On anger and loving the ones who love you back

From Centric TV.

D.L. Hughley thinks black women are the angriest group of women he’s ever met. Oh, and he’s writing a book that’s probably as unoriginal as he is, and those sentiments are probably laid out with more substance. But probably not.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this. He defended Don Imus when that dude called the women on the Rutgers basketball team out of their names. Bros before hoes, I guess.

Hughley is the latest example of a black man with a platform using it to chastise and generalize about black women for profit. While Hughley’s book is not strictly about black women or dating like the ones you’ve heard me rant about and those published recently by Ray J or Musiq Soulchid or The Very Smart Brothas, or the ones to come like the co-authored book by Tyrese and Rev. Run, it riles me for reasons I wrote about in Bitch Magazine for an article called “Ill-Advised.”:

The reason I am riled up about the runaway success of these books—why I refused to pay money to see Think Like A Man (besides Chris Brown’s casting)—is that the messages embedded within them demean the success of black women. Doubly oppressed by race and gender, black women continue to succeed academically and economically  – but they (cue violins) are still stumped in matters of the heart. What, no celebration over the academic degrees? We didn’t get to learn how to read legally for centuries. Where’s the bestseller-turned-blockbuster about that?

Instead, popular culture narratives leveled at black women – particularly those penned by black men – are typically demeaning, snide, childish, humorous at the expense of successful black women…

These works debase black female readers by way of black male condescension. It’s a kind of intellectual bullying and a Catch-22: If they consume it, they are under black male control, if they dismiss it, they are fulfilling the stereotype of emasculating, hard-headed black spinsters who don’t know how to treat a man, which is why they can’t keep one.

What happens in the black community tends to set cultural trends. Maybe women of different races feel like this isn’t even about them, the same way that black men consider it quietly humorous to continue to support a guy like Hughley or name-the-relationship-expert-this-week. But women around the world who have been juggling successful careers while also trying to stay sane know that any woman who is deemed “too independent” — and God help her if she’s also unmarried — are implicated in these kinds of cultural narratives.

It’s not as sexy, I know, to say: I’m really sad. I’m going through it. I’m so disappointed. I’m so hurt. More convenient for marketing purposes to read melancholy as anger, to reinforce the notion that women of marrying age who are not coupled are inflicting it on themselves by being unjustifiably upset at the world.

The inability to see black women as capable of more than rage or sass, but also fully capable of being disappointed and hurt absolves black men who hurt them of taking responsibility for some of the pain that black women internalize. And hurt and disappointment turned inward, of course, turns into anger.

It took a lot of meditation, therapy and soul-searching for me to understand that as a survivor of trauma and stress, I carried the burden of not wanting to ever appear angry in public. Repressing my feelings led to a lot of darkness and ugliness in my life. God forbid, that on top of being successful and self-sufficient, I would also be pissed off once in a while.

I had to practice allowing myself to be tired, sad and/or angry. It comes with the territory. It’s called life. Anyone perpetuating the notion that black women or any women, really, are the angriest, ever, is untrue and unfair. It is just a disappointment, heaped on layers of other disappointments.

To add insult to injury, D.L. Hughley is not even funny enough for me to care about. The black men I count as my true friends know how to treat women, so this is not about them. I’m still allowed to be sad about and tired of the universal acceptance and passive invalidation of any defensiveness on the part of black women about old tired tropes of black-women-as-a-monolith-to-sell-products.

Kimberly N. Foster wrote thoughtfully about giving up the fight in defense of black men for For Harriet, which I totally get and can relate to. I’m at a point in my life where I am learning to surrender battles that are not mine, since part of what makes me gloriously happy is leaning toward my life’s purpose, writing, speaking and reading books that are not written by men who don’t know how to use their platforms for good and not evil.

The place where I get stuck is that I don’t think anyone wins when we only love the people who love us back. At the same time, we don’t have all the time in the world on this planet, so it seems wise to just ignore or give up on people who give up on you. I’m not an angry black woman as much as I’m a disappointed and weary one. Hurt, tired and self-protecting, maybe. But not angry.

There are more of us than any sound bite would lead you to believe.

I think it’s helpful to remember that our attention is our currency. I don’t choose to pay attention to the demeaning crap anymore, because it’s not worth the drama. It’s not exactly a boycott, and it doesn’t always feel as empowering as I’d like. But it is what keeps me moving toward happiness. And sometimes that’s all we need.

