Laverne Cox sheds light on the intersection of transphobia, racism and misogyny from an insider’s perspective in a video published by Keppler Speakers. According to Laverne Cox, it is the trauma of oppression that still governs the black community’s perception of themselves, and it impacts how the black community treats her, as a transgender woman. This is a community that still struggles to prove itself in a society that is on the verge of transitioning out of racism but doesn’t seem to get there. Cox asks, “what is it about you that you have a problem with?” She goes on to tell stories of harassment and violence which affect the lives of transgender people, and how the harassment is based on several power structures: “they began to argue whether I was the b-word or the n-word”, Cox explains during a retelling of an incident that happened to her in New York.
As Cox shows us, different types of oppressions intersect and it is often hard to separate them. Often, they rely on each other to survive and uphold the hierarchy within a society. So what is being protected?
The Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell published her book “Masculinities” two decades ago, sparking a debate on the subject that would be discussed and evolved for years. This was the first time that the term had been spoken of as plural. In her book, Connell popularized the term hegemonic masculinity and suggested a hierarchy within the gender. Hegemonic masculinity is understood as the dominant form of masculinity – traditionally seen as the ideal, which carries with it connotations of power, strength and government. This type of masculinity is content with the gender binary as well as the hierarchy within their own gender seeing as it suits their interest of maintaining their position in society.
Another category in the hierarchy is the cooperative masculinity, which may not meet the strict standards of hegemonic masculinities, but enjoys the benefits that come along with being a heterosexual male in society. The next group in the hierarchy is the marginalized masculinity, which does not fit into the mainstream model of masculinity. This group largely consists of lgbtq men as well as non-white men, who do not strive to achieve or uphold the status of hegemonic masculinity, and thus challenge its construct.
The feminist movement has caused a lot of unease specifically for their attempts to even the field between genders. One recurring fear is that the equality of women will lead to imbalance in society – the very fear of losing the concept of a woman, which is complementary to the man. People of color, a marginalized group in Western society, as Cox points out, also carries with it a history of oppression which is being reexamined in today’s society. The fear is deepened by the existence of transgender people, which simultaneously undermine the gender binary as well as undermining the masculine hierarchy. What are some of the problems that occur when oppressed groups come together in one body?
The ultimate, combined force of the abovementioned marginalized groups is that they represent unknown territory, and few types of fear are greater than the fear of the unknown. When we remove the social structures we have become so accustomed to, what is left? How do we understand the world around us? The consequence of operating on a system that categorizes people based on color or gender is that it breeds injustice. As we see in society today, this is a system that is oppressive and one that society has outgrown. Despite great strides in equality and ongoing debate concerning all mentioned parties, the biggest obstacle is the internalization of the categories that separate us. We recognize and respond to people who do not fit into the binary and we impose sanctions on their behavior because it contests with our understanding of how the world should be. This circles back to Cox asking, “what is it about you that you have a problem with?” It appears that we as a society punish each other because of the restrictions imposed on us. If I am not allowed to be a free, complete version of myself, then neither are you. Still, what is most important is that these outdated values are challenged and talked about. Historically, human rights movements have often moved forward together, as they are in the current wave of lgbtq, gender and race equality. It is perhaps not a coincidence that these events take place as education rises worldwide (worldbank.org).
Connell, R W, Messerschmidt, J W: “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept”