Fighting gender inequality with poetry

  • Reuters, New York
  • Updated: Dec 10, 2014 16:01 IST

In the struggle for gender equality, one man has resorted to an unlikely weapon: poetry.

Carlos Andres Gomez, a New York City-born poet, writer and performer said that growing up he felt constrained by the strict interpretation of masculinity which dictated that all men should be strong and unemotional. So he set out to change that.

"So many men in the world (are) living in this sort of quiet desperation, confined in this box of toxic masculinity," Gomez said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Words are a powerful medium, they can be both oppressive and liberating, Gomez said in one of his works, and poetry is one of his chosen means of delivering his message of equality.

The son of a U.N. official from Colombia and an American linguist, Gomez was born in New York City but has lived in Switzerland, Brazil and Cyprus, among other countries.

Being constantly on the move, he was exposed to many different languages and cultures. He attended inner-city schools, Quaker and Catholic institutions and said throughout childhood he found himself battling the notion that men should always be alpha males.

"A lot of people told me I couldn't be a boy and soft, a boy and not masculine," said Gomez.

His sensitive, emotional nature made him the outsider and forced him to reflect on gender roles and stereotypes imposed by society.

He described his personal journey in a book titled "Man up: Reimagining modern manhood", in an effort to challenge the stereotypical roles assigned to both genders.

"The hope is... that men and boys might start to reconsider the way they want to be manly, what kind of men they want to be," Gomez said.
"When you start asking questions challenging the status quo for what it means to be a man, it forces men ... to reconsider all these very destructive symptoms of patriarchy."

One in three women will be beaten or sexually abused by a partner in their lifetime, according to the United Nations. At work, on average, women who work full-time make 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, recent U.S. government data showed.

Gomez, 32, who has been an advocate for women and girls' rights for almost a decade, said the response to his work was overwhelmingly positive but that occasionally he would receive negative comments and even death threats.

He acknowledged progress had been made to eradicate violence against women and achieve gender equality, but he said that there are still too many policies that encourage male dominance in society.

"My hope every time I write and perform is to build momentum to get people to push for change."

At a recent event in Washington, DC, Gomez opened a panel discussion on gender-based violence by reading one of his poems.

"I carry it/ that blasphemy/ of judgment/ in my eyes/ as I teach/ little girls that crave/ to be women/ think it's all breasts and hips/ and catcall," he recited.

"I try to fight/ a tide stronger than faith/almost patronize them/ tell them they are "strong young women"/to write/ "distinctly beautiful"/ at the top of each page."

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