QOTD: Do We (as a collective) Really Love Women?

16 04 2015
Photo courtesy of Essence Magazine

Photo courtesy of Essence Magazine

I can’t tell y’all how excited I was to see this image come across my screen this week. I saw the picture Ms. Debbie Allen put up last week (and squealed appropriately), so when I saw this was what she was talking about… y’all, I’m pretty sure I haven’t been excited about a magazine cover like that since it was something I actually worked on. And on top of all the “yassssss” proclamations I saw from women exclaiming the pure awesomeness of this cover, I also saw men on my timeline talking about the power of this cover. They were all right. And it made me so happy to see us celebrate women in this way. I was overjoyed at the love we were collectively showing these beautiful, intelligent, dynamic, and inspiring women.

And then I saw this article about a young woman who was raped during Spring Break in front of several bystanders while no one (not a single person!) attempted to stop the rape from happening. What?!

I mean what?!

How does something like that happen?

Well I’d argue it happens because while we celebrate women seen in the public eye, we live in a culture that really doesn’t love women. Not in the real world. Not when it comes to real life traumas.

How do I know? Because Darren Sharper got 9 years for pleading guilty to raping at least 9 women in four different states. Because women and men alike stood around and watched (or neglected to notice) a woman get raped in broad daylight on a beach in Florida. Because states all over this country (including my own lovely home state of Louisiana) continue to try to do everything possible to regulate what a woman can do with her own body, including but not limited to charging women with freakin’ feticide.

That’s not love, y’all. It just can’t be.

So where’s the disconnect?

How are we able to celebrate images like this and talk about the love everyone has for their mamas when they accept awards and celebrate Hillary Clinton running for President and First Lady Michelle Obama just being all around awesome, but we can’t recognize the pain in the women right in front of us? Is it because it’s too difficult to handle? Is the disconnect something that happens out of necessity or just from a lack of care until it’s someone who is close to you or someone who’s in the spotlight?

I really don’t know the answers to all these questions. But I do know there’s a distinct disconnect for some reason. And that’s not to say it’s exhibited by everyone. Some of us really do show out with our love and support for women, but as a whole? As a collective? In this country? We have some serious work to do.

What do you all think?


America, Please Step Away from My Vagina

22 07 2014
Pretty much says it all...

Pretty much says it all…

Here’s the thing, America — me and my vagina, we have what I like to call an intimate relationship. And yet, you and your compadres are always trying to be the third wheel in this situation.

Put another way, my vagina and I have A and B conversations that you (Congress, Supreme Court, the loonies, etc…) are always trying to C your way into.

Why is that? Can someone explain?

I mean, I get it — I’m a pretty fascinating woman (or so I’ve been told), and she’s a pretty fascinating organ, but damn — back the hell up why don’t you? Give us fifty feet!

You know what you’re like, America?

That random person that butts into a Facebook conversation that spontaneously began on someone’s wall. This person has no knowledge of the details of the conversation and can’t be bothered with finding out the background, but simply saw that a convo was occurring and felt the need to chime in.

Basically, America, you’re trolling the walls of my uterus on a constant basis.

Let’s just look at some of the ways this has happened in the past few years.

1. Of course, there’s the recent Supreme Court ruling that said corporations can determine what forms of birth control I use for my body. (Well, technically, it said the corporation could determine what forms its healthcare pays for, but try getting birth control without insurance — that ish is expensive!)

2. Then there was the time the governor of my great home state, Louisiana, made it his personal mission to rid the state of any legal facilities that perform abortion. He’s winning by the way.

3. And let’s not forget Virginia’s attempt to force transvaginal ultrasounds on any women contemplating an abortion.

4. And the Republican Congress’ mission to destroy Planned Parenthood.

These are but a few examples of the way in which the American government has gotten involved in the intimate details of womens’ bodies, but there are more. So so many more.

It’s frustrating. No, actually it’s infuriating to think that men and misguided women who know nothing about me, about my life, and about my body, believe they can make medical decisions for me. That they can decide how and when I choose to procreate.

