when the news broke on Friday afternoon around junot’s alleged sexual misconduct, my immediate response, like many people’s, was anger. i was about 12 when i first encountered junot’s drown, and although i couldn’t wrap my mind around all of the literary themes, the character development, the narrative arc…i fell in love with the world that junot created. because for the second time in my life, i found characters who felt like family, and i felt that finally, our stories were being told (the first time was with sandra cisneros’ the house on mango street…because yes, Latina writers have been here the whole damned time).
as i read through zinzi clemmons, carmen maria machado, monica byrnes, and alisa valdes’ accounts of their interactions with junot, i could feel the anger and betrayal towards him giving way to a more surprising emotion — shame. because as they recounted their stories, i found myself poking holes, and defending a man who undoubtedly has caused far too many women a great deal of discomfort, pain, and suffering.
but the most difficult realization i’ve had over these past few days is that my brand of feminism does not end with a desire to empathize with or condemn junot.
the reality is this: i’ve sat in classrooms with men like junot. i’ve been in spaces where i’ve called men like him my brothers. i’ve witnessed other women (my sisters) protect and lift up these men. i’ve watched men build their legacies on these women’s backs. and most shameful of all: i love men like junot.
junot is my hermano. my tío. my primo. i’ve pulled all-nighters with junots. i’ve held junots’ hands during funerals. i’ve sat with junots in doctor’s offices and hospitals. and yep – i’ve even helped men like junot with their laundry when their depression was so severe that they barely had the energy to eat. i understand that as an individual, and as a woman, i am complicit in the perpetuation of misogyny. junot has been my mirror this week. and i’ve seen the ways that i’ve hurt women, simply by accepting misogyny as a fact of life.
i’m the worst feminist of all. because i love deeply. i love women like zinzi for their courage. for their truth. and i love men like junot for their vulnerability. and their deep (and reparable) flaws.
a number of his fresh critics have come out to denounce his writing as blatantly misogynistic. and i am certain they are right. but this is the same misogyny that i grew up with, the same misogyny that i still grapple with as a thirty year old. should these stories not be told? are they somehow less worthy of being told because junot’s truth is inconvenient? and yes… painful.
when i speak with my creative friends around their processes, one thing is always clear to me: we all pour our hearts and souls into our work. many of us are using our crafts to make sense of the world around us. some of us are exploring the possibilities of transforming the world we live in; others are imagining entirely new spaces altogether. the most influential writers allow us to walk around in their skin… to feel the pain they’ve felt. and the pain they’ve caused. isn’t that exactly what junot accomplished?
is it possible, as a woman of color, a latina, a feminist, for me to empathize with the survivors of junot’s abuse and junot? and what does that say about me? recently, i came across a beautiful article by aya de leon (recommended reading: reconciling rage and compassion: the unfolding #metoo moment for junot díaz), and i am so grateful that i did. we can all choose to dismiss junot, crucify him, berate him, as he’s done to so many others. is that justice? will that undo the harm he’s caused? is it so far-fetched to believe that when he said that he takes full responsibility, that he is listening and learning — that maybe he means it? can we hold junot accountable AND give him a chance at redemption? is it possible that junot might be a part of our solution? could healing and growth for our communities include junot, zinzi, carmen, monica, and alisa? or will we be satisfied with writing another man off as a disappointment? in condemning men like junot — our brothers, uncles, cousins, professors, doctors, lawyers… are we condemning ourselves?
i would like to imagine a future where my daughters feel empowered. safe. protected. is it terrible that i’d like the same for my sons?