Social Justice & Organizing Work, STEM, Student Life

The Importance, Power, and Warmth of Femme Spaces in Academia

There is no way to repay women of color for the burdens we’ve carried on behalf of men. Historically, we’ve always been pushed into some kind of mold that caters to men, leaving only the shell of a woman, not driven by her own passions, militancy, or happiness but by marriage, the coddling of grown men, and the further reinforcement and upholding of the nuclear home.

In junction with all of this, I think about my own struggles as a woman of color. Within my respective field, I am consistently surrounded by men and masculine energy that chips away at me. These spaces are unsafe for a brown woman like myself, in which I become vulnerable to disrespect and sexual harassment. I am undermined, questioned, and my work, stolen. I get side comments about being on my period, being a bitch, and taking everything too seriously. Never am I seen as an equal in these spaces, consistently talked down to, having to work ten times harder to prove my ability and worth.

This constant abuse comes home with me. The constant guard I use to shield myself through these classes trickles back down into my safe spaces in which I often find myself stepping on toes. I become the very person I resent, forgetting to reach out towards my collective and the support of women of color. More so now, its become even harder to surround myself with feminine energy due to the amount of masculine spaces I spend large amounts of time in: at home, in class, with my partner, etc. I find myself re prioritizing now, shifting time where I can to make sure there is a balance of energy present in my life, with enough space to reflect, breathe, and re energize.

My career is only one portion of a bigger picture┬áthat every woman of color I know experiences. Each and every one of us carries the unique experience of race and gender in junction with one another. We don’t experience these two facets of ourselves as independent of one another, but occurring simultaneously, in ways that white women and men of color will never understand and experience. These experiences are so unique to the point of there being a variety of women of color feminist theories and ideologies, specific the the conditions of different races. The way in which a pinay would experience her race and gender is vividly different from the way in which a black woman experiences these facets, but rooted in the same issues of class stratification in junction with gender and race.

More and more, it becomes clear that the need to surround myself with feminine people and energy is vital to combat the detriment and overall toll that masculinity takes on me. Whether that be investing time with the women of color within my STEM class, time within the women’s sector of my collective, or simply studying around other brown femmes, the balance of energy is vital towards keeping everything I feel emotionally and mentally stable, even when faced with the many facets of oppression that are present in my chosen career.

And now, as I type alongside one of my closest queer pinay friends, as I feel the warmth and reaffirmation of bell hooks’ talk on campus, as she and I giggle in between my dancing and vent our frustrations with identity politics, I feel more whole than I have in the past two weeks. I feel ready to tackle my daunting load of Calculus homework, I feel at peace with my current conditions and state in classes. My complex femme identity not only is reaffirmed around the presence of other femme folks, but a space has been created, claimed, and full of our energy without worry of misogyny and racism to enter. My defenses are dropped, and I find solace between the eggshell, concrete walls that border the library.

Social Justice & Organizing Work

To Lose Ownership Of Self

Masculinity has controlled my entire life. From my first boyfriend of my high school years, to my relationship with both of my fathers, to my general interactions with men, toxic masculinity has rooted itself within my deepest fears and refuses to let me exist. Masculinity prevents me from sleeping, the back and forth within myself raging on as I wonder if I should have stuck up for myself like that, still unable to treat myself right. This dialogue gets increasingly louder and louder until my entire being is riddled with anxiety, fear, and self loathing. Instead of getting rest I need the night before a big work day at the library, it’s almost 4am and I’m on the verge of tears as I write, trying to quiet my anxiety.

I’m thinking about my earlier interaction from the late evening, when a coy exchange turned into a pressure cooker, where I had to choose between someone’s approval and my own personal boundaries. Gabriel and I used to date over the summer, but fell off very quickly after I noticed a few misogynistic, controlling slips he’d make. Knowing my issues with self image and insecurity, he’d use it against me when trying to stop me from smoking weed, telling me how unattractive I was for doing it. He was aggressive and slick talking, able to dance around any valid points I’d make about his controlling attitude, but never acknowledging them. Again, we had broken off due to his disrespect but somehow found his way back to me after many months.

Gabriel tried to get back in contact with me recently, although his intentions weren’t very clear. At my current point in life, I’m very content with my single lifestyle. I can focus on my writing and school at a much higher intensity and I’m given the time I need to really invest in the relationships that are loving and healthy. I knew within the time between Summer and now, I had made significant growth within myself and also knew the same could done by anyone else, so why not try again? At the end of the day, I could simply have gained a friend I didn’t have before.

I was dead wrong about change. As our conversation started to dive into the hidden, delicate parts of our past relationship, the tone became more intimate. Plans were starting to be made, until the conversation shifted. Gabriel, who lives about an hour away from me, started to ask for nude photos. Nude photos themselves aren’t an issue, and just like a lot of other people I’ve taken them, but they aren’t something to be demanded. I expressed my discomfort to him, and was slapped in the face with his response. “Well you’re going to have to be a photo person if you want distance to work” he sent to me, the blood draining from my face.

I felt helpless. I knew I didn’t owe him anything, but still, it stung like a sting from a wasp. His controlling statement hit at something that’s core to toxic masculinity: the objectification of women and non-men folks. Telling me that I would have to get into something past my own personal boundaries removes my control over my own body and says he holds the power to what I do. It’s the same power dynamic that was present in my past sexual assaults, that ripped away any ownership of myself. And I’m definitely not the only person who’s felt this.

I distanced myself and removed him from my life, but the rippling effects of damage that was sent through me have left scars. My behavior has been diminished today, my work ethic falling. I know that I’ll be okay and that I’ll recover, but my worry is deeper. It’s for people like my sister, who I know can’t pick themselves up the way I can. My worry is for the woman who has looked trauma and toxic masculinity in the face, and still hasn’t been able to get up from it. In addressing the power dynamics within patriarchy and toxic masculinity, issues like rape are dealt with, and reduced. By understanding masculinity’s role in the further oppression of people, we can advance as a society and make sure people like Gabriel┬ádon’t ever happen.