Russel Westbrook poses in a cream sweater, long white skirt and black boots.

Black Male Femininity

In Arts & Entertainment, Culture, LGBTQ+ by Zenia Davis

On September 11th, Russell Westbrook posted a picture of himself dressed in a cream cardigan and a matching white skirt, provoking an uproar about his lack of masculine expression. The comments under the post are mainly reassertions that a man, especially one idolized by young Black boys, shouldn’t be expressing traits of femininity, therefore, his marriage with Nina Earl was questioned and his role as a father. 

The negativity towards Westbrook reveals hatred for Black male femininity because of the belief that Black men shouldn’t have qualities of being “gentle,” “soft,” or “overly emotional.” This prejudice intersects with misogyny as feminine expression is associated with women and characterized at times as being undesirable and too weak (to survive in society.)  Therefore, it’s preferred for black men to deny themselves of fully exploring their identity to enact the “masculine role.” 

Black children are often raised into the ideology that certain concepts are meant for either girls or for boys. That dolls are for girls, cars are for boys. Using curly hair products are for girls, but not for boys. Maintaining extensive hygiene routines are for girls, but not necessary for boys. In this, there’s failure to apprehend that biological sex is a fact of body while gender is a societal perception that are norms of culture often taught in childhood. 

@mukasakakonge  Photographed By: David Urbanke on Instagram

@rickeythompson on Instagram

Why are inanimate objects advertised categorically by gender specificities? 

For generations, black boys are told they’ll grow up to be the head of the family, therefore, they cannot afford to lose their masculine image. According to Loren Harris, “Rigid masculine ideals limit conceptions of opportunity and expose many young men to stigmatization, abuse, and violence because they’re neither attainable nor sustainable over time.” Masculine ideals are often interpreted by not showing feelings, never backing down, being dominant, and always meeting confrontation with force. These boys are encouraged to be athletic figures to exploit the ability of their physical bodies, but not often taught the importance of academic achievement, leading them to the inability to expand their knowledge. Street life is often preached to them, which has real consequences as society and police authorities begin stereotyping and profiling before they even turn three. They’re taught to reassert their straight sexualities’ before they can fully grasp what the word means nor are they given opportunities to discuss how they’re affected mentally by their traumas.

These standards are performative and cannot reach the internal self of a Black boy, and instead it asks that they ignore it. Masculine expectation of Black males can oppress them from their own understanding of self. The demand to hinder traits categorized as feminine engages the fear of being labeled as “gay” which femininity doesn’t always equate to.

@worsst Photographed by @beezshotme on Instagram

These childhood implications go into adulthood where Black Men interpret it in the form of using women as an achievement or a goal to be reached. They’re painted as the background of the woman who’s supposed to be the presentable wife supported by the ‘Strong Black Man.’ They’re suggested to integrate their life with women for sexual achievement, to make a family line, but the framing of the relationship is often devalued. They’re told to apply the requirements of the women they involve themselves with rather than hold that intimacy. “Movies, TV, and videos offer few affirming images of Young Black men in terms of relationships, intimacy, or sexuality. Black men are often presented as devoid of depth of love, and as of little importance beyond aggression or prowess with women,” states Harris. 

@shaunross on Instagram

Looking at the representation of films, Black communities are raised with films that use men dressed as women as the comedy punch line: Tyler Perry as Madea throughout the Madea series, Marlon Wayans and Shawn Wayans in White Chicks, Martin Lawrence as Big Momma from Big Momma’s House. Is Black male femininity only a comical matter; something that can only exist in a fictional narrative, or can it exist at all? 

We often accept the White man who expresses masculine and feminine characteristics, but why can’t we accept the Black ones?