Tag Archives: feminism

Grown Woman

Bey Grown Woman

…I can do whatever I want.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Mrs. Carter Show.  Man, let me tell y’all why I stan for Beyoncé Knowles Carter.

The woman empowers me.   She makes me feel strong because I am a woman, and not in spite of it.

In my experience, many, if not most women younger than 40 define themselves as contemporary women — those who can be assertive, sexually liberated, both brainy and beautiful, both around the way and upper echelon.  I think Beyoncé successfully bridges the gap between women who personify traditional values, bra-burning feminists and these contemporary women.

I heard somewhere that if an artist catches you at a critical point in your life, you’ll stick with them forever.  Well, ‘4’ was the album and Beyoncé is that artist who has recorded the soundtrack of my life over the last few years.  I’ve liked Beyoncé since the Destiny’s Child days but I really became a fan after spending some quality time with ‘4’.  In that period, I gained clarity about love and relationships, and I confronted my negative conceptions of womanhood. Though I’d shutter to say it aloud, I admit that in the deep recesses of my mind, I associated femininity with weakness. I thought, for example, that traditional women (stay at home moms, cook, clean, and serve type ladies) devalued our struggle.  I was wrong.

I appreciate that Beyoncé embraces the entire spectrum of femininity, and that painted a clearer picture for me.

I can be bad if I want / I can do wrong if I want / I can live fast if I want / I can go slow all night long / I’m a grown woman / I can do whatever I want  

I realized there wasn’t just one way to express womanhood and certainly more than one way to conceive of strength and power. There are socially and culturally constructed standards, but those are constructed — negotiated and decided by society. They are not genetic.

Speaking of genetics, I often hear these expressions of disdain for parenting girls, and it makes me sad because typically, the excuse is no more complex than “girls are difficult.”  I understand that we tend to identify first with what or who we already are, so I get why a man might wish for a son. It is disconcerting though to hear women dismiss the beauty in having little girls and raising strong, proud women because “boys are easier.”   Certainly, the world can be an ugly place for girls, but must it start this early? Imagine that it is your little girl who changes the world for the better, and it’s because you taught her from the jump how dope, and not how difficult girls are.

Beyoncé said in her ‘Life Is But A Dream’ HBO documentary that feminism isn’t about changing laws per se, it’s about changing the way we think. We are conditioned to think of women as one-dimensional beings.  She’s either a wholesome homemaker with a man and some babies, or she’s ruining the family dynamic and the social order with her divergent interests and ambitions.   Here’s a counter paradigm for your consideration:  women are human beings first.  This means we won’t all fit within the narrow boundaries that patriarchy has set up for us.   Women make up 51% of the population; we exist as more than adornments for men.  We are partners in this life.

While our strengths are sometimes different from men’s, they are strengths nonetheless.  We have babies and run businesses, we are supportive wives, family providers and heads of households — with or without men present.  We are both assertive and submissive when appropriate and with whom we consider appropriate.  The beauty of modern feminism — that which Beyoncé represents so well — is that none of these qualities is inconsistent with what it is to be a woman.  No one dictates to us what our role in this life is; we make those decisions for ourselves.  We are grown women.  We can do whatever we want.

All hail King B for bringing home such a powerful message.

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Alabama, the Beautiful

I spent most of last week in Alabama, my home state. And I think, somewhere along the way, I began a love affair with it.

As y’all know, I’m hard on the South, particularly because I grew up in Alabama, and because, in a way, I guess I grew out of Alabama. As I write this now, I understand that in the process, I lost some appreciation for what Alabama has meant to me. Today, I want to rectify that.

Women’s Leadership Institute – Auburn, Alabama

I spent Monday through Thursday with the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) at Auburn University. It was a week of sessions and workshops dedicated to telling a different story about women and girls – that our value goes deeper, and stretches beyond our bodies and pretty faces.

The WLI Class of 2012 included a diverse group of dynamic women from all over the southeast. They came to us at various stages in their careers, education, and in their personal lives. Some had grown children, others had babies. Some had earned their Bachelor’s Degrees just days or weeks before we met, while others were working on Doctorates or their second or third Master’s Degrees. It was, for sure, an impressive group.  We celebrated the courage it takes to face your fears, to lead a team, to trust your team, and to trust your leader. We recognized our power, and we acknowledged the ways in which it is brokered – either for some greater good, or because tradition/genetics/culture dictates that we should.

