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I Am a Feminist
Jovani Hernandez
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My mother was the strongest, most intelligent, and hardest-working person I have ever known. She was the person who first showed me which tools to use to fix our clogged sink. She assembled our furniture, played video games with my older brother and me, and taught me how to ride a skateboard. An avid Lakers and Shaquille O’Neal fan, she was the one who got me into
basketball.

Although I idolized my mother for her strength, I also admired the way she took care of herself. She expected my brother and me to do the same and would tell me things like, “Mijo, you always have to make sure your nails are clean,” when she’d take me to the salon with her. Or she’d say, “Where are you going with that hair looking like that?” before she’d blow it out or comb it for me.

It was the idea of being like her that made me enthusiastic about doing these things. In kindergarten, when my teacher asked the class who we wanted to be like when we grew up, most boys said their dads. Others would say a comic book hero like Superman, or a typically male job like a fireman. My response would always be “My mom.”

On top of teaching me how to take care of myself, my mother told me that it was OK to cry, and that talking about my emotions and recognizing my weaknesses would only help me become stronger.

My father left us when I was 4 years old but I didn’t feel his absence. Despite her long black hair, which she wore in a puffy style, and her huge collection of lipsticks, Mommy did “dad” stuff with and for me. She encouraged me to try basketball and football, which led to my love of both sports. She pulled pranks on me constantly, play-fought with me, and yelled at the TV when our beloved Jets were losing.

On one occasion, when I was meeting people from her job, she told me, “You shake hands like you’re scared of something. This is how you do it!” and grabbed my hand with a firm grip that made my eyes widen.

I realize that having her for a mom gave me a unique perspective: I never thought of “masculine” things being better than “feminine” things.

Why Are Your Nails Sparkly?

In middle school, kids and male teachers made fun of how I looked. “Boy, you need to go to the barber and let him cut all of that off,” my math teacher once said about my long hair. My classmates asked questions like, “Why are your nails so sparkly?” or, “Why do you have on so much jewelry?” Also, when girls in my class talked about getting their periods or their boobs growing, I didn’t join in when the other boys laughed. I began to feel isolated and confused because, to me, nothing was weird about my appearance or attitude toward girls.

My long hair, wearing lots of colored bracelets, and being understanding of girls’ physical maturity made people question my sexuality. Although I played on the basketball team, was one of the tallest kids in my class, and obsessed about sports, sneakers, video games, and girls, just like other guys, some kids interpreted my “female tendencies” as a sign that I liked the same sex. When I walked through the hallway I’d hear, “He’s too big to be acting gay,” or when I began wearing my hair in a bun, I heard a kid comment, “Doesn’t he know only girls wear their hair like that?”

When I talked to my mom and asked her why kids thought I was gay just because I was a little different, she replied, “Pay no mind to them. They just feel the need to judge how different you are because they’re jealous, because they’re all the same.” This advice got me through middle school.

image by YC-Art Dept

Women Wear the Pants

In high school, students became more accepting. But although I no longer got made fun of, I noticed people still had specific ideas of what was feminine and what was masculine. For example, in 11th grade a girlfriend told me, “You’re going to have to cut your hair because it’s longer than mine.” She also said, “I’m the girl. I wear the nail polish and necklaces, and you wear the pants.” This made me angry and our relationship didn’t last long. I can wear whatever I want.

The person who “wore the pants” in my house was a woman. Although, as a Latino boy, I have other relatives who view women as the weaker gender and men as the providers, I don’t agree. I also don’t let people’s judgment of me bother me. If there are aspects of me that others consider feminine, that’s OK. Who says being a tough guy who never cries is better than allowing myself to be vulnerable and sensitive? If more people could be themselves rather than acting in a way that makes them fit in, people wouldn’t struggle so much with their identity.

Once, in junior year English class, the question of whether or not we identified as “feminist” came up during a Socratic seminar. The boys in class muttered “no” under their breaths, shaking their heads. I hadn’t been informed of what feminism really is, so I listened as one boy said, “I’m not a feminist because they’re all hypocrites. They think girls are better than me.” Unfortunately, my teacher did not correct him, so I had the impression that feminism was nothing more than the idea of female superiority.

What is Feminism?

Then, last December, my fellow YCteen writer and friend Aniqa asked me if I was a feminist.

“No, I don’t believe anyone is better than anyone else. Men and women should be equal,” I said. And that’s when I found out that many young men like me have the definition of feminism completely wrong.

“Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights,” Aniqa explained. “The way you talk about your mother and the fact that you believe women are capable of anything men are capable of means you’re a feminist.” After learning what feminism truly is, I realized Aniqa was right—I am a feminist.

Although Mom died on February 16th, 2015, the impact she had on me is everlasting. Even as her health was fading, Mom remained a warrior and fought until the end. No one I know has endured more than her, and it is because of this that my mom’s strength, both mentally and physically, is what I admire most. I carry on as a feminist because she has shown me that a woman can be every bit as strong as a man, and they should be 100% entitled to everything a man gets.

Being a feminist does not mean that I don’t enjoy sports, that I am not masculine, or that I’m not a man. It simply means that I believe women are just as strong as men are and deserve equality in every aspect of life. For instance, female leaders shouldn’t be more scrutinized than men are, women should be allowed to play on competitive sports teams with men, and they should not feel afraid to speak up against the over-sexualization of their bodies.

I learned to be a “man” from a woman, and my mother was capable of doing anything a man could do. For this reason, I am an advocate for women’s rights. When someone makes a comment about men being stronger than women I laugh a little in my head, thinking, “They didn’t know my mother.”

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(NYC-2016-11-05)

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