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Yes, Yes, Y’all Women Can Have it All: An Open Letter to Susan Patton

Dear Ms. Patton,

Last Saturday I came across an article you wrote in the Daily Princetonian about why women who go to Princeton should get their MRS degree before they graduate. Jaw-dropped and aghast I recounted the contents of your piece to my sister over lunch that day. My sister’s initial response was “Did she really say this?” “Well maybe she was kidding?” “Do you think she was kidding?” “Let’s hope she was kidding.” And 4 or 5 days later I got my answer when I came across the second post you wrote in the Huffington Post defending your original position to the ground. After having read both your pieces and watched the fire storm of video clips and interviews that followed I’m appalled on so many different levels. If there’s one thing that history has taught it’s that education has always been the path by which women (and many racial/ ethnic groups) have sought to gain and exercise their full potential. That’s why they fought for it. For you to suggest that the only way women can graft their sense of value is through men, by proxy is DIS-empowering and furthermore makes a mockery of the hard won achievements of the decades of women that have gone before us. It’s also heterosexist and in very poor taste. We have a (bad) habit in this culture of linking heterosexual desire, love, and romance whether intentionally or unintentionally to happiness. But what does that mean for our LGBT friends? Us heteros don’t own the patent on happy and valued relationships you know. And here’s a newsflash – TRADITIONAL IS OUT! Women (and men) for that fact are getting married later in life. Same-sex couples have been challenging the notion of what family is and looks like. In this day and age there are many ways for women at whatever stage of life they find themselves in to have the family and the love they want and desire. So, if a woman chooses IVF, adoption, and/or surrogacy who are you to suggest that she has lost out or it is tragic in some way? To be clear the difficulty that women have in achieving work-life balance has to do with unequal pay in the work place, un-equitable sharing of household responsibilities by men, lack of flexible work schedules, and feasible childcare arrangements. That is where the blame and critique has to lie – with our social institutions, inequality, societal expectations and norms around gender, patriarchy, and sexism, not with so called “flawed choicing skills” of educated straight women. Well-meaning advice about our biological clock ticking only adds insult to injury and exacerbates unfounded social pressures and fears that if we hetero women don’t meet our mates early in life we may well have missed our chance. Does marriage have an expiration date? Moreover, if the conventional wisdom is that men feel threatened by women who are more educated than them that should give us pause and we should really be concerned about what qualities we are socializing straight men to look for in a life partner. Really, it’s a criticism of masculinity that needs to be levied here. Also, there’s no guarantee that if well-educated straight women marry straight men from elite institutions they won’t be threatened by their intelligence either. Their male partners could very well be narcissistic in which case these well educated women could spend the rest of their lives competing with their husbands who feel the need to shore up their masculinity by always topping their wives. Lastly, I resent the implication that there are only two categories for women “dumb and pretty” and therefore by default “smart and ugly” – that kind of thinking and rhetoric is both reductionist and dangerous. If as you claim men are willing to marry girls who are less well educated if they “hot” or “good looking” then once again we should be concerned about what qualities we are socializing straight men to look for in a life partner. Like my friend Courtney would say “Am I not sexy with a book? Pretty in our culture is extremely objectified and a very coded word that is based on artificial norms which are racialized, class, and gender specific as well. As a thirty something African-American woman pursuing my PhD where would I fit in your dichotomy? I am never going to be a blond busty chick with long flowing hair and soft doe eyes, and petite lips. And if smarts don’t count for much according to your equation, I’m royally flushed. Bottom line Ms. Patton, the advice your dispensing is retro, outdated, passé but most of all its harmful and offensive! I think when it comes down to it its about choosing well and straight men from elite institutions are not the only partners worth having. To suggest that men can have it all but women have to make sacrifices is not a message that I am comfortable passing down to our sisters, daughters, or our sons for that matter. Instead we should tell women they can GET EVERYTHING and to surround themselves with people who will help them achieve, do, be, and have everything they ever wanted. Yes, yes, y’all, women can have it all!

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Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Kicking Over Sacred Cows in the Church!

I’ve recently begun to question much of the church’s doctrine and position on dating, marriage, and relationships. As an African-American woman whose been church-ed for all my natural born childhood, and adult life I am quite familiar with the “don’t be unequally yoked,”, “the man is supposed to find you”, and “just focus on God, the husband will come” rhetoric. The problem with the “just wait on God” mantra which the church espouses so liberally is that it doesn’t match up with real life experiences of many women of color who like me have done nothing but focus on God and their career and still aren’t married. In her article How the Black Church Keeps Black Women Single Deborah Cooper claims that black churches play a key role in keeping black women single and alone, waiting for Mr. Right, all the while taking care of the churches’ business. (Follow this link for Deborah’s article: http://survivingdating.com/black-churches-how-black-churches-keep-african-american-women-single-and-alone)

It’s that old “if you take care of God’s house, he will  take care of your house” adage. And it’s not just traditional black churches which espouse such traditional notions about a single woman’s place in God’s house. Growing up in the Pentecostal faith tradition with mostly white congregations, I can attest to the fact that many of us are taught it is a man’s job to pursue us and our job is to wait–anything more smacks of and/or constitutes Jezebel or harlot like behavior in the eyes of the church. But what exactly are we waiting for? I hate to say it but I’ve come to the conclusion that Mr. Right is probably not in the church, at least not for educated and/or professional sisters of color. Of course, a lot of it has to do with the church and it’s perpetuation of traditional gender roles which does not jive well with the self-assured, independent “woman vibe” that a lot of women of color subscribe to. Gender equality is something that women of this generation demand. However, because the church maintains such rigid views on a man and a woman’s place in the marriage relationship, it causes ruptures and tears for many of us female egalitarian sisters of color sitting on the pews.

The other “elephant in the room”, is the “do not be unequally yoked” doctrine which presumes to tell us single gals that all we need to be concerned with is the spiritual state of our future spouse and as long as that is settled everything will be alright. I heard my Pastor say it this way “anyone whose not a born-again Christian, you can take them off the table”. Well, now that raises some interesting questions. If I can be unequally yoked with a man spiritually isn’t it possible that I can also be unequally yoked with a man naturally? In secular terminology we call it compatibility. Are you telling me  that all us church-ed sisters need to be concerned about in a potential mate is his spiritual status without regard to his emotional, mental, and  financial state? I submit that it is foolish to do so. My bible says that “a man who does not work should not eat”. (2 Thessalonians, 3;10, NKJV). I interpret this to mean that a man’s propensity or motivation to secure gainful employment is just as important a consideration as his relationship with God. Also, lets not forget about factors such as educational attainment, income level, economic stability, financial independence, socio-economic status, race, culture, shared interests, similar values, etc…which weigh heavily in one’s choice of a future spouse or partner. Would the church have us believe that none of these other things matter as long as we have Christ?

I find the “all we need is Christ” doctrine dangerous and think it does a major disservice to women of color and of faith since we have to negotiate most or all of these factors in our romantic relationships. This “all we need is Christ” doctrine also fails to acknowledge that such factors make us appear all the more or less attractive as possible marriage spouses. So, just because I might not regard race, cultural, or socio-economic differences as reasons not to date and/or marry someone in my church, does not mean someone else may not. And to illustrate my point, I’d like to share a story with you. During the spring of 2005 I was serving as a youth leader for my church youth group. It was my second year as a youth leader and I was absolutely loving it. One night after youth service when all the kids had been dismissed, we youth leaders were lounging in the café area having a lively discussion about relationships, dating, and marriage partners. A lot of people were talking about what they imagine their wedding day and/or partner might possibly be like. Suddenly, out of the blue, one of the white male youth leaders blurted out he would never marry a black or Italian woman b/c as he put it “I simply do not find them attractive”.

I felt stung and mortally offended. It was as if someone had literally stuck or stabbed me in the back with a knife. As a black woman of course his comment cut me deep but perhaps what was even more hurtful to me was that he had also offended a very good friend of mine who happened to be born and raised Italian and also a youth leader as well. My initial reaction was so quick. How can you say that? You don’t know who you will marry!  I had always been taught that we don’t regard the flesh as Christians and it doesn’t matter what package the person comes in as long as they are the right person God intended for you to be with its all good. In utter shock and disbelief I protested vehemently along with several other women of color youth leaders and my Italian friend but to no avail.  This youth leader proceeded to defend his racist statement to the ground. The intense anger I felt swelled. What if there had still been teens, especially black teen girls in the building who heard what he had said? How can he stand in front of a group of racially diverse teens every week and beckon them to enter into a deeply intimate and spiritual place in worship and harbor such racist feelings towards black and Italian women?

At the risk of not causing more strife among the youth staff I kept quiet about the incident but I’ve never forgotten it to this day. Sometimes, I wonder if the youth pastors deserved to know what kind of person they had serving on their staff but I digress. I share this story to show the flaws with the “Christ is all we need” doctrine when it comes to relationships. Obviously, racism exists in the church despite the doctrine and rhetoric about there being no “Jew or Greek” and sadly that extends to romantic relationships too. Perhaps, that explains why over the last nine years the last 11 weddings I’ve attended at my church have only been for young white couples in their early to mid 20’s. So as much the church would like us sisters to believe that white or rainbow man sitting on the pew next to us could be “the One”  there might be ghostly matters of race, culture, and ethnicity lurking in the back of his mind that need to be addressed publicly and honestly.

In the end we educated/professional women of color and of faith are juggling our Christianity with our race, class, and gender, which is quite a balancing act. To assume that shared faith in Christ trumps all these identity markers is foolish, unrealistic, and insulating in many ways. We need partners Christian or no Christian who are willing to negotiate these issues with us and unfortunately I have not met any men in church that can do this. So, despite your protests I’m not  “taking anyone of the table”. Sorry Pastor.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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