Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Role of Narrative

Self-narratives--the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives that connect personally significant events in the past with our present and future experiences--are a crucial factor in our ability to shape our direction in life, and enable us to achive the goals that we have identified as important and valuable for ourselves. Such narratives--ranging from the story of how our parents met to our first day of school to the senior prom--shape our perception of the world in which we live, and shape our responses to the people that we encounter, as well as shaping our sense of identity.

Perhaps most importantly, the stories we tell ourselves about our lives shape our perceived self-efficacy: our belief about our capacity to achieve, perform, and exercise influence over the events that affect our lives and the lives of others.

Self-efficacy is not only experienced on an individual level--it is also experienced collectively. Entire groups often share a perceived self-efficacy--or, as in the case of many black Americans, a lack thereof. Black Americans have been encouraged to view themselves as a monolith: a collective beset by crime, poverty, immorality, and failure. Any black individual or group of individuals who reject this mentality are subject to mockery for refusing to face "reality," which we are informed repeatedly consists of little more than a whole cloth of pathology--exceptions to the rule purportedly only serve to further prove it.

For black women, the narrative that we are fed combines heavy doses of self-flagellation and unending obligation, and always circles back to the same sad conclusion: we are always somehow "lagging behind." We used to be lazy and welfare dependant; now we are overworked spinsters, robbing black men of the jobs and opportunities that rightly belong to them. Our dark skin, full lips and and curvaceous figures used to be revolting; now that other women openly covet these features, we are simply all obese. We are both failing in our responsibility to unstintingly support the "brothas" in their (of course) infinitely more important and more difficult struggles, and simultaneously enabling those same "brothas" in dysfunction, by embracing thuggery and irresponsible babydaddyhood. As Alice Walker noted in her book of essays, In Search of Our Mother's Gardens:

During the sixties my own work was often dismissed by black reviewers "becuase of my life style," a euphemism for my interracial marriage. At black literature conferences it would be examined fleetingly if at all, in light of this "traitorous" union, by critics who were themselves interracially married, and who, moreover, hung on every word from Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, John A. Williams, and LeRoi Jones (to name a few) all of whom were at some time in their lives interracially connected, either legally or in more casual ways. Clearly it was not interracialism itself that bothered the critics, but that I, a black woman, had dared to exercise the same prerogative as they. While it is fine for black men to embrace other black men, black women, white women and white men in intimate relationships, the black woman, to be accepted as a black woman must prefer being alone to the risk of enjoying "the wrong choice." This means, I think, what the first dismissal meant: that I am a black woman. Something is always wrong with us.

Many visitors to other blogs, who see the terms "mammy" or "mule" used to describe the self-negating black women who have wholeheartedly embraced the "something is always wrong with us" narrative, find such usages offensive--but what is a mammy but someone who places her master's needs above her own? What is a mule but a beast of burden, who staggers to support others as her own spirit flags? These are not pejoratives, they are descriptors. And as with any form of oppression, BW are restricted to mammy/mulehood not through explicit force, but through the perpetuation of self-destructive narratives, repeating loops of negative reinforcement in which BW tell themselves that they have no choice but to accept less than the best in life, that they are cursed to "lag behind," that to see otherwise is to be "unrealistic."

Because the mammy/mule/DBR/"crisis" narrative is not merely a matter of optimism vs. pessimism, of seeing the glass half full or half empty. It is a matter of what you will dare to do with your life. It is matter of what you believe is possible. It is a matter of whether you can even conceive of change--because if you cannot first see within yourself the capacity to be better and have better, you stay stuck. "Failure" and "pathology" become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Sound familiar?

43 comments:

Felicia said...

EXCELLENT, ARTICULATE, INTELLIGENT, and downright BRILLIANT analysis of the situation Aimee.

Not only do Black Girls Rule, YOU rule and are a wordsmith par excellence.

Thank you for sharing this long overdue (and vitally important) information.