“It is not worth the grief” An essay at the Feminist Wire about work & self-care


I wrote a piece for the wonderful forum on black women’s health published at The Feminist Wire today:

There was something really satisfying about it, I think, because I was used to abuse. I had no idea what to do with my feelings when I wasn’t working. My work addiction provided immediate gratification so that I was always accessible to anyone – student, editor, supervisor or reader.

As Gloria Anzaldúa wrote in another context, “no vale la pena…it is not worth the grief.” Like my peers in academia who are full professors, I know what it means to be fully committed to the world in which we find ourselves. When I started teaching, I had the same porous boundaries with my students. I was answering emails and phone calls at all hours, regardless of what the syllabus said. For my 60+ hours per week, I was essentially paid the wage of an intern with no benefits, which is why it was useful to continue working at the paper.

My life was my work. Work was my life. I was always exhausted. I thought this was what it took to live the American dream, but I was not really living.

I hope you enjoy it. Ironically, I still work all the time. It feels different (and more anxiety-producing at times) because I’m working for myself now, but I know it will resonate with some of you.

Why black women can’t afford to be shamed for being single

Earlier this year, I was reading Health First! The Black Woman’s Wellness Guide and these figures gave me pause.

2010 Census Figures for Marital Status among Black Women in America

7,492, 890 Never Married
4,170,470 Married
792,263 Separated
1,422,370 Widowed
2,173,815 Divorced

53 percent of American women are married and living with their spouses, compared to 44 percent of Black women, who are more likely to be single heads of household. Single mothers of color are more likely to be poor than any other women.

…the average Black single mother has no assets; she has a median net worth of zero dollars, compared to $6,000 for a White single mom.

So, basically, it’s already expensive enough being a black woman & we don’t amass any more wealth when you add shaming to the mix:

“Lifting as we Climb: Women of Color, Wealth, and America’s Future,” also found that nearly half of all single black women have zero or negative wealth, meaning their debts exceed all their assets; one-fourth of single black women have no checking or savings account; and only 33 percent of African American single women are homeowners. Mariko Chang, independent consultant and author of “Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It,” notes that the legacy of the racial wealth gap is largely to blame for the discrepancy.

“So much of the racial wealth gap that occurred in our history is still really alive,” Chang said. “Because of both discrimination and a gender pay gap, black women, in particular, lack a lot of the traditional wealth safety nets that other groups have access to. Because of their lower earnings, and also because of the types of jobs they have – service jobs, for instance – they’re less likely to have fringe benefits, retirement accounts, paid vacation days. If they face unemployment, illness or any kind of negative economic shock, they just don’t have that cushion.”

I would like it very much if we lived in a post-racial, post-racist society, but unfortunately, the racial and class disparities that affect me as a black woman interfere with my ability to “just get married” to solve my financial problems — even if I were the kind of woman to marry for money, which I’m not.

The historical context of (some) black families & marriage, a brief overview

I just wanted to mention that posting will be a little lighter than usual as I finish editing the book, which I plan to publish before February 2013. This is my first book, so I’ve been losing sleep over it, but I do hope it will be worth the wait.

From the book:

My mom, like the women I grew up around, knew Jesus and loved God. For God-fearing Christians, marriage has been deemed a badge of honor for centuries.

But she wasn’t actively avoiding marriage. She had tried. It just didn’t work for her.

While she never seemed interested in trying again, she was far from bitter. She continued to date more actively than even I was comfortable with into her late 60s.

Part of why she was able to be single and happy had to do with the cultural sentiment around us, which was You don’t need a piece of paper to certify your love. This is how people of color and women who are not interested in the politics of respectability (or assimilating as much as possible to mainstream culture) find space for their own models of self-worth and self-love: by appropriating for themselves what they need to feel affirmed, often outside of the gaze and judgment of popular culture.

This cultural self-approval was popular during slavery by necessity even though some of the bravest women who are depicted and often written about as single or singular black women – Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, for example – were married. In Tubman’s case, she married a few times, including one marriage that her biographer Catherine Clinton notes in Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom happened when she was likely well over 50 years old. Back then, marriages between free blacks and slaves were considered informal arrangements, not legally or biblically binding enough to trump the commerce of slavery. Clinton wrote:

“Free blacks were faced with the prospect of choosing liberty in exile or a return to enslavement by remaining with their families…A slave’s master could choose to honor or ignore the couple’s commitment, rendering such unions inherently unstable. The sale of the slave spouse might throw the entire relationship into limbo. Thus, slaves who chose a life partner, whether a free black or another slave, constantly confronted fears not only that their marriage might be shattered through salve, but that they might lose contact with their children as well.”