And let’s be real here — procreation is a big effing deal! It (or the lack of it) literally changes lives of women every single day.

So now that I think about it, I was wrong when I gave my initial Facebook analogy. America, you’re not just that annoying friend who butts into a Facebook conversation without knowledge of the details. You also then attempt to mandate when and how I decide to have the course of my life changed while you’re at it.

And that’s just not okay. In fact, you sound a little loony tunes. And it’s making me think I might need to get a restraining order out on you (because that’s what you do when crazies won’t stay away)… or you could just, you know, go about your way and mind your own business on your own. That would help too.

#YesAllWomen — and This Woman Too

29 05 2014

I sometimes tell the following story to friends to illustrate the kind of crazies I meet daily taking public transportation in a city like Washington, D.C.:

While in grad school, I often took the Metro (the subway system in DC) to class in the middle of the day, during the oddest of hours. Because of this, there would be times when I was one of few people on a particular car on the train. Normally this would make me happy, because it meant that I’d have a quieter car, and I could get more reading or studying done. One day that all changed, however.

You see, I remember walking onto a car with no one else seated in it. I quickly sat down, opened my book, and went about my business of reading about presidential personalities, once again glad I wouldn’t have any distractions. Anyone who rides the Metro knows that any day someone could decide that they need let the entire train know how musically talented or mostly untalented they are, so a quiet train was pretty much heaven for me. At the very next stop, a guy entered. He seemed regular enough and didn’t cause any alarms to go off in my head, so I went back to reading, paying him no attention. That is until he sat in the seat right beside mine and began speaking to me. “Damn girl, you just like I like ’em,” he said. “I mean, look at you. You’re light skin. Thick. You even got freckles! You don’t know, if you were mine, I’d have you bent over all day, wearing nothing but a thong and heels.”

I tried to ignore him, thinking that ignoring him would make him go away. But he was emboldened by the fact that we were the only ones in that car, and I soon realized that me ignoring him was just making him angry. Plus, by sitting right next to me, he’d blocked me from getting away from him.

“What? You don’t know,” he continued, his voice getting higher. “Girl, I’m a freak! One night with me, I’d have you so turned out. You won’t want to read them damn books anymore.”

“I’m good, thanks,” I tried to explain.

“You’re good?!”

“Yea, I’m not interested. I’d like to just keep reading.”

I kept my voice calm and low, but I tried to still assert a certain amount of seriousness to him. I wanted to convey, “hey, I’m not trying to get irate with you, but I’m not appreciative of what’s happening here.” I’m not entirely sure that he cared.

Soon enough, he let his quest to make me his freak go. But not before letting me know again and again just how much I was missing out on and why I should acquiesce to his wishes. He never left my side, though, until he decided it was time for him to get off the train.

As I mentioned, I’ve told this story before. Yet, it’s very rare that I get real about how I felt in that moment. I don’t speak about the immense amount of fear that overtook me as I sat in that Metro car alone, praying to God that this man wouldn’t find my rejection so worrisome that he would do me bodily harm. Or the relief I felt when another man walked onto the car, followed by another wave of fear that it was now just me and two male strangers on the car.

I don’t speak about how I slowly pulled out a pen from my purse, uncapped it, and was preparing myself to use it as a weapon if need be. I don’t speak about how I never dared get into an empty train car ever again. But I remember it all.

Even before the #yesallwomen hashtag began on Twitter this weekend as a response to Elliot Rodger’s rantings about the women who’d rejected him, I found myself explaining to a male co-worker that it mattered not what women wore — all women were used to experiencing harassing language and attacks from men on a consistent basis. He didn’t understand what I meant. He was firmly in the belief that a woman attracted a certain response based on what she wore or how she carried herself. Or how her body was shaped.