Throughout the course of our lives, women bear unique burdens and take on responsibilities that our male counterparts simply don’t. Man-struggles, though they exist and are no less challenging to the individual, aren’t even within striking distance of women’s uphill battles for respect, for power, for voice, for equality.  For autonomy. Men’s opportunities aren’t limited by their chromosomal make up. Rather, they are expanded by it. Infinite possibilities await if you happen to be born XY instead of XX. For men, the range of human emotion isn’t considered a liability. Questions about work/life balance, and who takes care of the babies while you chase ambition are realities men rarely face. For women, these features of life aren’t really optional. If you’re born with a uterus, limitations come standard.

For centuries, women have shattered false conceptions about their abilities to achieve great success outside of the home. The untrustworthy prism of sexism conveniently forgets that it was Harriet Tubman who risked her life returning to the South on missions that rescued more than 70 slaves. And it was Cleopatra who tactically employed beauty and charm as she ruled Egypt and was the alluring, elusive mistress to Rome. Queen Cleopatra and Harriet Tubman were merely women, and yet they succeeded in altering the course of world history. There’s nothing “mere,” minimum, or paltry about such a feat.

In the same way, women have enjoyed success in every facet of human life: family, business, science, medicine, and technology, the arts, research, and politics. But the psychology of sexism persists. Though the glass ceiling may be cracked in several places, it remains firmly in tact.

And chief among the reasons why, I think, is women’s lack of control over narratives about their own lives – their needs and ideas based in the context of their life experiences.  On Monday night, we watched the documentary, “Miss Representation.” The film lifts the veil from media’s influence on the way we value women. Media messages would have you believe that women are, or should be, “forever 29” or younger, size 4 or smaller, married and mothering or laying looking under every Tom, Dick, and Harry to chase that dream.

It’s hard to be a girl, and then to grow up and be a woman. You’re measured against a standard that doesn’t exist. Perfection, as determined by men who never stray too far from their inner 13 year-old boy, isn’t an achievable goal. Media pushes the message that you need to be as close as possible to perfect to have value, and the market creates the illusion that you can actually buy your way into the mirage. But it’s a ruse. A clever, disheartening and disastrous ruse. Because the truth is that imperfection – the differences among us – that appeal to those among us, that’s “perfection.” Perfect. Defined by me, for me.

This was the second time I served as a Faculty in Residence with WLI. And, just like the last time, I came away inspired. The Residential Intensive Training week at WLI reminds you that women are powerful, brilliant, courageous, AND nurturing, beautiful, sexual beings. And it gives you license to be that, without contradiction.

Here’s my favorite photo from my week with WLI. It is what teamwork and sisterhood looks like.

No matter what you’re going through, sister, I’m determined to get you over this wall. The mission isn’t complete until we all make it over.

Tuskegee University – Tuskegee, Alabama

The base of the statue reads: “There is no defence or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all”

Like many ‘Skegee Alum, before I ever enrolled at Tuskegee University, I already had roots there. My dad, uncle and auntie had already taken the journey. So in August 1999 , when I showed up with the FAMU bumper sticker on my car, I wasn’t the most enthusiastic Golden Tiger.

But a couple of months later, I met a person who changed life as I knew it. And not long after that, I went to my first football game (as a student), and I saw my first probate show – it was Alpha Phi Alpha, the Fall ’99 line. And then I experienced my first Homecoming. Despite my best efforts, I began to let the “Tuskegee Experience” seep in. It was one of the best decisions I never made.

It just kind of happened one day, and I remember it so clearly. I was leaving the Union wearing yellow Old Navy flip-flops. I stopped at the top of the stairs for two seconds, and realized that I belonged there. Not on the stairs, of course. But on campus, that campus.

I felt the same way when I visited last Thursday. My dad’s roots are there, and now, so are mine. My best friend is a Tuskegee alumna, and my girlfriend is a double Tuskegee alum. I’m lucky. I get to have a little Crimson and Old Gold with me always. Last week though, it was nice to be there – to smell it, to see the caf, the yard, the valley, the ave, and the monument one more time.

Say what you wanna about my alma mater.  It is in the middle of nowhere.  It is  country.  And it is dysfunctional at times.  It’s also amazing and majestic in a way.  And for that reason, I wouldn’t trade my Tuskegee experience for your college’s any day.

“I’m so glad I went to ‘Skegee U.”

