The Theme of Sex and Sexism in "Drown "By Junot Diaz

Many themes are depicted in Junot Diaz’s novel, “Drown.” However, one theme that stood out the most and one that was constantly played throughout the whole novel was sex and sexism. Junot Diaz’s “Drown”, a story about an impoverished immigrant from the Dominican Republic named Yunior, mainly focuses on the negative social and emotional impact that the absence of Yunior’s father had caused throughout his life. For this reason, I have chosen to focus on how masculinity impacts gender roles and how issues such as homosexuality, violence and unfaithfulness determine, from a male point of view, a boy’s masculine identity.

Since “Drown'' is based on the experiences of a boy from the Dominican Republic, then his idea of masculinity would likely agree with the notion of machismo, machismo is a form of masculinity that emphasizes power. It is often associated with a disregard for consequences and responsibility. Which is most common in Latin American lives and live their lives based off of. Due to the Latin American male’s belief when regarding machismo in a Latin American household it is normal to assume that males have all the power leaving the women feeling oppressed and less than because they are forced into a submissive role. When talking about machismo, where it is assumed that men are the more dominant and superior of the two genders, it brings up the topic of sexism. Sexism is “prejudice or discrimination based on a person's sex or gender” and can affect anyone, girls and boys. It is linked to stereotypes and gender roles.

In the case of absent fathers that aren’t there to validate their son’s masculine identity, like Rafa and Yunior, if they aren’t validated by other males then they are left to create their own version of what a “real” man is which usually results in sexist and delinquent behavior.

In Yunior's case, as a young man, Yunior learns by example, from the people around him. Throughout the book Yunior often compares himself to his father and Beto, Yunior’s childhood best friend and early partner in crime. Identifying their masculine traits and highlighting which traits he admires and may even fear. The things he sees and learns from his everyday interactions with his father and beto show that Yunior has an idea of what it means to be a man.

Growing up, a yunior had an idea of what it meant being an immigrant living in the states by observing his father. Since he grew up under his father's influence he assumed his father was no different than any other father. For example, in the fifth chapter Drown, “We were raging then, crazy the way we stole, broke windows, the way we pissed on people’s steps and then challenged them to come out and stop us.” Yunior eagerly describes his and Beto’s early shoplifting days as “raging” and crazy,” saying they would often go out of their way to start fights and anger people just because they could. Yunior particularly admires Beto’s suave confidence when they’re shoplifting, seeing it as evidence that Beto is naturally masculine. However, While Yunior longs to be more like Beto, he sees his father’s masculine traits as less positive. Yunior describes his father as “a charmer” and “a real asshole” because of his violent tendencies and infidelity, although Yunior seems to believe that these traits are shared by all men. For example, in the same chapter, Drown Yunior has a conversation with Beto, “You got to stop that messing around, I told him. I'm not going to jail for bullshit like that. You don't go to jail for shoplifting. They just turn you over to your old man.” Yunior is anxious about shoplifting because he's aware of the consequences of getting caught by the cops. When “hand you over to your old man,” would result in getting a beating from his father. On the other hand when Beto explains how his father doesn't beat him the way yuniors father does, yunior is surprised. He is surprised because he assumes that violence is a trait shared among all Dominican fathers, that's all he's ever seen. Beto’s dad being non violent perhaps has a lot to do with and perhaps explains Beto’s easy confidence about shoplifting. The consequences for him wouldn’t be physical, maybe just verbal. Which is very unfamiliar to Yunior and seems unable to make this connection, which suggests that he’s unable to truly believe that Beto’s father is a non-violent man.

Whether Yunior admires or accepts as unpreventable the masculine traits that Beto and his father carry, Yunior still sometimes resents them for having these traits. Which now shows that Yunior is nervous and worried about the kind of person or should i say man that he will become. He hates certain aspects of masculinity, even though he might even do the same without him actually realizing he is. For example, when Yunior returns from his run, he finds his mother whispering on the phone. She is on the phone with Yunior’s father, who lives in Florida with a girlfriend. Yunior explains that his father often calls his mother to beg for money, and lying that he will leave his current girlfriend if she moves to Florida herself. Yunior’s mother knows that Yunior disapproves and does not like their phone calls, so she leaves the refrigerator door open in hopes that its hum will mask the sound of her voice. Yunior scolds his mother for continuing to speak to his father, even though his father is continuously unfaithful and unfair to her. However, by telling her what to do and by mistreating other women, like when he spends his weekends drunk and preying on local college girls with his friends, he is falling into the same patterns as his father. Similarly, Yunior is angry when Beto punishes Yunior for knowing a word he doesn’t know by holding Yunior’s head under the water until he can’t breathe. Showing much violence for something he believes means so little. Yet Yunior finds it funny when Alex threatens to shoot local gay men with a plastic pistol. Showing the same violence trait he dislikes from his father and Beto.

Yunior’s own understanding of masculinity comes to head when he learns, through an experience of sexual violation, that Beto is gay. Since Yunior has always obsessively focused on the appearance of masculinity and strength he has seen Beto as a masculine role model, him being older and a childhood friend and someone to look up to.. However, Yunior considers Beto’s homosexuality as a “betrayal” of one of the big parts of manliness wich is heterosexuality. Being straight and being into girls, bringing back the machitato look of things. Being manly and machista in a way means being superior to the other gender, but how does it work if they are both the same gender? Learning of Beto’s sexuality therefore threatens not only Yunior’s sense of his own masculinity, because it involved him in a gay act, but also Yunior’s general sense of what men are supposed to be. Yunior says Beto is “a pato now but we used to be friends,” which suggests that Beto’s sexuality ruined their friendship but mentioned nothing of his violation of Yunior. This could mean that Beto’s offense of a masculine norm carries more weight with Yunior than his interpersonal betrayal. He thought so much of beto and now all his ideas and his expectations of what it is to be a man have changed. However, this statement could also be a ploy: it's possible that Yunior is too ashamed about the situation that he believes their sexual encounter casts on his own masculinity. Maybe he's reacting because he's scared of what this could mean for him and his masculinity. He’s terrified that he will end up “abnormal” as a result and to be fully honest about why they’re no longer friends.

Beyond making Yunior feel that his own masculinity is threatened, learning that a man whom he saw as a role model is gay changes Yunior’s masculine ideals. Learning of Beto’s sexuality leaves Yunior with two choices. The first choice, he can change his definition and idea of masculinity that he has, so that it includes his otherwise masculine friend. Second choice, he can decide that his idolization of Beto was wrong and double down on the standards of masculinity with which he grew up. Yunior appears to choose the second choice. He shuns and keeps away from Beto and becomes seemingly homophobic. He and his friends would often park near the neighborhood where there is a gay bar and shout out violent slurs at the bar owners and customers. Yunior’s incapability to change his nonflexible and homophobic definitions of the traditional masculinity that he is familiar with, speaks to the profound power of these ideas. Instead of entertaining more ideas about men and learning a way to accept his friend’s sexuality. Yunior forcely embraces traditional masculinity, even though it means taking on characteristics, violence and cruelty, that he hates in other men. Such as the traits found in his father and Beto, his friend.  

16 December 2021
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