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  • Dr. Obari Adéye Cartman

Be a real man, fight like a girl

What does effeminization of the Black man even mean? It can’t just be about dress and mannerisms. We have so many other problems, being that upset about style seems like misplaced aggression, so it must be something deeper. The notion that the worst thing a man can be is more like a woman suggests a hidden disdain for/jealousy of/desire to control women. Even a ”good guy” will call sharing vulnerable emotions “getting in touch with his feminine side.” A well-intentioned woman will ask her guy to watch a compassionate movie, a “chick flick”. They both miss the point – rigid stereotypes of gender characteristics are the problem. Capitalism requires categories and hierarchy, so we are taught that men are aggressive and women nurturing, but it’s all wrong. All people - men, women, trans, queer, etc. carry aspects of all these qualities, aggression, nurturance, vulnerability, assertiveness, courage, and fear. Emotions are a universal function of the human experience.

The actual problem with what they call ‘effeminization’ of Black men is really about power. Those of us that decide to fight see the benefit of having all hands on deck. There’s an assumption that more manicured hands are too soft to fight with. There’s an association with queer and weak that disregards the James Baldwins and Bayard Rustins. Also, there’s some mythology around the image of a cis hetero strong working God fearing Black man at the head of the household protecting the women and children, which ignores the reality that most of the intimate partner violence and child abuse happens by the rugged hands of these same men.

I believe in identifying problematic men. We should have language for men that do harm, are co-opted by the enemy, and are generally weak men. We just need to be much more clear that strength or weakness has nothing to do with gender. Calling them out isn’t as useful as encouraging or supporting them, but for the grown men that choose to remain weak, the community is better off being able to distinguish them. Saying they’re acting like a bitch when they display emotion is not the way to do it. Calling a man a pussy as any indication of weakness doesn’t even make sense, especially if you know anything about childbirth. We need a complete and fundamental renewed understanding of the inferences our language makes about inaccurate conceptualizations of gender. What if I could still call a man a wuss, a pansy, a wimp, and it not immediately conjure associations with women? Instead it becomes clear that I’m actually talking about a man displaying cowardice, immaturity, willful ignorance, pettiness, or lack of responsibility.

Let’s bring this to life. You a sissy for not having the internal fortitude to resist the social pressure to fight another man for looking at a lady you with. While he worried about a guy carrying a man bag, a brother wearing his “typical man suit” is the real pansy because he scared of getting his Timbs scuffed, won’t actually play basketball in his Jordans, and is wearing a fitted cap with the logo of a racist sports team. We have concocted this image of ‘cool’ ‘hard’ ‘thug’ ‘gansta’ that lets guys get away with still feeling like a man while selling poisons that destroy other Black families (or rapping about it). Any man is a wimp that sprays an automatic weapon towards a playground. Drive-bys in general are pretty weak, get out the car, walk up to him, fist fight, or if you for real a man have an uncomfortable conversation. It don’t matter how savage you think you are, it is a display of weakness to keep fighting each other for no reason, while the orchestrators of the conditions that pit us against each other continue to profit. A swole tatted up gang leader in prison is acting like a wuss when he encourages his sons to continue living the life that got him locked up because he can’t see how weak it is to have his actual rival gang (judges and police) tell him when to go to sleep.

Let’s not forget about our brothers a little higher on the socioeconomic ladder. There’s a bunch of corporate men in suits, professors in universities and other 9 to 5ers that are too afraid to rock the boat or spend time in the “bad” neighborhoods. They have adjusted to so many compromises they don’ t remember what they actually value. Our handsome family man former president spent 8 years droning brown people as a show of strength. He still got to keep his Nobel Peace Prize. We almost got a woman president but some were afraid of what she’d do with her finger on the button for a couple days every month, so instead they chose a leader who’s not petty, erratic or impulsive at all. It must’ve been men that started the false rumor that women are the emotional ones. Men are extremely emotional, we just express it different. The most consistent outcome of men’s inability to regulate their emotions is local and global violence.

We need fighters, we need strength. That includes everyone, but the focus of my work is on my brothers. We need stronger men, and that strength must include compassion, intelligence, and internal insight. We need weapons and martial arts too, but we see what happens when they drop guns off into a community without proper analysis. Part of the solution is relatively simple education. Our children barely learn about only a few of our fighters, they are usually men. But Black resistance movements are full of women warriors. They fought. Hard. And often. The more we teach about them the more we change the image associated with phrases such as “fight like a girl”. It’ll take the insult out of it. It will add the proper inspiration. “Yeah, you right” he’ll say “I do fight like a girl…” I fight like Harriet. I fight like Assata. I fight like Ida. I fight like Audre. I fight like Angela. I fight like Fannie. I fight like Yaa Asantewaa. I fight like Queen Nzinga. I fight like Ella Baker. I fight like Queen Mother Moore. I fight like Charlene Carruthers. I fight like Septima Clark. I fight like Kristiana Rae Colon. I fight Cynthia McKinney. I fight like Obiageli Ezekwesili. I fight like Funmilola Fagbamila. I fight like Michelle Alexander. I fight like the Mino. I fight like Cassiopeia. I fight like Queen Nanny. I fight like Carlota Lukumi. The more we shift our language, by being more intentional and precise, we will strengthen our gender analysis, to know when it may not even have anything to do with gender at all. Sometimes when we take gender out of the equation we can communicate with more clarity. The title of this essay, for instance, without gender would simply state what the main point was all along: Be real, fight.

~Dr. Cartman is the author of a critically acclaimed book about family, manhood, relationships and culture. You can purchase it here.

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