And then I told him my story from above. I explained how I’d worn a black turtleneck that day, with a crewneck sweater on top of it, jeans, pearls, and flats. How there was nothing I wore that day that invited that man to approach me the way he did, but that he still felt he had the right to do so. How that was not the only personal example I could give him, but it was one of my more frightening ones. How I’d managed to make it into a funny experience by now as a way to attempt to forget the fear. But how it had absolutely impacted the way I responded to all men in the future when they approached me by myself. And that I was not alone.

How many women have instantly used the excuse that “I have a boyfriend” when a guy approaches them on the street? Not because said boyfriend, whether real or not, would actually make a difference about your interest, but because it feels safer to say that than to just say, “no, I’m not interested.”

How many women have feared the response they will get when they reject a man, consumed with worry that he’ll take that rejection so personally that he’ll spew hateful things back at you? “Well fuck you too, bitch!” <– How many of us have heard those words in response to our “no”?

How many women have contemplated going to a guy’s house or having a guy come over, but also worried that he might try to overpower you at some point if you don’t do what he thinks you all should be doing?

These are not concerns that men (for the most part) face. But they are what women, all women, face on a very regular basis — the fear that their “no” might cause someone to kill them for it.

I’ve seen many women write their stories in light of this recent tragedy — on blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter, on websites, and more. It’s sparked conversation, and for that, I am grateful. But I still hope that one day the conversation won’t be as needed. That so many women won’t have these universal stories. That a tragedy like what happened this weekend won’t simply reinforce what many women are frightened of every day. And that women won’t have to tell them to get men to understand the dangers all women, #yesallwomen, are presented with regularly.

PS: My deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of those killed this weekend. I pray their loved ones find some sense of peace despite the circumstances.

On Being Mary Jane and Images of Black Women in Media

22 01 2014
Photo via BET.com

Photo via BET.com

Since Being Mary Jane first aired on BET last summer, I’ve seen and heard a bevy of negative commentary about what the main character represents for Black women.

“Why does every Black woman on TV have to be a jump-off,” I’ve heard.

Or, “Really, you’re okay with every Black woman being represented as emotionally unstable people?”

I’ve even heard things like, “And Black women want to know why you all can’t get married? Because you’re obviously content being Sally Hemmings to married white men and whores to married Black men.”

Or, “This show, like Scandal, plays to every bad stereotype of Black women there is — she’s pushy with her family, bossy and impatient at work, over-sexualized and willing to play whatever role she’s offered in relationships because she can’t find a man of her own.”

Clearly those last two saw fit to add their commentary about Scandal into their commentary about Being Mary Jane — because you know, they are two shows helmed by Black women characters on TV so they must be about the same thing. (insert sarcastic font here)

If you can’t tell by now, I absolutely do not agree with any of these statements/questions. But I find it extremely telling that I’ve heard them all from Black men and women.

I even got into a heated discussion with a male co-worker who was so completely disgusted by the idea of the movie and then the TV show, Being Mary Jane, (even though he’d never seen either) and couldn’t understand why women would want to see themselves portrayed in “that manner in front of the world.”

I responded with, “you mean, why in the world would women (especially Black women) want to see a Black woman on TV who’s human? Who’s not Clair Huxtable? Who tries her best, but makes mistakes and you know, isn’t perfect all the damn time? Yea, I have no idea why we would want to see something like that… except for the fact that we’ve been asking for it for years now.”

We never resolved our argument, but since then, it’s really sat on my spirit how so many women and men have responded to the show. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that everyone has to like the show or that its themes are relevant to everyone, but what I find troubling is what I mentioned to the co-worker at the end of his tirade — we’ve (Black women) been asking for this for years now.

I can remember when I went to go see Juno with CJ when it first came out. We both laughed throughout the movie (and I cried some too, of course), and we came out of the theater thinking the same thing: it was great, it’s probably going to be a classic, and it could never have been made with a Black girl cast as Juno. The last point had to do with this idea in the Black community that had been perpetuated for some time now — that only certain stories were okay to tell. That of a teenaged girl impregnated by her high school sorta kinda boyfriend? Yea, that wouldn’t quite meet the criteria.

