity based on his appearance, he appeared to be South Asian. In both popular culture and research, Asian men have been perceived and portrayed as less masculine than other races. It’s quite possible that he has experienced this in his own life, which could be contributing to his perception of the situation. Tying this into the availability heuristic, a phenomenon in which decision-making is impacted by the amount someone is exposed to an idea, he may have jumped to the conclusion that my decision to reject him was somehow tied to race. Looking back on this experience, I wonder how much of his reaction was due to continued exposure to racism related to his masculinity.
I also think that calling me ignorant was meant to make me nervous and throw me off. I believe it speaks to the trope of the stupid woman who cannot understand things unless men explain them to her — mansplaining. His irrelevant comment about racism was not only ineffective, but further highlighted the need for intersectional progress. We can’t push for racial progress while ignoring the aggressive and dangerous nature of American masculinity. I also can’t tell this story without recognizing my white privilege in this sexist encounter. I was able to stand and argue with the man without anyone stepping in or assuming I’m the one to blame. The bouncer immediately believed me when I told him the story. Often times, this is not the case for black women.
Fragile, aggressive masculinity clearly needs to be addressed, as shown through my experience. But it needs to be addressed through an intersectional lens so that all women can feel safe and secure and no men feel the need to “prove” their masculinity.
(Little did he expect this “ignorant white girl” to analyze how American masculinity and racism function with one another for a blog about contemporary racism.)