Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Black Women & Patriarchal Relationship Advice

A lot of the relationship advice directed towards Black women is quite frankly scary.

Unfortunately, I'm not just referencing "relationship help gurus" such as Steve Harvey and Tyrese. I'm also talking about the advice you'll get from your mom's best friend, your auntie, your older cousin, and the well-meaning ladies in the church.

I find the advice given to Black women particularly discouraging in light of the fact that Black women deal with some of the highest rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. So you'd think we'd have created and sustained enlightening advice that supports our self-determination and physical and emotional health. But instead the intent of most given advice is towards pleasing and subordinating ourselves to (Black) men.

Some folks like to dress up the concept of "submission" and they do mental back flips to insist that it's actually a burden on men and a blessing for women. But truly, what good have women gained from not feeling empowered to at all handle household finances? What have women gained from not having an equal voice in terms of every day household decisions? What have women gained by being demoted from a single adult to essentially a married child due to the expected dynamics of patriarchal relationships?

Perhaps bell hooks had the most succinct debunk of this "female submission is great!" myth when she said: "Love cannot exist in any relationship that is based on domination and coercion."

That is precisely the truth.

It is interesting that in the twenty-first century - a time where women are making more educational, political, and economic gains than ever before (Black women included) - that these changes seem to be coming faster than any change in the structure of romantic heterosexual relationships.

The result is that women gain increased rights outside of the home but find themselves remanded to the antiquated role of an unpaid baby sitter, maid, and sex toy within the home. This has costs for all women. But particular costs for Black women who as a whole are less economically stable and more at risk of experiencing violence than most other racial/ ethnic groups.

So then why is there a particular focus on preserving male superiority within Black male/ female romantic relationships? Why is this message drilled into the heads of young Black girls, taught as being a fundamental part of being a Christian, and even of being a woman in general?

We are still as a collective group trying to deal with the 1965 Moynihan report and the myth of Black male emasculation. Here we are living in a culture that teaches ALL men that it's their natural born (and God-given) right to rule over women and a white man comes along and says that Black men don't have that right. Not because white men have taken it from them but because Black women have.

We can still see the psychological trauma the Moynihan report has caused. Because most people (of all genders) believe that if it's not patriarchy it's wrong. Let me be clear: there's a lot of women who believe that if it's not patriarchy it's wrong.

Although I see it fit to mostly focus on male sexism when issues of gender inequality come up it makes most sense to focus on patriarchal women within this particular context of discussing romantic relationships. Because it is the tacit belief and adherence to patriarchy that is in part responsible for women entering and remaining in unequal and even abusive relationships.

Simply because that's what they've been taught. It honestly doesn't matter if they themselves are survivors of intimate partner violence. It doesn't matter if they've experienced what it's like when you put your life in a man's control and he doesn't follow through. They keep thinking that it's their fault. That if they had been quieter... more agreeable... more subservient then things would have worked out differently.

It's like willingly entering into a master/slave relationship and believing that you'll be anything more than a slave if you are "well behaved" even though "slave" is the role you were put into from the start. You don't get upgraded from that.

There's a lot of things I don't know about dating. But what I do know is that I want an equal partnership with a man and that if a man doesn't want an equal partnership then he's not the man for me. It's as simple as that.

I want to experience love. But not at the expense of my subjectivity. And in any case, any love that requires me to shrink myself is not love any at all.

And I believe that's also the problem. A lot of people aren't really and truly looking for love. They're looking for societal approval. In that sense, patriarchal relationships are comfortable because they are popular and they are expected and well-supported.

But with a true zealous longing for love patriarchy could never be a part of the picture. A true love would never require any partner (male or female) to subordinate themselves to another.

I know that it must be confusing for Black women (many older than I) who subscribe to these dangerous notions about romantic relationships.

Many of these women are well-educated and professionally successful. They have spent many years as an adult fully responsible for themselves and able to fulfill their own needs. And then they fall prey to the idea that they must shrink themselves in order to be an agreeable yes woman to a man. Any man. Just in the name of marriage.

Occasionally, you hear the story of a Black woman who says she never thought she'd find "the one" and get married but then she learned to be submissive and ta da! the ring arrived!

This is misleading for several reasons. Of course, it's easy to find a man if you're a doormat. Many women mistakenly think that having standards means withholding sex prior to marriage or only dating men with a certain educational level or income. But that's superficial and really should not count as having standards at all. That's all just merely a personal preference.

True standards are knowing that you will and are able to stand up for yourself and your unique needs and desires even with the knowledge that many men are turned off by self-empowered and outwardly intelligent women. Because that means you value yourself more than you value being of service to him.

Secondly, submission may have gotten the woman the ring and led to the wedding ceremony but it doesn't lead to happy marriage.

As an individual adult, no woman can keep up the charade of leaving her entire life up to a man forever. Sooner than later she will assert herself. Why? Because it doesn't make logical sense that one person in a two person relationship call all the shots. The person with limited say is going to eventually become disgruntled. And because her relationship was founded on the idea that she was never to assert herself that will doubtlessly lead to friction.

But many Black women who hear these stories and are also coming with the weight of believing that they're innately less likely to find love anyway as an "undesirable" Black woman (see Being Mary Jane) eat this stuff up without thinking logically about the consequences. Often invisible unless you find yourself in one of these unequal relationships.

I don't want to be trapped by ideologies that place a man above me. I don't want to normalize patriarchal standards and believe that's how a home should be set up.

I want something I've honestly seen too little of: and that is equality in a romantic partnership. I've honestly seen more gender equality in school and in the work place than I've seen in witnessing the romantic partnerships of people around me. And there's something wrong about that.

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  1. I loved this. It articulated my struggles, thoughts and feelings about this topic so well. I have now come to the place where I know what I need in a relationship as far as power dynamics are concerned. After being the submissive woman more than once--and being hurt each and every time, I cannot promote or continue to seek out those types of relationships. I need an equal partnership in order for the relationship to be healthy.

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