The Weekly Dream: Aint I A Woman?
“*This Woman’s Work/This Woman’s Work/Oh, it’s hard on a man*”
-Maxwell, “This Woman’s Work”
“*Being a real woman means saying you are sorry and meaning it. It also means coming to grips with 3 fundamental facts over time: You are not perfect (twenties), you will never be perfect (thirties) and you do not have to be perfect *.”
Let’s be clear: I have a deep, enduring love and admiration for women. I truly am a fan. As a result, a large part of my life has been oriented in trying to understand what makes them tick; in hopes that I would procure a method for bridging the gap that often exists between the sexes. Often, we define ourselves through the lens of the opposite sex and their construction of what we should be. A definition by opposites so to speak. This can be good or bad, depending on what ideal is being projected. It is this formulation I am interested in. How does our sex define/influence us and how does it influence our interactions with the opposite sex? For my own part, I have been blessed to encounter some truly phenomenal women from all walks of life, and as a result, I am a better man for it.
I figured it would be a little disingenuous of me to pontificate on what it means to be a modern day woman. Therefore, I have solicited a little help. I petitioned a view individuals to write about what it means to be a woman, and how that relates to their other identities. I received some interesting responses, while with others, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak (read: did not make the deadline). In any event, here are some very different responses. You may or may not agree, wherever you are on this issue, let your voice be heard.
My Struggle from Foreign Soil…
Needless to say, defining the above concept is a task that requires me to draw from entirely different places in my life from the problems I face daily to the company that I keep. There is no overarching way for me to define what being a woman means, period. I can however lay out the theory to which I, as a Foreign Black Woman, vehemently subscribe that wholly describes the plight of the black women in modern American society today (Pardon my harsh cynicism in advance):
The quadrant theory puts race and gender into very distinct boxes, and works only in Black and White. I don’t know and don’t really care for the purposes of this piece where Asians, Latinas, Arabs, etc, fit into all of this, but as far as Blacks/Whites are concerned, follow me on this: The quadrant theory divides White Men, White Women, Black Men and Black Women into four sections. A ++ (positive/positive) ranking is given to the white man, a +- (positive/negative) to the white woman, a +- (positive/negative) to the black man, and a — (negative/negative) to the black woman.
Some of you may already see where this is going. White men suffer from excessive privilege (hence the ++). White women, though white, are still forced to grapple with issues of sexism. Black men, though fending off constant racial profiling, can still play the “Male” card, which leaves us with the Black woman. She brings up the rear fighting racism and sexism with both fists.
This theory entirely guides my thinking in nearly every aspect of life, from career opportunities to the advantages/disadvantages of pursuing a romantic relationship with a ++ vs. +-. Black women have had, currently do have, and will continue to bear the brunt of societal crunches and not to throw my own pity party, but that leaves little sympathy for others (Others in the quadrant, of course).
Our role as the Black Woman is that of the supporter & rarely the supported. I suppose that comes with the territory when 70% of us carry the weight of the Black Family.
I find myself with an added personal indignance because of how Foreign Black women (and men, to be fair – immigrant/1st-generation Africans, etc.), don’t seem to enter into this Black/White discourse at all. I can’t even count the number of times my ideas and viewpoints have been dismissed with a slight wave of the hand and a breezy, “Well, you’re different, you don’t count”. So now my struggle isn’t real? So my father having to find five different advisors before he could find one who really believed that a Black Man in the late 70’s could actually earn a Ph. D. is Me not counting? The white man at our church who patted my brother on the head when he came back from Eritrea, congratulating him for coming back with “nigger hair” is Me not counting? My cousin being raped and having the rapist blame it not on himself, but on the Hyper-sexualization of Black women in America, is Me not counting? Our experiences may be different but the struggle is still the same. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t trade my position for the world. It has made me who I am now and will continue to shape who I am in the future. It’s true what they say: Perseverance builds character.