But because of this lofty criteria we’d set, the only images we were seeing in the movies and on TV were civil rights movies and tropes about the strong Black woman enduring all with her cape never getting tattered in the process. I get the reason for this protection of our image, though, don’t get me wrong. It comes as a result of Black women feeling as if they had to present a counter image to the woman seen in all the hip hop videos, shaking her ass for the masses, allowing herself to be devalued and over-sexualized or if not in that image, working as the mammy character who couldn’t get a man to want her if she tried.

The problem, however, is that in seeking that counter-image, we never allowed for the images of Black women to you know, actually portray us. Everyone became the sassy strong woman or the confident strong woman or the accomplished strong woman… noticing a pattern here? That strong woman trope began to be just as damaging as the video vixen did.

Because while it’s great to see strong women who look like you on TV and in movies, sometimes it’s just as empowering to see those same women show that they don’t always have the answers. Show that they are insecure sometimes. Show that they question if they are doing the right thing. Without those aspects, you get lofty images that no one can live up to strangling the actual women and making them feel like they are less than because, I mean, Clair could do it all — so why can’t I?

To be clear — this is not a knock against Clair Huxtable. I love Clair Huxtable! I love Phylicia Rashad (amazing, fierce Howard alumna as she is) even more. But you can’t just have Clair on TV. That’s not real life.

I’ve always felt that we needed the other side as well. We need to be able to tell the stories of the women who look like they have it all together on the outside, but if you delve deeper, you’ll see that’s not true. We need those stories, not only because those shows actually stay on longer since no one really wants to watch two-dimensional characters (we just say that we do), but also because those women are much closer to actual life than the strong, unfazed, always assured Black woman could ever be.

What do you all think though? Do you disagree with me and think the characters of Olivia Pope and Mary Jane are more harmful than good? And why is no one talking about the amazing job that Nicole Beharie is doing on Sleepy Hollow? She carries that damn show.

How the Todd Akin Discussion Fits Right in with the Discussions I had with My Baby Sister this Weekend

24 08 2012

Photo: single-parenting.families.com

I guess I should start off by admitting that my baby sister is actually not a baby at all. She is a 17 year old woman who I’ve seen continue to grow into herself. However, when I look at her and I think about her – she will always be my baby sis. She’ll always be that little baby whose diapers I changed and who clumsily followed behind my other sister and I, trying to do everything we did – even though she was a good 11 years behind me and 5 years behind Britt Bratt.

Yet, over the past several years, I’ve had to attempt to put those baby thoughts into the back of my mind so that I can have grown-up sister talks with her. This weekend was no different as we all prepared for her to move into her first dorm room. While shopping and packing and doing everything else, I took as many chances as possible to talk to her……. about everything.

We talked about roommates rules, not walking around campus at night by yourself, working hard so you can play hard, how college was a chance to learn so much about yourself, how dating in college was totally different than anything EVER, how she would likely meet some of her best and closest friends during this time period and so forth. Most of the stuff was really reinforcement. Other topics were common knowledge, but that kind of common knowledge that sometimes still needs to be said. And then we got to the nitty gritty – how in an instant, a situation can change on you (especially in college) and as a woman, you can find yourself in danger.

I didn’t actually say rape or sexual assault, but we talked about it nonetheless. We talked about the prevalence of such instances in colleges across the world and how few women report it because they feel as if they did something wrong. They feel that they put themselves in danger; that they were naïve for believing that someone they knew would ever do that to them.

And we talked about one specific time where but for grace, I almost became one of those women. I didn’t sugarcoat it for her. I talked about that scary moment when I realized that someone I called friend was trying to take advantage of me. And I was honest with her in noting that possibly my biggest regret was trusting that I could drink with people who I shouldn’t have trusted.

I talked to her about not letting people make drinks for you if you’re not watching them. And I talked about how that might sound obvious, but wasn’t the easiest thing to put into practice while in college. We talked about how for the longest time I blamed myself, felt like I was the stupid one – “How could I have put myself in that position,” I wondered. “How could I not have known what they were putting in my drinks?”

