Refracted Identities: The Black Male, Feminism, and Rape Culture


 In James Dean’s Straight Men he explores the construction of the heterosexual male identity.  He writes of the history of heterosexuality as one that began as opposition to homosexuality, which centered on sex norms and marriage.  Men have historically constructed this identity as one of dominance and excretion, that is, an identity that must be exerted at all times.  Dean writes that the “notion of the normality and naturalness of heterosexuality made the idea that men and women are different and complementary seem like a necessity of nature” (246).  He writes of men today who “draw on an exaggerated or hyper-masculine style to convey being straight”, in which they convey a “style of masculinity through trying to be dominant over other men and women… through hyper-competitive alpha male practices of trying to win women’s sexual attention” (247), while also sexually objectifying them.  Dean, therefore posits, that the heterosexual male identity is constructed to be one of dominance, which many scholars would agree with, but also maybe one of superiority, entitlement, and objectification as well.  Heterosexual men do not feel that they are heterosexual men unless they possess all these traits and present them to the world. My question is then, to what extent is this still true today and is this mindset what makes it hard for men the join the feminist movement?

For many, we do not just have one identity and our multiple identities inform the ways in which we interact in the world; specifically in this post however, I will focus specifically on the heterosexual black male identity. In Straight Men, Dean goes on to capture the sexual narratives of some straight men.  He captures the story of a black heterosexual male named Jason, in which he describes race as central to his heterosexual identity.  With being a black male, sexual scripts are placed onto this population that perpetuates the idea of hyper-heterosexual activity and a “secure, straight identity”.  Jason explains being attributed a large penis, being good at basketball, and male friends assuming all his female relationships are sexual.  Dean writes that though Jason’s practices are nothing but conventional, “his racial identity acts as a kind of inoculation against homosexual suspicion…[and] exaggerates his heterosexual masculinity and sexual prowess, as seen through his friends’ assumptions that he has “all these girls””(249). On the one hand, we can see how his identity as black reinforces and benefits his straight identity, but how does this racial identity inform the ways in which he views minorities, such as homosexuals or women?  When Jason is asked this question he cites his identity as a racial minority and his desire not to be discriminated against because of who he is as the reason why he is not homophobic.  It is important to note here that Jason chooses to exert his minority identity in this instance instead of his more convenient majority one of being a male, however, is Jason the norm?

A couple weeks ago, as many know, ICloud was hacked and the nude photos of many celebrities were leaked.  For weeks after this there was an excited frenzy in which individuals were sharing the photos online, looking up the photos and gazing upon them, and or frantically trying to figure out the list of all the celebs pictures that were leaked just in case your favorite actress made the list.  It is important to note here, that all the pictures that were leaked were of women.  Smell the rape culture yet?  In a previous post I define rape culture as the practice of dangerous sexual activities being normalized into society.  I would like to expand on that definition as one in which perpetuates the male gaze and frames female bodies as commodities.  These women were solely viewed as eye candy and there was little to no effort to take these pictures down and prosecute the hacker, who has essentially committed sexual assault.  A vivtim, as victims mostly do, had to stand up for herself since no one else would do so on her behalf.

Jennifer Lawrence, whose pictures were also leaked, came out with a statement recently describing the hack as “not just a scandal. It’s a sex crime…it is a sexual violation.”  She also writes that “It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world.” However, some believe this is taking it too far.

As I was scrolling twitter, I found a tweet that said the following:

 “Nudes getting leaked… Sex Crime? C’mon. Chill”

Here, the tweeter is implying that Jennifer Lawrence and all the other victims who share her sentiment are overreacting, which by minimizing the situation is in itself the perpetuation of rape culture.  What stands out to me however is this tweeter is a black male, and unlike Jason from Straight men, this black male does not sympathize for the discrimination of this minority though he has experienced it himself. My question then is, does this tweeter and others, choose to identify with his dominant male identity because it is to his benefit? And does this play back into the paradigm of having to sexually subject women to exert oneself as a heterosexual male?  Also, does identifying as a minority make it easier or harder to sympathize with other minority led movements, or is this tweeter the more persistent ideology? And as I suggested earlier, is it the fear of loosing this identity that makes it difficult for males to participate in the feminist movement?

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