Featured Feminist Friday: Alex Nguyen
Photo by Natalie Delpino.
Alex Nguyen is a fourth year student majoring in human biology and society and he believes that feminism is as simple as ensuring that “all people [receive] the exact same respect as everyone deserves.” In order to achieve this, he believes in dismantling the patriarchal and heteronormative systems of oppression that continue to disrupt the lives of women, LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who deviates from gender norms. Alex believes it’s also important for men in the feminist movement to acknowledge their male privilege and the ways their positionality influences their experiences with gender inequality.
Since men don’t experience the same issues as women, due to their privileged position within patriarchy, many of them overlook gender inequality. Alex states, “I never thought about how women were inherently treated differently and lower status in everyday actions and behaviors,” until he witnessed an uncomfortable interaction between his parents. When Alex was 16 years old, his parents were having a conversation about their relationship in which his father upheld traditional gender roles and the things he expected from his wife because she is a woman. He felt uncomfortable with what his father was saying and watched as his mom sat there, not arguing. According to Alex, “My mom wasn’t nodding in agreement. She was… just sitting there quietly.” After the conversation, Alex pulled his mother aside to check on her.
He learned that his mother didn’t agree with how the Vietnamese community treated their women and of her desire to teach his sister that they don’t need to rely on anybody or live underneath anyone. Alex considers the conversation between his parents and the ensuing conversation with his mother his feminist awakening. It also made him realize that there are experiences he will never completely understand because he is a man.
As an Asian-American gay man, Alex is aware that he’s in a different position than White heterosexual cisgender men. He states, “I have less privilege than the idealized group, but despite that, I think it’s much harder to be a woman,” especially since he still benefits from male privilege to some extent. Alex believes feminism is for everyone and believes men need to be involved in the fight for gender equality. He advises men to check their male privilege and how it can influence their perception of gender-based issues. “As a man, you’ll never ever ever probably have to deal with [issues women experience]…because of that, you’ll never ever truly understand what a woman or girl goes through in daily life,” Alex argues. However, according to Alex, because men don’t share many of women’s experiences in a patriarchal society, they need to “try extra hard to try [to] understand” and listen to women around them who are trying to share their narratives.
Men also have to acknowledge their own problematic relationship with masculinity. “Because there is a system in place that considers everything possibly feminine as inferior,” men who engage in feminine behaviors or activities experience stigma. Growing up, Alex felt people were often confused by his “feminine” hobbies. A lot of the people around him believed that “girls like creative writing and literature, guys play video games. Guys don’t dance, [they should] go play sports or something.” When he entered college, Alex became more involved in with a K-pop dance team and covered numerous dances for girl groups. His covers received numerous homophobic comments. People who felt he “shouldn’t dance like that” because he was a man.
This gender policing from strangers on the internet no longer bothers him, but he’s disappointed in his male teammates’ devaluation of feminine dances. The male members of his team tended to respect dancers who were able to do male group dance. Since he was one of the leaders, he states, “I expected them to treat me with a certain degree of disrespect,” but they viewed his feminine dances as easy and therefore less impressive. This reflects a culture that devalues femininity and women as a whole. According to Alex, “Girl dances tend not to require much physical exertions,” which is part of a separate issue of K-pop choreographers’ believing that women are incapable of more powerful moves, but they do demand other qualities. “Girl dances tend to require more flexibility, a lot more fluidity in muscle movements, and you need a lot lot more performance skills….Why is it labeled as easy?” Alex believes the devaluation of femininity and men’s fear of not being masculine enough has to be addressed. However, he argues that he understands some queer men’s fear of being viewed as feminine.
When Alex came out to his parents, both of them expressed their fears that his being open about his sexuality would hinder his life. He understands his parents’ fears, and explains, “There are a lot of people who would define you by your sexuality and your gayness and your femininity and they think that makes you weak or [inferior]. And that’s going to affect you.” Alex also explains that there are many queer men who worry about acting “too gay” or feminine because they worry that it will negatively affect them in life. They worry that acting gay or feminine “will set them back in life, so they don’t do it and try very very very hard” to be masculine. As a result, they develop a fragile masculinity that is difficult and unhealthy to maintain. However, Alex cannot blame them for this, since their fears are rooted in reality; homophobia is a problem that queer men face. “There’s a lot of discrimination, even in this LA, California bubble…When I hold hands with my boyfriend, I still get looks,” Alex explains. Thus, Alex understands some queer men’s desire to shield themselves from homophobia through masculine behaviors and attitudes, but he believes that they shouldn’t have to. Alex believes society has to address the homophobic and heteronormative systems that makes people feel unsafe if they deviate from the gender norm.
Alex believes providing feminist education for children can assist in dismantling these systems of oppression in the future. Alex worries that the as a country, we have taken a few steps back due to the current administration that justifies bigotry. He also believes that “no one is born a bigot, you become one…I do believe you can cut it at the source.” Alex believes introducing gender studies classes into schools could benefit future generations. While he believes eradicating sexism will take a long time due to the fact it has been part of society for so many years, he is still hopeful. “I want to hammer in the point that it’s totally possible. And things have changed, so it’s possible to change.”