But then I talked to her about a realization I eventually had to come to terms with – that if I hadn’t been lucky enough (blessed, whatever you want to call it) to get so sick that I threw up and thus ruined any plans the guy had, it would have been an even worse night for me.

And most importantly that that planned attack was not my fault.

As I finally took a second to breathe on Monday and began hearing about the comments Rep. Todd Akin recently made about “legitimate rapes,” I thought even more about the conversations I had with my sister this weekend. I never said the word rape to her. I never said sexual assault. But it was clear what we were talking about, and I was clear in telling her that while she shouldn’t live scared – she also needed to know that it’s a striking reality that many women (esp college-aged women) will be attacked in their lifetime.

And often, it will be by someone they know. Someone they trusted. Even someone they called friend. And I hope that if that ever happens to anyone she knows, no one ever tries to make it worse by calling it illegitimate. It’s bad enough we have politicians attempting to do so.

The Politics of Womanhood

14 03 2012

We women like to think of ourselves as these amazingly strong beings, and we are, but the past couple months have also served as reality checks to how much further we still have to go in terms of conveying that strength and power within us to others, and sometimes to women as well. In light of the fact that it’s Women’s History Month, I felt it was important to look at the past couple months that have shed light (at least for me) on where women really stand in 2012.

Let’s start with the Susan G. Komen fiasco. This was an organization very dear to my heart even though I’ve never walked with the group. I have, however, donated to them for a few years and recently cheered on one of my besties as she participated in the 3-day walk last year. And it’s been something that my grandmother has talked about for a while, as a survivor of breast cancer herself. My friend’s mom is also a survivor. So when you have people in your life who have managed to look at that ugly thing called breast cancer and beat it – you have a certain appreciation for organizations that are looking for cures and ways to help other survivors.

I say all that, because you have to understand how much breast cancer awareness means to me to then understand why it was so disheartening to see the stance they took on Planned Parenthood. Now, I get that I tend to lean very liberal when it comes to many socio-political ideals in America, but I honestly never saw Planned Parenthood as controversial until recently. Naive? Probably. But I soon learned that many people did and still do. For me, having a place where women (young and old) can go to get nonjudgmental health guidance for their bodies was and will always be a good thing. It never crossed my mind that an organization created to help women would try to take the stance they did against another organization created to help women.

But I’m also of the belief that the government doesn’t have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body, which is also apparently very controversial thinking. Virginia and Mississippi would certainly disagree. For those unaware, Mississippi wanted to pass legislation that would have declared life at conception, possibly making even birth control pills illegal in the state.* And Virginia wanted women to endure transvaginal ultrasounds before having an abortion. This was only slightly amended to an external vaginal ultrasound right before passing the VA House of Delegates.

Seriously – are we requiring that all men use Viagra, or better yet that they have to get the test where a needle goes up their penis before having sex?

No, of course not. That sounds ridiculous, right? Plus, that’s a man’s body – and the only thing men are more concerned about than their own bodies are that of a woman’s. We shouldn’t think this is anything new though. Women have been fighting for the right to care for themselves for thousands of years now. And men, who couldn’t possibly ever begin to know what it’s like to be a woman, have been trying just as long to control it.

Lest we forget one of the commandments in Leviticus that states that a woman was unclean while on her period and a man would be unclean if he slept (not had sex with – just slept) with her during this time. And so just like then, men are trying to make laws about things they know nothing about. Just a few weeks ago – we had Congress convene a panel to discuss women’s health and no women were in sight. Because you know, that makes so much sense.

But it’s all about politics. It’s convenient to go after women’s bodies because the truth is while we may run the world (girls!), there’s still so much left to do when it comes to truly having power. Oh we’ve tried for sure, in so many misguided and some successful ways. We’ve had women’s liberation, feminism, the sexual revolution, etc… but we’re still on the outside looking at men decide things about our bodies.

I hope that changes one day, but my suspicion is that we’ve got a long way to go.

* Surprisingly, Mississippi actually defeated the proposed amendment.