By Anjali Seegobin
On Thursday, June 17th, South Queens Women’s March (SQWM) hosted a virtual workshop featuring Quentin Walcott, Mohamed Q. Amin, Darrell Craig, and Vijah Ramjattan. The conversation was moderated by Aminta Kilawan-Narine and Tannuja Rozario with over 40 people in attendance. Speakers addressed the harms of toxic masculinity and showcased their respective work to shift patriarchies embedded in our society; such work involves shifting towards a ‘healthy masculinity,’ acknowledging the socialization of gender, breaking down systems that reinforce toxic masculinity and describing masculinity as masks.
South Queens Women’s March (SQWM) is an all-volunteer multi-generational, intersectional platform working to foster women’s empowerment through dismantling norms, practices, and institutions that support patriarchy and gender injustice. Since its inception in January 2020, the organization has taken to the streets to unify women and gender non-conforming individuals and provide them with the tools and resources necessary to empower their own lives and thrive. SQWM has been curbing food insecurity, period poverty, building healthy relationships, and promoting wellness within South Queens. SQWM organized various initiatives to curb gender-based violence in South Queens. For example, the organization’s brochure campaign has included information and resources around domestic violence and toxic masculinity. SQWM dispersed these brochures throughout South Queens in local businesses such as barber shops, restaurants, and bars to pioneer awareness about these issues. SQWM has also hosted a series of 17 healthy relationship workshops to prevent toxic relationships and gender-based violence by providing tools for women, girls, and gender non-conforming folks locally. Its toxic masculinity workshop was part of this series to promote a safe space and create dialogue about these issues.
According to sociologists, toxic masculinity involves practices and attitudes of masculinity that are violent, sexually aggressive, and unemotional. These practices are reinforced through misogyny (prejudice against women), patriarchy (a system that supports male dominance), and homophobia (prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community). Toxic masculinity can present itself in many forms such as aggression (including sexual), hyper-competitiveness, needing to dominate or control others, glorifying violence, isolation, lack of empathy and compassion. These traits directly impact the ways in which we are socialized and often result in harmful behaviors that can emerge as violence in our local neighborhoods.
According to a report conducted by the Mayor’s Office Unit to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence, in Queens there have been 24,138 reports of intimate partner domestic incidents and 7 intimate partner homicides in 2020. The 102nd precinct reported 1,124 domestic violence complaints, the 106th and 103rd reported 1,315 and 1,493 respectively in 2020. These numbers show only a fraction of the issue as many incidents remain unreported. Moreover, a recent rise of violent crime in South Queens has resulted in tragic deaths such as the fatal shooting of 10 year old Justin Wallace. Wallace and his uncle were shot while entering their home in Far Rockaway on June 5th. The vast majority of the perpetrators of these crimes are male-identifying.
During the event, Quentin Walcott, co-executive director of CONNECT NYC said, “In my work with men and boys through institutions, we learn that masculinity is definitely a mask we put on in response to systems of power, to gain or maintain power. For those exhibiting toxic masculinity, it may very well be a defense or needed defense to toxic masculinity. We meet toxic masculinity with more toxic masculinity. If we think about the history of Black and Brown folks in relation to police shootings and police brutality, the response to Black and Brown communities is toxic masculinity.” Mohamed Q. Amin, Founder and Executive Director of Caribbean Equality Project, highlighted the ways toxic masculinity impacts the LGBTQ community. “Considering the notions of homosexuality and feminity being equal or identical, the definition of homophobia can arguably be revised as the fear of feminity or the fear of the feminine.” Amin cited a research study of over 3,600 men in various countries. “Homophobic men who exhibit toxic masculinity are more likely to be prone to violent bullying, sexual harassment and mental health issues.” Amin noted that toxic masculinity can impact the safety of LGBTQ people, including the murders of transwomen by their partners, LGBTQ people being attacked on the streets or on social media, and boys being taught from home that LGBTQ folks are illegal or wrong, often stemming from religion.
Darrel Craig, Founder and Executive Director of iROCK Charities, who works closely with South Queens’ youth, said: “You have to teach them [youth] resilience. I think being tough and being resilient are two different things. Resilience is the ability to acknowledge and then recover from the problem. Resilience is not the same idea as teaching them what society thinks, how a male should act or a female should act.” Vijah Ramjattan, Founder of the Brothers Reach Out (BRO) Support Group said, “When I looked at my community, I wondered, who do men talk to? Who do they have? Nobody. So, they turn to things they know best: alcohol, violence, or drugs. Most of the time, these three things put together, leads to the death of their spouses or themselves.” Ramjattan indicated that the creation of the BRO Support Group was one solution to the experiences men have. He also highlighted ways in which faith perpetuates patriarchy.
“We recognize that the only way we will reach collective liberation is by having conversations like this one, and by identifying the sources of harmful learned behaviors, including those demonstrated by men,” said Kilawan-Narine, SQWM’s founder and director. Tannuja Rozario, SQWM founding board member who also teaches gender studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, indicated, “By having this conversation about toxic masculinity, we are engaging in the unteaching and unlearning of harmful gender norms and practices, which can lead people to feel bad about themselves or they may experience pressures to live up to masculine ideals.” These conversations are important and we need to continue to carve out spaces within our communities to collectively work to break down rigid gender practices.