Toxic Masculinity And Gender Roles In Junot Diaz’s Novel Drown

In the novel Drown by Junot Diaz, we get to follow around many characters but the story is mainly focused on a Dominican family who came from the Dominican republic. The family especially Yunior struggles with not having a father figure as he grew up. The novel explores many different themes in the book such as estrangement and intimacy but the book dives deeply into the theme of toxic masculinity and gender roles present in society. The novel shows how the men in the novel are drowned with the masculinity that they are surrounded by and the masculine norms that they are told to follow. In the novel filled with short stories, we get to see in each story how men show how they are superior to women.

We also get to observe how being masculine you must be with several women and you also can’t be gay. Even though Yunior was friends with someone who was gay they seem to have distanced themselves, “He’s a pato now but two years ago we were friends and he would walk into the apartment without knocking… , one could assume that they distanced themselves because Beto isn’t masculine enough and doesn't follow the norms placed on him by the rest of society. The Spanish word “pato” means gay in a negative way. Which shows how the narrator subtly implied how Beto was gay and they weren’t that close after he found out. This isn’t something that people just deal with in books this happens all around us when people place labels on children. A girl must be feminine and a boy masculine a female must be submissive and the male must be dominant. Children being told what they can and cannot do because of there gender leads to toxic masculinity and many people do it without knowing it. “Gender roles maintain the sexist structure of society, and heterosexism reinforces those roles-for example, by casting such epithets as faggot, dyke, and homo at people who stepped outside designated gender roles”. By telling people that they need to either be masculine or feminine and then leads to people feeling like an outcast. This is similar to what happens in the novel Yunior wasn’t masculine enough at times which made him feel like he was at times different than his brother Rafa.

When he is younger Yunior doesn’t exhibit toxic masculinity nor does he care for gender roles as he still speaks with Beto even after he found out that he was gay, but as the story continues we can see Yunior begin to be more assertive with the women in his life. After his father left them Yunior wants to assert himself to his mother as the man of the house and the new provider. As his mother is speaking on the phone with his father Yunior walks in and states, “I walk in on her and hang up the phone. That’s enough, I say”. Which shows how Yunior was expressing his masculinity to his mother and making appear as though he wanted his mother to depend on him now that his father was gone. Masculinity toxic enough can lead to violence in an article about the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting it shows how masculinity is viewed as violence when under the influence of patriarchy. The article states, “Beginning from a position that sees masculinity as constituted through violence in a patriarchal culture, this article works through the idea that when there is a disillusionment with violence, masculinity under patriarchy turns toxic”. Which shows how if society pushed norms on people strongly it can lead to violence. In the novel, we see this patriarchy slowly become toxic and leads to violence not from Yunior but his father.

Gender roles in the novel also show us that males must also be womanizers and they must have sex with several women to show that they are manly. In the novel this is seen when Yunior’s brother Rafa begins to speak about wanting to be with both Leti and Mari which leads Yunior to sexualize Leti, “Leti had some serious tetas and I could tell that my brother was going to gun for her”. Which shows how Yunior at a young age began to think of a woman in a sexual way. While Rafa would show his masculinity by trying to be with more than one female. Men's gender roles have less to do with them wanting to have this role and more of society putting it onto them. For example, “Rather, it is closely linked to the traumatic socialization of boys, in which displays of emotion are discouraged and emotional intimacy is equated with the loss of autonomy (Levant). Which connects to the novel because Rafa is seen to be a womanizer since early in the novel and he is detached which is something he was taught but it isn't his nature. He sees how men around him act around women and he copies what they do and passes it down to Yunior.

The gender roles in the novel also show us how the woman is supposed to mostly be at home and depend on the males in her family to be the breadwinners and to provide everything for the household. This is seen in the novel in the section entitled Ysrael when Rafa is telling Yunior to man up.“You, he said, are a pussy… What the hell’s the matter with you?... If you can’t stop crying I’ll leave you”. Which shows the readers how the man isn’t supposed to cry and how men are weak if they cry. The word “pussy” being used as a slang word in the novel to describe the weakness of Yunior. To show how real men don’t cry and that he had to be more like Rafa who wasn’t upset by the situation, but he also wasn’t the one who sexually harassed in the seat of the bus. Toxic masculinity makes men also feel low and makes them feel like they can’t do anything about it so they keep it in and chase after women to feel better. In the novel, we see how Yuniors mother is a stay at home mother after she is laid off how at work. The novel states, “After that, Mami was around the house all the time”. Which shows how the role of the woman is to raise the children and stay at home to cook and clean all day.

The toxic masculinity can lead to men being depressed because they don’t ever really express how they feel. They couldn’t cry it out because they would be perceived as feminine and they always have to be strong and never show emotion. In an article which links masculinity and societal pressure to depression, it states, “Study findings highlight how masculine ideals and cultural constructs can influence depression experiences and expressions”. Which show how when men don’t have an emotional outlet it can lead to them breaking down because the pressure society places on them is too great for them to bear. In the novel evidence of depression is seen many times in the novel depression isn’t just constant sadness it's also the way that people react in situations. Like Yuniors crying he was crying because of what happened on the bus but he’d never say it out loud. Depression is also keeping everything in which is what many men in this novel do.

In conclusion, the novel Drown by Junot Diaz show society puts men in roles of dominance and pressure them into showing their power over women. This societal norms seen in the book aren’t only present in the novel they are also present in the real world the examples provided above show how the novel fiction novel has some truth to it. In the real world, many men are womanizers because they don’t find outlets for all of the pent up emotions. This novel that follows this Dominican family shows how gender roles affect them and everyone around them. While also showing how toxic masculinity can be bad not only for men but for the people around them as well.   

16 December 2021
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