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“Sweat” and a Masculinity Complex

The phrase “boys will be boys” is a time-old phrase used to counteract the actions of men. This phrase comes from a culture where it is deemed normal for a man to be unfaithful, rough, rude, among many other unlikeable traits. In Zora Neale Hurston’s “Sweat,” this toxic masculinity was on full display through Delia’s  husband Sykes and his actions through his cheating and abuse of her. Only two months after they first got married, he began to abuse her and taunt her playing off of her fear of snakes. Him purposely using her fear of snakes as a way to taunt her or control her is a profound form of abuse. This along with the fact he was harsh with her and her choice of work, and was pursuing another woman on the side, Delia made the decision to not be with him anymore and he went to stay with the other woman he was seeing, Bertha. Throughout the story it was evident that he cared more about Bertha, yet he chose to stay with Delia. This is because he knew he had a level of control over her and didn’t want to lose it. Being unemployed, it was like making her miserable and keeping her under his control was like a daily occupation. It is in this masculinity complex, especially for the African American male, to be hard and to have control over his house.

Also within the works of the masculinity complex, is the idea of like a bro-code if you will . This idea is shown through the silence of the other men when Sykes came into the shop with Bertha. Because of town gossip they all knew that Sykes was unfaithful to Delia, and even spoke about how messed up it is, but once he walked into the shop with Bertha, they all grew silent. Their silence isn’t a sign of minding their business because they sit around together and gossip. It is a sign of their conformity to what he is doing, and accepting the fact that this is the way he, and other men like him are, yet they do nothing about it. Sykes and his womanizing ways are looked at as just another form of masculinity by his peers. This behavior should not be made normal for men, yet for years it has been and probably will continue to be. 

Gerardo – Toxic Masculinity

Death & The Maiden followed the story of a woman named Paulina who after escaping from being a political prisoner, believes that her husband has picked up the doctor who played a role in her being subjected to torture and torment within her imprisonment. Paulina then decides to take “justice” into her own hands by holding her own form of a trial for her captor, named Roberto. Her husband Gerardo disapproved of her tactics from the very beginning and attempted to convince his wife to release the man who he doesn’t believe was her actual captor. 

One major theme that I observed while reading this story was the unwillingness of Paulina’s husband, to simply believe his wife. From the beginning, when Paulina says to Gerardo that Roberto is the Doctor from her time spent being a political prisoner, he immediately dismisses her case by saying that “You’re Sick.” Knowing that Paulina suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder and is not fully at terms with it, I found that very abusive in nature. As a married couple, I feel that it is very detrimental to the relationship to be so dismissive of your partners feelings, especially after going through a traumatic experience like the one that Paulina experienced. 

            As an individual within the judicial system and a member of the justice commission, one would assume that Gerardo would have the skills to be able to separate his emotions and be impartial enough to listen to Paulina, instead of instantly dismissing Paulina’s point of view. But when it came to Gerardo, he had the decency to treat him with respect, and listened to his point of view. “I’d rather speak to you as if you were a client, Doctor Miranda. That will help me out.” Gerardo said. But would not have those same intentions with his wife. Gerardo’s actions very accurately depicted the concept of toxic masculinity. It is this concept that is harmful to women in more ways than one, and in the case of Paulina could have been very detrimental.