I could go on forever, but that, my friends, is what being a (Foreign) Black Woman means to me – Hard work, strength & determination = Under appreciation. Hey, but we all have our cross to bear right?
I never thought that being a woman or female meant limitations. I now recognize that there is a vast difference between considering oneself a woman and considering oneself a female. Being a female defines you by gender without consideration for the responsibility for the various roles that you play. Being a woman includes your gender the responsibilities inherent in it and that which you assume. I am a wife responsible for working with another individual to incorporate his perspective add value to his life and allow him to do the same for me. I was chosen for that role and willingly accepted it. It isn’t always easy and so the struggle, challenge and promises continue. I am someone’s mother. They did not ask to be born. I chose to have them and take this role as seriously if not more than my role as wife. I relish in the challenge of being my children’s advocate, friend disciplinarian, confidant and any other role that at 19 and 22, allow me. They are the best of what their dad and I are to each other. Having them transcended my gender and added a new dimension to my woman ness. I am a professional and the unique qualities that women bring to that role as wife, mother, person and evolved individual make me better at being an employee and a professional. Each of my roles is interdependent on and inextricably tied to each other to coexist. After years of trying to compartmentalize each of my roles… aspect of myself, I realize that it is only through harmonious integration that I can be a whole woman harmoniously coexisting, comfortable and confident with my me.
Waiting for Revolution…
Womanhood what a beautiful word. I smile sorrowfully when I think about all that womanhood and a girl’s journey into it entails.
When Talib Kweli said “life is a beautiful struggle” he was right. In fact, that just about sums up how I feel about being a woman. The overt AND covert sexism that still plagues our country, and countries around the world, is often enough to make me feel burdened simply stepping out in the world every day, yet the ways women have struggled against and succeeded in the face of oppressions dating back to the beginning of humanity are feats worthy of eternal recognition and admiration.
My mother once dashed any possible prior hope that I might ever own a Barbie when she told me that I couldn’t have one because “we don’t look like that.” She additionally put me in “my womanly place” when I was 12 (the only time I can ever recall actually wanting to lose weight) when she sternly but lovingly told me that my body would probably NEVER look like the models in the magazines because our family had breasts and hips and, above all, was never a “genetically skinny family”. While I was never able to truly decode those messages until much later in life, my love, respect and infinite gratitude goes out to my mother for being an “undercover feminist” during my most formative years.
Sometimes I wish I had the public influence to move mountains. Yet despite my fury and frustration, I would NEVER chose not to be a woman, if I were somehow ever afforded the choice. A friend recently told me that “I’d make a good dude” and while my good self-esteem tells me that I’d probably make a good ANYTHING, I had to dissent. I can’t imagine not being a woman, I can’t imagine what it would be like to go through life masquerading as the “stronger sex” but being intelligent enough to know that I’m not and understanding that I sometimes benefit from society’s eternal fear of being overthrown or at least challenged by the likes of women and people of color and poor people and everyone else who our country owes SOMETHING.
Being a woman is indeed a beautiful struggle. There are so many difficult but wonderful things about being a woman, even in all its complexities. Our bodies, for example, are amazing. We can create a life and nurture it inside of us. Our minds are even more amazing, we dissect the ins and outs of life in a way that incessantly mind-boggles members of the opposite sex, We pay attention to detail, we know how to love and feel and understand, even if we sometimes use these powers manipulatively. And now that we are finally allowed to “be educated” at all, liberal arts colleges across the country are outreaching to men, as there is now an over-abundance of qualified female applicants. Even if y’all disappoint me more and more lately, I’m still so very proud ladies.
Sometimes I think our self-esteem is at the root of all our problems, but in a society that discourages our worth, I could never put the onus on us, exclusively.
I’m just waiting impatiently for women to collectively say “we aint standing for this any longer”, and doing what I can in the meantime.
Truth and Peace,
Steven M. DeVougas
Question of the Week:
Ladies-What does it mean to be a woman?
Men-What is your perception of women and how does that affect the way you relate to them?
Garlin Gilchrist II
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