BW individually have the power to change their own personal narrative's for the better.

When people know better, they do better.

Again, thank you for sharing your knowledge. It is sorely needed.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Aimee! I really apprciated your assessment of the situation.

Black Conservative Woman

Anonymous said...

Preach, Sister Aimee, preach! Get up on that pulpit and testify!

You are asking some important questions, and I just love reading your essays. Keep them coming!

Why is it that bm are able to justify their decisions not to date and marry bw because in their view, we're obese, loud, ugly, unfeminine, etc., and point to non-black women as fulfilling their ideal, some just nod, and say, yes, that is what bw are, so go out of the race to find a good woman, brother. It's your choice as a man to date whom you want.

But when bw say, we want to widen our pool of dating options because some bm don't want marriage with bw, don't act right, etc., we are accused of "sleeping with the enemy..."

They have the right to be individuals and speak on behalf of the community at the same time, but we have no right to be individuals. Yet, we must dedicate our all to the community.

It's all about protecting male prerogatives in the community and their competition with wm. By dating and marrying wm, we are seizing power for ourselves, and bm get no points from that.

Narrative is so important, as a historian, I am consciously aware of it. What narratives did earlier historians develop? How do they address the topics that interest me with respect to race and gender?

Are you sure you're not a closet academic? You need to be in some law school writing from a critical race feminist perspective. Smile.

I'm sitting in my office, looking at some of my critical race feminism and critical race theory texts I use in my teaching.

The master narrative in law, as an example, is one that many critical race theorists have spoken of. But critical race feminists argue that a master narrative need not be predicated solely upon race. It can include gender.

It's good you mentioned Alice Walker. Many bm and bw rejected her as being a "feminist," that she rejected her race loyalties. But why shouldn't she be a feminist when the black nationalist movement didn't address gender? Why isn't rejection of sexism seen as integral for nationalist movements? That won't be happening, because for the male leaders of nationalist movements, they want to be patriarchs, like the men of majority race groups.

Adrien Wing, Critical Race Feminism: A Reader, 2nd ed.; cf: K. Crenshaw, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.

Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor.

Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, 2nd ed. cf. Devon Carbado, Men, Feminism and Male Heterosexual Privilege.

Enjoy!

Regards,

Pioneer Valley Woman

Evia said...

DAG! Aimee, When I grow up, I want to be just like you!! LOL! Just Awesome!! Your points go directly to the core. Cleanly written--with surgical-like skill.

Sistas, we've got to PROMOTE this blog!!! Let's send it to everyone we know.

classical one said...

Very well written and poignant blog.

whitemenforblackwomen.blogspot.com

JJ said...

It's good you mentioned Alice Walker. Many bm and bw rejected her as being a "feminist," that she rejected her race loyalties. But why shouldn't she be a feminist when the black nationalist movement didn't address gender? Why isn't rejection of sexism seen as integral for nationalist movements? That won't be happening, because for the male leaders of nationalist movements, they want to be patriarchs, like the men of majority race groups.

I'll say it again:

Where black women made their mistake (and under the circumstances it was definitely understandable and unavoidable) was that we allowed the idea of "race problems" to trump those of "gender problems" and because of that had a hard time creating a feminist ideal that focused on Black Women's needs and not those of the "race" as a whole.

...it is high time that Black women find a feminist voice (movement) that deals with sexism and inter and intra-racial issues as they pertain to gender and not Black people as a whole.


The word "feminist" is still a dirty word for a lot of Black folk for men and women alike.

For many (myself included) it means "middle class white woman" and its hard to move on from there.

That's why the Alice Walkers and Angela Davis and Bell Hooks of the world don't get the love they deserve.

Figure out a way to talk sexism WITHOUT succumbing to the bombardment that will follow (man-hater, lesbian, race traitor, hater of black men) AND make it applicable to poor and working class women who are definitely in need of agency as well as their upper and middle class sisters(Classism tends to be an issue in any feminist movement white or black) and you would have found the golden goose.