Mike & Ed’s – Phenix City & Auburn, Alabama

If you’re one of those people who proudly doesn’t eat pork, then go on ahead and skip this part. If, however, you appreciate swine for its delicious contributions to humankind, then you understand my love of good barbecue. I’m talking about ribs, friends. Ribs.

Forget anything you’ve ever heard about DC or Maryland barbecue – that is, if anyone’s ever raved about DC or Maryland barbecue.

I had to go home to get a decent rib dinner. And if I’m going home, then I’m going to my favorite barbecue spot in the world, Mike & Ed’s. The original, and best one, is located in my hometown, Phenix City, Alabama. The building looks exactly like it did the first time my mom took me there for a chipped sandwich, when I was 5ish. The sweet hickory sauce still tastes the same. The thick-cut pickles are still the perfect accompaniment to ribs drizzled with their vinegary hot sauce. And they still serve white bread with a dinner.

The one in Auburn serves sweet tea in a garbage can container – with a spigot on it. I fucking love Alabama.

🙂

My Family – Phenix City, Alabama

I gotta be honest. I struggled with whether I would visit my family on this trip. But my favorite auntie said, “You’re this close. Go see your parents.” So I did.

And I’m glad I did. I needed to see their faces and feel their hugs. I needed to feel them squeeze me like they missed me. And I needed to squeeze back so they knew I missed them too.

We caught up on the last few months, and we resolved the respect issue. However, my mom is still my mom, and my dad is still my dad. And things are still rough and sensitive. But I realized that’s ok. I don’t need it to be more than it is anymore. It was just nice to see my parents and hold them again. That works for now.

And the bonus was that I got to hang out with Granny for a while.

Alabama fed my soul last week. It is indeed a beautiful place.


It’s Bigger than Rihanna and Chris Brown

Y’all really mad at Rhi Rhi for ridin with Chris Brown again?  You think this sets a bad example for our girls, don’t you?

*sighs*  Please, I beg of you, miss me with the opportunistic outrage on this one.

Why?  I’ll tell you why.

Because Chris Brown is no different from any other dude who can’t handle life without fisticuffs.  And because Rihanna is no different from any other grown ass woman entitled to make her own grown ass decisions – without regard to the fickle feelings of the public-at-large.

Instead of lambasting Rihanna about the choices she made for her own life, perhaps we could examine what would make a woman, in general, wanna cozy back up to a dude who mistakes her for a punching bag.  This Chris Brown/Rihanna situation is indeed much bigger, much deeper, and much sadder than the two of them.

Last week on Twitter, the hashtag, #itsbiggerthantooshort, accompanied nearly every article, and every blog post responding to Too Short’s XXL column, where he offers to middle-school boys “fatherly advice” on “how to turn girl’s out.”  Such counsels from Professor Pimp include:  “You push her up against the wall…you take your finger and put a little spit on it and you stick your finger in her underwear and you rub it on there and watch what happens.”  Too Short is a 45 year old man offering this advice to children who probably only met puberty, like, 20 minutes ago.  They’re barely in high school.  But this kind of thing starts early.  And therein lies my point.

Nature versus nurture is always a relevant debate.  In this case, in nature, we exist as men and women – undoubtedly different, but inherently equal.  In nurture, through socialization, we learn our roles, and adjust our psychology to fit the narrative.  In other words, we know that women are born with boundless potential, just like men.  But at some point (usually early in the game), women are supposed to step aside and give way to the supremacy of maleness.  And we’re supposed to do so benevolently, as our duty to mankind.  Pardon me, or don’t.  But fuck that, nonetheless.

