I actually really love talking about sex with my parents. From that special moment when I was watching Bernadette of Lourdes and asked what an ‘immaculate conception’ was and was informed more about ‘conception’ than my 9-year-old mind could take, my parents have always been pretty open about sex, and I as well. Though we don’t always get along or agree, I respect the two of them a lot, and as awkward as it sounds, am happy that they still have a sex life after twenty-three years of marriage, and are looking pretty damn good for their age.
I went out to dinner with them last weekend; my dad was in town to run the Marine Corps Marathon. I’m not exactly sure how it began, but we started talking about societies’ views on sex and nudity – how boys don’t shower together in gym like they did when my dad was my age, about an conversation that my mom once had with her students, while teaching a study-skills class back in New Jersey.
Hey, Mrs. C, we got a question.
What is it?
Do you think it’s okay to go for it if the girl is drunk?
My mom sat down with a sigh, about to humor their question.
Why are you even asking that. Do you really want to go for it and have sex with a drunk girl if you’re sober?
No, no, no! You don’t understand, don’t get me wrong, I want us both to be drunk!
Where I come from in New Jersey is almost a majority-minority town. The public high school, which I attended for two years, was 75% Latino, and speaking from observation, Spanish girls tended to be more willing to be submissive to their men, and the young men were extremely masculine – willing to fight, take risks, carry weapons, and dominate women and each other. My mom found it tough sometimes, especially when she had to deal with study-skills sessions, which weren’t the smartest or most well-behaved kids, but they respected her enough to give their honest opinions, one guy said—
Well, girls should be careful when they get drunk, they should know what us guys are like.
As my mom had said later, even if she had wanted to slap him for his words, or even if every other person we knew had scorned him for the statement, it was undeniably his honest opinion, and right or wrong, that’s what he felt and that’s how he acted in his life – that guys are a certain way, and they can’t control themselves when it comes to girls.
Feminism wasn’t something I considered back in New Jersey as ever having an impact on my life. I lived in a town where women seemed to be subservient to men by culture, and I went to an all-boys Catholic school, where the only talk of women was in the most objectified way possible – even more so due to our lack of opportunity to interact with women in school.
When there’s no girls around, it seemed that there was no check on the misogyny and masculinity of eight hundred teenage boys. But I knew something was strange, as I didn’t adhere to the beliefs of my peers, who talked about the newest bitties of the weekend, and called out at young female teachers in the hallway. I dated in high school, and was in a long-term relationship with an older, extremely artistic and open-minded girl for two years. We were inexperienced, but I couldn’t imagine an arrangement in which we were anything but equal. Other relationships I saw and witnessed in high school struck me as so foreign – how could some of these girls be so blind as to not realize how little he cared for her? How could they even call this a relationship?
In college, things are different. People are feminist, and queer, and polyamorous, and unconcerned with gender roles in a way that was impossible back in New Jersey. (There were also hipsters, a very rare sight in Bergen and Hudson Counties.) When I came back in the summer and began delivering at a local restaurant, it was a return to the masculinity of working-class New Jersey, and a culture shock for me. During the day I worked in urban Hudson County with men who called at women on the street, customers who would be abusing their wives when I rang their doorbell, and every vulgar thing said about lesbians who ‘just need to get fucked in the ass to make them straight,’ but at night I’d be in a whole new world, whether with my amazing feminist friend Carmyn in the leafy northern suburbs, or with my open and egalitarian family, or with my friends who disavowed the kind of sexism that seemed to be so pervasive in the city.
I don’t know where to go from here, and I don’t fully feel comfortable singling out the black and Latino people who always seemed to be the most sexist and the most spiteful towards women. For every Salvadorean man who would be coming into the restaurant barking at his wife and daughters there would be an equally repulsive white man throwing his wife into walls right in front of me, the delivery boy. For every Blood that came in with a sneer, his girlfriend weeping, there might be a Norteño covered in tattoos smiling at his wife and taking a sincere interest in what his daughter had to say.
Generalizations mean everything, and nothing. I don’t have enough experience in all-white areas to say whether they’re just as sexist – but I don’t think it really matters. In any population you can find good and bad.
It’s hard for me to imagine a world where sexism is dead; we hope for every generation to be an improvement on their parents’, but I see no clear improvement in mine, decades after the civil rights and first- and second-feminist movement was relevant. The people of my generation associate feminism more with the hateful ideals of Dworkin rather than the tolerance of Paglia or other modern feminists. Personally, I keep it real with the people I work with, and even if I can’t change their minds, I will never agree with their views on women for the sake of fitting in with them, or even endearing myself to them. I’ll continue trying to treat every girl I interact with, whether romantically, as friends, or even just in passing, with all the respect I can afford.