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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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Reflections on Being My Father’s Daughter

As a self-identified black feminist, I am always looking for an opportunity to engage in conversations about race and gender politics. So on Thursday night I attended a panel at Syracuse University on engaging men in violence prevention work. I was both intrigued and excited to hear how it was that each of these men got involved in anti-violence work and what were the particular trajectories that had lead them there. Since the panel was multi-generational as well as multi-racial I expected a range of perspectives would emerge. What I didn’t anticipate was the intensity of my personal reaction to the stories and things that were shared. Because we as women of color have endured sexual and domestic violence throughout our history, I would never dare call myself  a surivor. To do so seems disingenious. But as I listened to one of the panelists recount his experience growing up in a home where his father perpetrated emotional abuse aganist his mother I felt pierced. I hadn’t realized until that moment that being my father’s daughter has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. For almost 15 years of my life he waged war aganist my mother and my siblings and I with his words. And every day my self-worth was diminshed a little more each day. Even more damaging is that he broke my trust in men. To this day my greatest fear is marrying a man that’s like my father. In many ways my relationship with father remains conflicted and unresolved but as I move forward I am humbled and moved by the work that men such as Don McPherson, Joe Samlin, Sacchi Patel, and Marc Peters are doing to end gender violence and reconceptualize masculinity. If as Raheem Mack said violence is in our homes then to all the fathers and men be careful, your daughters are watching you.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Where Do We Go From Here?: “No Wedding, No Womb”, One Year Later

Today marks the 2nd  annual “No Wedding, No Womb” campaign. For last year’s campaign I wrote a piece called Whose Body Is This: A Statement on “Out of Wedlock Births” in the Black Community. Like so many others, my intention in writing that piece and reason for participating in the campaign was to call attention to the “out of wedlock” birth epidemic in our community. The central thesis of my argument was and still is that  the social costs of “out of wedlock” births is too high a price for us to pay. As a black-feminist-scholar-in-the-making, I felt my charge was to speak to the negative impact that “out of wedlock” births have on the life chances, social trajectories, self-esteem, and identity development of young African-American women. I wanted to invoke a sense of urgency in us to do something about the plight that far too many Black girls find themselves in and to seriously consider the pernicious effects that “out-of-wedlock” births have on the possibility of who our young women imagine they can be and become. I thought for sure that “No Wedding, No Womb” was a cause behind which the Black community could and would unite.  I was wrong. The backlash and resistance to the campaign was palpable. I think folks on every side wrongly perceived the “NWNW” contributors to be placing the blame for “out of wedlock” births on the backs of teenage African-American girls–those who often shoulder the responsibility of single parenting. Let me be clear in saying: we weren’t. Yet and still, the question of whose to blame for “out of wedlock” births in the Black community  is an important and significant one.

And so to answer the critics and the naysayers, I am going to put the cards on the table. There are many culprits, but chief among them is racism. Racism has and continues to structure the lives of African-Americans (and other folks of color) in harmful and destructive ways. It is a cancer, a canker sore that is deeply woven into the fabric of society and that pervades the essence of every institution, relationship, practice, and discourse we engage in as human beings. And then poverty. Poverty is what deprives our children of a relationship with and exposure to opportunities that are not yet available in their current environment. It is a dream thief and a close relative of  “out of wedlock” births. Next up is unemployment. As history demonstrates, African-Americans, and in particular Black men have always had high rates of unemployment, been unemployed, and/or otherwise unemployable–a situation which has been made inordinately worse by the current economic climate and recession our nation has been plunged into. Lastly, is the issue of incarceration. The mass internment of Black men in correctional facilities (a.k.a. the prison industrial complex) is the single most detrimental and corrosive factor to seize hold of the African-American community in our lifetime. Adam Jones notes that to destroy a people in war, you must first, kill or capture the battle-age males in the group (2001).  Now one year later, I have come to understand the “No Wedding, No Womb” campaign is just as much about recovering our boys and men as it is about saving our girls and women. The truth is we need, and when I say we I mean the entire community, NEEDS Black men as elders, fathers, role models, leaders, husbands, lovers, same-sex partners, etc..  How can the healing begin if the men aren’t there? Who will protect our children, if they have no mothers and no fathers? How can we re-imagine the relationships between men and other men, women and other women, and across genders, if we don’t widen the spectrum of masculinities, femininities, and sexualities that our children see?

So the question is: where do we go from here? I strongly believe the potentiality for our agency and collective empowerment lies in the political mobilization of the Black community. First, we have to FIGHT. Agitate!  Agitate! Agitate!  As Frederick Douglas said “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” We must learn to leverage power in ways that force the powers that be to their knees, literally. To use a turn of phrase that is popular in Evangelical Christian circles “with one hand we must build the wall and with the other be fighting back the enemy”. We cannot sit quietly and we cannot go silently. There is much work to be done. We have to keep pushing until something gives. Concomitantly, we must refuse to collude in our own oppression or be lulled into participating in our own demise. We got to hold back every force or element that seeks to win our consent in the destruction of our community. We gotta FIGHT BACK right now! The “No Wedding, No Womb” campaign is about raising a village–to do so means we need all hands on deck, every man, woman, and child. Our history proves its possible. Our legacy proves its inevitable. The only thing that remains yet to be seen is whether we have the will power to do what is necessary. “No Wedding, No Womb” is about charting a better path and future for all African-American children in light of yesterday, in service of today, and in hope for tomorrow.

References

1. Jones, A. (2001). Effacing the Male: Gender, Misrepresentation, and Exclusion in the Kosovo War. Transitions: The Journal of Men’s Perspectives, 21: 1-3: Retrieved 9/20/11 at http: adamjones.freeservers.com/effacing.htm.

For more information on “No Wedding, No Womb” please visit: http://ww.noweddingnowomb.com

 

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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