Toure’s book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness, includes an excerpt from Cornel West which asserts that “When you really get at the Black normative gaze, what you find is that oftentimes the white supremacy inside of Black minds is so deep that the white normative gaze and the Black normative gaze are not that different.”  Substitute “Black” for female, substitute “white” for male, and substitute “white supremacy” for sexism and/or chauvinism.  What you get is what I discussed  my Tyranny of the Majority post earlier this month – a flawed perspective that’s rooted in a narrative which privileges the people who’ve historically controled it.  You get a room full of men testifying before Congress about women’s reproductive rights; you get an old man telling little boys how to sexually assault little girls; you get Jane Smith cross-examining Jane Doe about what she did to John Doe to make him go upside her head.
I remember listening to the Russ Parr Morning Show shortly after the photos of Rihanna’s badly bruised face were released.  It was both disturbing and disheartening to hear just how many women defended Chris Brown’s actions that night.  “I mean, you don’t know what happened; you don’t know what she said to him; I mean, real talk, women can bring that outta you…” were some of the responses.  After Brown won the Grammy for Best R&B Album (what in the entire fuck was that about?!?!?!), it was equally disconcerting to see the number of tweets from women would gladly stand in line to be bitch-slapped by Chris Brown if it meant he’d show them some attention.  The Huffington Post compiled some these tweets for our viewing displeasure:  See ‘Chris Brown Can Beat Me’ tweets.
Howbout instead of outsourcing the dignity of our baby girls to celebrities, we take on that responsibility personally – as parents, family members, friends, mentors, community leaders, etc.  There’s no reason that Rihanna’s decision to be with Chris Brown (either romantically or platonically) should matter so much to anyone who happens not to have a personal, vested interest in either Rihanna or Chris Brown.
But more importantly, why don’t we, as women, cease viewing ourselves through someone else’s normative gaze.  Our perspectives, our power, and our interests are just as important and just as productive as our male counterparts’. We should be drilling this into our girls’ heads from day one that they, alone, are valuable;  they don’t need men to validate them.  And they damn sure don’t need men who express their emotions in jabs and uppercuts within infinity feet of their lives.  Love, attention, and affection aren’t measured in testosterone-induced aggression; love, attention, and affection don’t produce bruises, black eyes, and busted lips.
I’m happy to say that after a sit down with the crazy-dope writer, Dream Hampton, Too Short apologized for his rant.  And he cautions us against judging him incorrectly, insisting that though his music may continue to be filled with misogyny, “I still have morals.”  I’m not so sure he really gets it, but whatever.
I urge women to take ownership of their power.  Run for office; write books and shit; speak up and speak out.  Don’t let your story be written from a flawed perspective, by some guy (and, for sure, not all guys.  But enough guys.) who sees you as a thing to be conquered.  Tamed.  Subdued.  Or who views your femininity, generally, as a weakness.
Be responsible for your own happiness.  Harness your power and live out the full bounty of your potential.  Write your own story and don’t ever negotiate your self-respect or your intelligence, or your well-being for his (or anyone’s) attention.
**”For Girls.” was the first post I ever wrote; it goes about the same subject from a slightly different perspective.  Check me out – it’s like you’re getting a two for one.  🙂

For Girls.

I haven’t been a big fan of Tyler Perry in the last few years. In fact, I was kind of on the ‘you may be doing more harm than good, homie” bandwagon. Despite basking in the blessings of luminary figures such as Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, and Cicely Stretchedmouth Tyson, I’ve always felt that Perry’s movies severely lacked depth. His characters, while sensational, were often static and flat, saved by some religious proclamation or an ‘i’m too blessed to be stressed” type rhetoric.   It was simple, formulaic, and sub-par.

Still, what I’ve liked about Tyler Perry is his steadfast allegiance to the life he knows. As a born and bred southerner with a family full of matriarchs, I get Madea; I get the Black ass life that Perry often seeks to portray; it’s sincere than a mug. I just always thought he could and should do it better.  Inasmuch as we appreciate a humble beginning, the big screen is a long way away from the chitlin’ circuit. And as much as I respect the brother’s craft, I’m kinda good on a bunch of shuckin’ and jivin’ and signifyin all over my AMC theater. Not that such content is incapable of making for a decent movie.  It’s just that the listlessness of Tyler Perry scripts to date simply couldn’t be overlooked — no matter how much I could “relate” to the characters, nor how marginally funny they were.

I’m happy to say, however, that I didn’t walk away from ‘For Colored Girls’ feeling like I wanted my money back. Although I suspect that the depth of story and dialogue in the film is mostly attributed to Ntozake Shange’s brilliant original work, Perry certainly held his own. I mean, Tyler Perry is kinda gay Tyler Perry, and so there is always that element of over-the-top-ness. Remember when he had them black ass angels suspended in the air playing harps in Madea’s Family Reunion? No? Trust me, they was there. In any case, in the context of ‘For Colored Girls,’ the shock of what you see does help to make the overarching point. Which is embodied in one of the last lines of Shange’s work and Perry’s movie: “i found god in myself. & i loved her/ i loved her fiercely.”

Before we proceed, please spend a lil time with my disclaimer:

I acknowledge, without reservation, the legions of great men in great relationships, who take care of their women and their children. We know you’re out there, and we support you. And we love you, and we believe in you.  In other words, if you aint fuckin up or haven’t fucked up some woman’s head, then this aint about you.

That being said, I’ve heard the same complaint over and over about how, once again, Tyler Perry has skewered black men.  I disagree completely.  ‘For Colored Girls’ is probably the first film since ‘The Color Purple’ to address Black women’s issues, and indeed women’s issues in general, from a Black woman’s perspective.    And so, while I praise men who do the right thing, I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge also that a great many have made life as a woman difficult to bear.  For centuries, men have controlled the means of production, and thus, the message which was produced and distributed.

The mainstream conception of femininty pits beauty and desirability against intelligence/ambition/independence.  Thus, our worth is often determined by our measurements, our attractiveness, our degree of assertiveness–wherein much is too much, and little can be just right. Cats like the idea of a Michelle Obama, but may prefer Laura Bush in reality. They like a strong woman in theory, but like to be “the man”, too. And in the absence of common sense, at some point those two concepts become incompatible, equating the “independent woman” with the slippery slope to the emasculated man.

Moreover, I believe there exists a kind of continuum which describes the schizophrenia of male behaviors. It’s an interplay between masculinity and predation. The masculinity is what we love — the opening of the doors, walking and talking real strong, lifting the heavy shit, and defending our honor. Predation, on the other hand, is masculinity gone horribly awry. It’s the feeling of being stared at and whistled at by a group of men you don’t know, and then being called a “bitch” when you fail to swoon at their ineloquent advances. It’s that moment when you’re engaged in the freaky deaky with the dude from the dance, and you realize that he realizes just how much stronger he is than you. And then uses it to his advantage.  It’s Uncle so-and-so being a little too chummy in too weird a way with his niece — or nephew.  It’s embedded in the questions, “well, did you lead him on? was your dress that short?” It’s even evident in the snide shit that men say about the intelligence of women, intimating that our emotions make us incapable of exercising reason and logic — long considered male/masculine traits.

Adding credibility to this last piece though, is how we go equally as batshit over attention from dudes who treat us right, and dudes who don’t. You ever seen two men fight over a woman who’s playing them both? Chances are, no. Because women have been led to believe that it’s all about having the guy. No matter if you’re successful in all other aspects of life, you aint shit unless you got a man.

But at what cost? Do you forego the full breadth of your ambition to snag or keep the guy? Some of us do. Because the statistics dictate that the higher up the socioeconomic ladder we climb, the more likely we are to remain single. Why should we settle, though? Of course, all men aren’t shitty men. However, a lot more of ’em could be doing a hell of a lot better.  While the statistics are what they are, with gradations and explanations for why they are, the fact remains that many men are being outpaced. And for women’s attempts at self-empowerment, they are rewarded with “I mean, yeah, but you aint got no man. You can’t keep no man. And so…”

For me, ‘For Colored Girls’ filled in that blank. “So…what!? Although I’m only a woman, I am still enough. By. My. Self.’ This is the message that most women, regardless of race, frequently miss. Worth is not determined by who or how many “want” you, or how attractive they think you are.  Nor is it defined by the perfect breast-to-waist-to-ass ratio. I mean, do you really want a dude who wants a bobble head doll with a bangin body? What does that say about him?   More importantly, what does it say about you?  He merely stated his choice; you chose to be his bobble head doll.

What I mean is, I think men and women have to figure out what our roles are in this new millennium.     Somehow, it’s gotten all screwed up.  Because women can pay for shit, and don’t necessarily need a man for stability or security, then men don’t seem to know what to do with themselves, and in turn, women seem to have the damnedest time dropping dead weight.  In other words, the quality of being male isn’t enough to seal the deal anymore.  We don’t need you to validate us.  Rather, understand and acknowledge that it is possible both to complement and to lead, as the partnership is the very essence of the relationship.

In this regard, I suppose the first step is ours — women’s.  It is looking in the mirror and loving and respecting the reflection that glares back — in all its glory, with all its flaws.  It lies in affirming the God in us, and never, ever allowing anyone the power to sever that relationship.  The second step is to read Ntozake Shange’s poem, or see Tyler Perry’s movie.  Tragedy is triumph on deck — and the message, in my opinion, of both works is that loving yourself enough makes you strong enough to weather any storm.  No matter how cute, or charming he appears is.