Any book that purports to be geared toward black unmarried women and/or instruct them on getting a mate that doesn’t acknowledge this historical context is irresponsible.  That history, along with reports like Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report on the black family (known best as The Moynihan Report) offers a more detailed explanation of black women’s perceived powerlessness in matters of intimacy and love in the United States. While it is easier to just point to statistics and talk in witty sound bites, the truth is that black unmarried women have always been required to do much more than their white counterparts in every sphere of life.

Matters of the heart, then as now, are apparently no different.

Single Lady Books: Single, Arguments for the Uncoupled by Michael Cobb

The review’s not available online, but you can find it in the latest issue of Bitch Magazine, the Elemental Issue, #56

I really loved Michael Cobb’s book, Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, even though there were parts that I felt were a little over my head. Here’s part of what I wrote in my review for Bitch:

It’s hard to beat Michael Cobb’s description of single people as “avatars of the lonely crowd.” While Cobb’s last book had a catchier title (2006’s God Hates Fags: The Rhetoric of Religious Violence), I’m  guessing readers will appreciate that he takes a lighter touch with the expansive possibilities of single life.

The central message of this concise treatise is that freedom, potential, and possibility all exist within the life of a single person in a way that is impossible in the context of coupledom. Essentially, one is not the loneliest number. In a chapter about couples, families and the law entitled “The Probated Couple,” Cobb writes that couples join “the grip of loneliness’s totalitarianism” by creating the “special residue which marks their endurance in time: children, relatives, and all sorts of relations…”

If you want to read the rest and you hate paper or you want to read the rest of the brilliance in Bitch on your gadget, you can even by a digital copy here. Bella DePaulo adds that it’s the beginning of National Singles Week and she adds more quotes from Cobb’s book here.

Contemplating hook-up culture and female empowerment

If women are so powerful now, why is there so much angst about their power?

This is the first thing I thought about when I read the article adapted from Hanna Rosin’s new book, The End of Men, which I thought I wanted to read at one point. In the Atlantic’s September issue, she writes about the rise of successful women and ways in which women now have the agency – financial and otherwise – to plan for temporary intimacy in lieu of waiting around for love. The article is called “Boys on the Side” and here are some passages that jumped out at me:

Single young women in their sexual prime—that is, their 20s and early 30s, the same age as the women at the business-­school party—are for the first time in history more success­ful, on average, than the single young men around them. They are more likely to have a college degree and, in aggregate, they make more money. What makes this remarkable development possible is not just the pill or legal abortion but the whole new landscape of sexual freedom—the ability to delay marriage and have temporary relationships that don’t derail education or career. To put it crudely, feminist progress right now largely depends on the existence of the hookup culture. And to a surprising degree, it is women—not men—who are perpetuating the culture, especially in school, cannily manipulating it to make space for their success, always keeping their own ends in mind. For college girls these days, an overly serious suitor fills the same role an accidental pregnancy did in the 19th century: a danger to be avoided at all costs, lest it get in the way of a promising future.

It’s important to note a couple of things here. Rosin is specifically writing about the white middle class and upper middle class experience.

This is one of the things that riles me about writing and popular culture about single women, generally – in order for a case to be made for a strong story pitch, these stories are only considered universal (like the HBO show Girls, which is referenced in the story later) if they center around the white middle-class and upper middle-class experience. The reason that’s important is that it leaves out huge swaths of women of color who, culturally and sometimes out of necessity and cultural allegiance, make totally different decisions. I don’t know any women of color who could be described as cannily manipulating hook-up culture on college campuses to make space for their success. I don’t know any working class or poor women of any race or cultural background who would do that, either. There is, too, the underlying idea that hook-up culture is a white thing, not unlike marriage, ironically.

This article made me think a SPIN article published in 1998 while I was a sophomore at Vassar. The story, “Sex Ed,” featured at least one black male classmate I was friends with at the time, but it was essentially a story about the fact that for men on campus, “hooking up was as easy as ordering a pizza.” The reason hooking up was so easy, as explained by SPIN, was the fact that women outnumbered men on campus (the ratio was reportedly 60:40) and a large percentage of the men and women on campus were gay, which meant that heterosexual women had to be more aggressive if they wanted to hook up with men on campus.

I bring that story up because it points to an old idea: that for women to participate in the full secular college experience and have a little fun, they have always had to do more work than men. I was the exact opposite of the college girls that are characterized as dismissing overly serious suitors to make space for my success, so maybe I have a hard time understanding the sentiment. This strikes me as a dangerous corollary to the Having it All debate – where the narratives of women who suddenly act like men have traditionally acted are a new sociological puzzle.

