“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”
Sojourner Truth, 1851
Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio
The Black Feminine gets called into question constantly. It’s attacked frequently. For some reason, many outsiders (non-Black women) have been obsessed with the question of Black femininity and womanhood. They consider it, discuss it, comment on it, debate it, judge it, study it and criticize it to a merciless extent. It’s done with the passion and ease of a favorite pastime. The criticisms and discussions are endless and the conclusion seems to always be that Black women, particularly dark-skinned, kinky haired Black women, are not feminine and womanly or are even manly.
Case in point, Serena and Venus Williams were recently called the “Williams Brothers” by the president of the Russian Tennis Federation Shamil Tarpischev (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/18/sports/tennis/wta-suspends-russian-official-for-comment-about-williams-sisters.html?_r=0).
Viola Davis was called not “classically beautiful” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/arts/television/viola-davis-plays-shonda-rhimess-latest-tough-heroine.html?_r=0).
Who can forget the Psychology Today article arguing that Black women were “scientifically” less attractive and less feminine than White women? (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201105/black-women-are-not-rated-less-attractive-our-independent-analysis-the-a) A real gem, that one.
Then there were the “yeah I see Ray but what did Janay do?” conversations that happened when the video surfaced showing her then football playing fiancé clocking her cold, witnessing her head meet metal, never bothering to call 911 to ensure that she was alive or at least stable , and then dragging her off the elevator with the affections one has towards a bag of garbage. And folks asked the question in hopes to reveal the ways in which Janay did not act like the proper woman to justify the physical pain he inflicted upon her. Interestingly, despite the fact that Tiger Woods’s ex-wife did in fact assault him and pursued him with golf clubs, no one dared to publicly fix their mouth to say that she was a threat to his safety or that Tiger would have been justified in serving her a beat down. The fact that he fled the scene instead of fighting back was not questioned, judged, discussed or debated.
Funny how the rules of engagement magically change.
And most recently, on a less intense note, rapper Tyga claimed that Black women do not have positive role models or we/they intentionally choose to ignore them, opting instead to look to VH1 or Instagram for guidance on womanhood (http://www.vibe.com/article/cover-tyga-king-unchained-page-2). Further perpetuating this idea that Black women are defective, that we/they don’t know how to be or just can’t be the “right” kind of woman, as per righteous Tyga’s standards.
As my profile page says, I’m a history enthusiast and I’ve learned that it’s all pretty much been done before. Which is why I opened this post with an over one-hundred-year-old quote from Sojouner Truth that touches on this same theme; that Black women are treated and viewed as the antithesis of all things holy and womanly. Granted, Sojourner Truth was speaking as a woman who was forced to endure the unnatural state of physical slavery for much of her young adult life but her words are still relevant to the experience of the contemporary Black woman.
Discussing the historical context for these anti-Black female sentiments is a conversation that could literally go on for days. But besides this being an example of historical patterns repeating themselves, it’s also an example of another kind of pattern-abuse. For me, many of the disparaging (and very public) statements made against Black women are nothing less than a display of emotionally abusive behavior towards them/us.
Take a look at the Power and Control Wheel found on the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence website http://www.ncdsv.org/images/powercontrolwheelnoshading.pdf. Emotional abuse is described as follows: Putting her down. Making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names (a la Tarpischev). All of the above cited examples do exactly what is described in the wheel. The comments, the insults, the remarks, and the “discussions” do nothing but (attempt to) make Black women feel bad about themselves-often under the phony guise of “constructive criticism”. And the really twisted part? It’s done for an audience; played out on the very public world stage for all to witness.
And also note what is described in the Minimizing, Denying, and Blaming section of the Power and Control Wheel: Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn’t happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior. Saying she caused it (i.e. “yeah but what did Janay do?”). This brings to mind the not so subtle difference in the way the media (& T.I.) dealt with Snoop’s comments against Iggy Azalea but completely ignored T.I.’s remarks against Azealia Banks http://www.mtv.com/news/1965710/azealia-banks-media-iggy-azalea-t-i/. Regardless of how one feels about the artists involved, it was clear that the abusive language hurled towards one was taken more seriously than the abusive language hurled towards the other. I guess we’re supposed to believe that Iggy is the “right” kind of woman, the “right” kind of victim and therefore more deserving of our sympathies than Azealia. (For more reads on the hypocrisy of it all, see: http://www.teabreakfast.com/doggie-diamonds-calls-snoop-dogg-ti-sell-outs-apologizing-iggy-azalea/)
It’s a sad and frustrating feeling to realize that I would basically have to live in a bubble far removed from mainstream society in order to avoid hearing hurtful, bullying, negative (and unsolicited) public opinions, remarks, and statements about Black women. We’re made to feel like we have to be perfect at all times to avoid any scrutiny. But can I live, tho? What happened to “If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all”? Or the beautifully simple “Keep my name out your mouth” or my personal favorite, “Don’t start none, won’t be none”. These are all helpful tips on how to curb the oh so strong desire to bad talk Black women in public spaces.
Other tips? If you’re a lover of a Black woman- a daughter, a sister, a friend, a partner, a mother, an aunt, a cousin, or a niece- please know that the world has shown that more often than not, it is not a friend of hers and has no qualms about letting her/us know. Listen to her/our experiences when we share them and don’t be afraid to be an advocate for us when necessary.
For your listening pleasure:
And how can I forget this tip? Support talented artists who speak positivity into our lives.
The trash talkers have too much airtime.
Live and let live the Black Feminine.