Anonymous said...

Figure out a way to talk sexism WITHOUT succumbing to the bombardment that will follow (man-hater, lesbian, race traitor, hater of black men) AND make it applicable to poor and working class women who are definitely in need of agency as well as their upper and middle class sisters(Classism tends to be an issue in any feminist movement white or black) and you would have found the golden goose.

My comment:

Once I started reading critical race feminism, it made sense to me, to ask about the shortcomings of traditional (white) feminism and the shortcomings of traditional (male dominated) civil rights discourse.

Granted, there are many who see critical race feminism as being traitorous to the race, but that does not reflect contemporary realities, where race, gender and class affect the lives of women of color.

I'm black and I'm a woman. My black parents taught me to celebrate and respect each: my blackness and my femininity. Feminism is not about white women only, and women of color can shortchange themselves when they take that view, just as civil rights discourse that addresses the needs of men of color only shortchanges women.

As for finding an ideal feminism, it's something I do all the time in my women's history class, address the role of race and class and talk about different forms of feminism, and that not all of feminism is man-hating and lesbianism.

Cf., Nancy Levit and Robert R.M. Verchick, "Feminist Legal Theory: A Primer."

But on the other hand, if many women succumb to the idea that criticism of race-based discourse that fails to take account of gender, is bad, and that to address gender questions is wrong-headed, what's to be done? As Aimee is suggesting, the first step is to start with oneself.

I figure that the more people read and think, the more they will be able to get away from the narrow thinking.

Regards,

Pioneer Valley Woman

Evia said...

Feminism is not about white women only, and women of color can shortchange themselves when they take that view, just as civil rights discourse that addresses the needs of men of color only shortchanges women.

Exactly. People must be able to think critically for themselves or else someone else will do all the thinking and have you running and fetching for them.

I think that bw should take the benefits of feminism that benefit them--equal pay for equal work, right to control your own body, "no" means "no!" whether it's your date or your husband, equality in the household/relationship with your spouse, equal opportunities in the workforce, equal access to credit, ownership of yourself in a marriage, which means a wife is not a part of a man's property, etc.

I'm not an intellectual and maybe this is why I can't figure out why some bw and ww turn up their nose at the term "feminism." Maybe some bw tend to interpret the meaning differently? I don't see anything wrong with having the above benefits, rights, and privileges and the various other ones what were an outgrowth of the feminist movement.

I can certainly understand why some men would have a problem with women being feminist, but I've never been able to understand why any woman didn't like feminism.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an intellectual and maybe this is why I can't figure out why some bw and ww turn up their nose at the term "feminism." Maybe some bw tend to interpret the meaning differently? I don't see anything wrong with having the above benefits, rights, and privileges and the various other ones what were an outgrowth of the feminist movement.

Hi Evia,

I think it's because many bw believed that all the gains they made came from the civil rights movement, but could not see the women's rights movement as being relevant. In their mind, they were already liberated as women, ie., black women's long-standing history as workers meant feminism was for white women.

But that line of thinking can tend to blind one to the reality that discrimination against women of color can be sexist, not just racist, which is the thinking many had, that it is "all about race."

That kind of thinking can also blind one to the reality that policies that affect women affect women of color too, because they are women, not just people of color.

Don't underestimate too, the way in which critics of feminism argued that it was all about man-bashing and lesbianism. This of course, impeded many women from talking about gender concerns, ie.: "What, you're talking about sexism? Are you some kind of lesbian feminist or something?"

Pioneer Valley Woman

Anonymous said...

knockoutchick says:

Great Blog, oh dear Aimee!!!!!

Evia said...

I think it's because many bw believed that all the gains they made came from the civil rights movement, but could not see the women's rights movement as being relevant. In their mind, they were already liberated as women, ie., black women's long-standing history as workers meant feminism was for white women.

It's just beyond sad that some of these sistas are clueless about the policies that govern their lives.