Cultural, racial and class differences are key here, too, to say nothing of people who fall into non-gender conforming categories; the narrative that has been bought and sold to black women in particular is that we cannot afford to let go even of casual relationships with our black male peers if we seek marriage because they are so rarefied in academic and corporate spaces that if we act like some of the women Rosin highlights in Boys on the Side, we will be Forever Alone.

Here, Rosin goes into more detail about a 2004 study on sexual abuse on college campuses:

Women in the dorm complained to the researchers about the double standard, about being called sluts, about not being treated with respect. But what emerged from four years of research was the sense that hooking up was part of a larger romantic strategy, part of what Armstrong came to think of as a “sexual career.” For an upwardly mobile, ambitious young woman, hookups were a way to dip into relationships without disrupting her self-development or schoolwork. Hookups functioned as a “delay tactic,” Armstrong writes, because the immediate priority, for the privileged women at least, was setting themselves up for a career. “If I want to maintain the lifestyle that I’ve grown up with,” one woman told Armstrong, “I have to work. I just don’t see myself being someone who marries young and lives off of some boy’s money.” Or from another woman: “I want to get secure in a city and in a job … I’m not in any hurry at all. As long as I’m married by 30, I’m good.”

The women still had to deal with the old-fashioned burden of protecting their personal reputations, but in the long view, what they really wanted to protect was their future professional reputations. “Rather than struggling to get into relationships,” Armstrong reported, women “had to work to avoid them.” (One woman lied to an interested guy, portraying herself as “extremely conservative” to avoid dating him.) Many did not want a relationship to steal time away from their friendships or studying.

In that research, by the way, two-thirds of the subjects of sociologists’ research came from “more privileged” backgrounds. This idea of cultivating a “sexual career” is one that would offer a variety of side-eye glances from women of color, full stop. I understand the need to frame a story around existing data, but this is one example of just one side of the story.

The absence of women of color and people who are not so privileged from stories like this speaks loudly. It infers that the overarching narrative of white female sexual agency is the dominant story for all women everywhere, which is less true now than it ever has been, considering the growing diversity of our country. The absence of our narrative from discussions about women’s sexual liberation, too, shows that feminists still haven’t found a way to bridge the racial and class gaps that inform our discourse on everything from politics and business to love and relationships.

NY Times: When all the single guys live together

This Sunday NY Times story about four single guys sharing an apartment together caught my eye because the single male experience is rarely highlighted.

Even if it’s not always particularly diverse when it comes to sourcing, the Times does a good job of at least attempting to illustrate cultural trends. I am not at all surprised, by the way, that Mayor Bloomberg would try to cram single people into small spaces:

Sociologically, the men represent the apotheosis of two trends in American life. While Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg may be promoting the idea of tiny apartments for singles, the most recent census figures suggest that many people do not want to live alone; they prefer or need the company: The number of roommates in nonfamily households in New York City increased by more than 40 percent between 2000 and 2010. At the same time, Americans, especially men, have been pushing back the age at which they first marry — for men, it climbed to 28.2 years in 2010, up from 26.8 a decade earlier.

Indeed, though the men might resist putting so much weight upon their living arrangement, they are part of an ongoing redefinition of family life in the 21st century, in which traditional structures are replaced by fluid networks and bonds not dependent on blood ties.

“Now there are so many variations on how to live,” said Bella DePaulo, a social scientist and author of the book “Singled Out.” Many adults in middle age and beyond, she said, are choosing the “friendship model” for their living needs, opting for roommate arrangements similar to what they had in college or in their 20s, “except now they’re so much more thoughtful about it.”

It’s really rare to see mainstream outlets write about single men in a way that isn’t about chasing tail or being overgrown frat dudes, so this was refreshing. It made me think about the section of Kate Bolick’s article in the Atlantic where she writes about The Begijnhof, an single-sex community for women founded in the mid-12th century with 106 apartments  for applicants who commit to living alone (but in community with one another) between the ages of 30 and 65. Sounds like something the U.S. might need for all the single ladies.

The costs of dating

I wrote this post at Bitch Magazine about women who make more money than their partners. It’s something I think about a lot, especially because when I was a little bit younger, one of the things I often heard from women about guys and in general was that I had an “intimidating” career.

The only upside of being a writer who doesn’t make a bunch of money is that it has become a little easier to date. I can’t figure out if this is because I have a more flexible schedule, or because I’m happier and therefore more available and sultry-looking, or if it’s because I’m less intimidating now that I’m not pulling in five figures.

What’s confusing is that I don’t know if a decision has been made about whether women who bring home most of the money who are also in relationships are hot or not. It used to be common knowledge that that whole power dynamic thing in a relationship shifted with the purse (man purse?) strings.

It occurs to me that in the dating world, things might still operate according to outdated principles. In other words, it is expected that the person who is the pursuer in any dynamic is the one who pays for dinner and drinks and other things — no matter what his or her gender expression might be. If you go dutch, that sets a specific kind of tone. These are all impressions I have related to my own expectations in the dating world. I have purchased unnecessary drinks during dates and sometimes even paid for dinner, because it felt weird to expect for the guy to foot the bill for everything.

At the same time, like many of my friends and women I have met over the years, I am a person who loves being feted. Romance to me looks a lot like it does in fairy tales and rom-coms. Part of me thinks that’s pathetic and shameful as a thinking feminist; another part of me wants to just accept that I have these assumptions about what romance and courtship look like and just have a good time. Mostly, I just wish that courtship and dating were a little more linear so I could wrap my brain around them.

I guess that would suck all the fun out of them, though, right?

Going solo, the costs of singlehood & navigating intimacy in virtual communities

A friend of mine sent along this link about Eric Klinenberg’s book, “Going Solo,” which I still haven’t read. I found this passage particularly interesting:

Klinenberg goes on to explore the forces and factors that have sparked the transformative social experience of living alone, which has in turn changed not only the way we understand ourselves and our most intimate relationships, but also the way we structure our cities and orchestrate our economies, demonstrating that solo living affects the lives of nearly everyone in the social ecosystem. He points to four key developments driving this cult of individualism, championed by Emerson and Thoreau: (1) The wealth generated by economic growth and the social security provided by the modern welfare state (“Put simply, one reason that more people live alone than ever before is that today more people can afford to do so.”); (2) the communications revolution (“For those who want to live alone, the Internet affords rich new ways to stay connected.”); (3) mass urbanization (“Subcultures thrive in cities, which tend to attract nonconformists who are able to find others like themselves in the dense variety of urban life.”); (4) increased longevity (“Because people are living longer than ever before — or, more specifically, because women often outlive their spouses by decades rather than years — aging alone has become an increasingly common experience.”).

I’ve been thinking a lot more about the costs of solitary living vs. living in groups or in partnerships because of some of the blogging I’ve been doing at bitch. Particularly in light of some of the stories that have emerged about academics & aspiring academics who are receiving food stamps while earning doctorates and admitting in public that I 1) have a change/Coinstar addiction and 2) am actually a closet business nerd.

One thing I’ve been repeating to my friends is a quote from Claire Bidwell Smith’s book, The Rules of Inheritance, that both haunts me and provides food for thought is this concept of not being anyone’s Most Important Person. I think that has economic consequences and emotional ones. I think they must be mitigated by all the people who are living alone and who are single.

I wonder how other people do that. I’ve been so blessed that I have relatives, and friends who are just like family, who serve to support me in a myriad of ways. Some of them are other single women. Others are partnered. I don’t take them for granted. At the same time, I’m still working on how to navigate having the solitude & space to create with being accessible & available physically and emotionally for my communities in real life and virtually. It seems that those of us who live alone and are single have to put more effort and intention into this journey.

Teenage boys are waiting longer to have sex because they’re more romantic

Speaking of unexpected things that made me happy this weekend:

Why are boys behaving more “like girls” in terms of when they lose their virginity? In contrast to longstanding cultural tropes, there is reason to believe that teenage boys are becoming more careful and more romantic about their first sexual experiences.

That’s how sociologist Amy Schalet begins her sweet editorial about the new cultural tropes being rewritten by teen boys.  I learned about it over at Sociological Images. More from Schalet:

Today, though more than half of unmarried 18- and 19-year-olds have had sexual intercourse, fewer than 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old boys and girls have, down from 50 percent of boys and 37 percent of girls in 1988. And there are virtually no gender differences in the timing of sexual initiation.

What happened in those two decades?

Fear seems to have played a role. In interviewing 10th graders for my book on teenage sexuality in the United States and the Netherlands, I found that American boys often said sex could end their life as they knew it. After a condom broke, one worried: “I could be screwed for the rest of my life.” Another boy said he did not want to have sex yet for fear of becoming a father before his time.

The rest of the editorial just made me beam with pride. I think each generation assumes that the one after it is going to hell in a handbasket. But to see that American boys, like Dutch boys, were not only afraid of the consequences of having sex before they might be ready but that they also were using really strong romantic language to discuss love was so refreshing. Maybe the kids are really alright.

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