Many bw would be a LOT worse off if not for the feminist movement.

I was talking to my aunt. She said, for ex., when a married bw worked outside the home, her husband could take all of her money because it "belonged" to him. A man could beat his wife because women were thought of as being a man's property. This very definitely applied to bw in places where the white police patrolled. Wm and bm were down together on that.

A woman could NOT get credit in her own name even if she was the one with the job and her husband didn't even have to be working at all. And on and on. There's a bunch of other stuff she told me about those times. Totally off the charts!!

Are these anti-feminist bw really serious about returning to those days or are they just clueless?

Anonymous said...

In a college town like this, where I live and teach, feminism, in all its forms, is a given. So I can't say there are any anti-feminist bw I know of here.

But I see it among my students, young women aged 18-22, a lack of historical awareness. They don't realize that a lot of what they take for granted today, came as a result of some serious struggles for women's rights.


They're clueless. They think all the gains have been made, and they can't see the possibility that they might lose anything.

Or they think they're doing fine now, and can't imagine a time when they might not be. Or they can't see how policies that they hear about, or don't hear about for that matter, might affect them as women.

Or they buy into the notion that to talk about women's rights today means one is a strident man-hating feminist. Or they think feminism is about white women. Or they think the racial issues cover everything.

Pioneer Valley Woman

UCberk said...

What a great piece!!!!

I think pictures would add to the allure of this blog.
That being said though, *clap, clap*

The crispness of your article was spell binding, its truth, most profound! Kudos!

sistastarr said...

...great blog, aimee...

...i absolutely love reading your blogs, because they reinforce the idea that it is imperative that bw carve out their place in this world and refuse to be second best...
...i grew up in the midwest, so it was quite difficult to find positive reinforcements for black girls like me to grow up on... i was that dark-skinned black girl who was built much different than my white counterparts(athletic build with large breasts and derriere) along with very low self-esteem...
...around the time where i was a teen and peer pressure was crazy, i had my many crushes, and they were normally not reciprocated...the black boys had other preferences and the non-bb? don't ask...
...one thing that sticks out in my mind will always be when i was 25 and how one day, i was so depressed and feeling absolutely ugly and worthless, and i went to look at myself in the mirror in the bathroom...and i took a real hard look and i told myself that i could not allow anybody to make me feel inferior and worthless any longer...if i wanted something bad enough, i had to work extra hard for it, because there was nobody on this earth to do it for me...i also realized that i gave way too much of my energy to other people and their business, that i never thought about what i wanted...no one was stopping me but my fear of failure...

...well, the first thing i did was claim my body and how i was shaped...i started to tell myself that i was beautiful and had a wonderful personality and i deserved to be respected, no matter what shape i am...

...i knew i wanted to be a stage actress, so i started performing in the local community theatre in my area, and i still perform to this day...

...the next thing i had to do was end a marriage that neither my ex nor i really wanted(i was appeasing my family), and i went back to school...

...rolling into the present, i just finished my 20th stage production, which was The Wiz, and i especially loved this experience, because it's very rare that the few black actors in my area really get to work together, and when this opportunity came up, it was the best theatrical experience...we had a lot of black children that had the opportunity to act and i was there to root them on...it was great to be part of such a positive time for the kids...i recently received a prestigious award for my work in the theatre...i am now awaiting my next step in my life and that's getting my degree in Performing Arts at the local university...i start in three weeks!!!

...i apologize for the length, but your blog and others who share the same idea keeps me motivated to continue to walk tall...i know i still have my ups and downs, but at least i know my worth and i am living my dream and i will encourage others to live theirs...

sistastarr

Aimee said...

Evia said...

I can certainly understand why some men would have a problem with women being feminist, but I've never been able to understand why any woman didn't like feminism.

Hey Evia!

I've always agreed with Gloria Steinam on at least one thing: as a woman, you can be a feminist or a masochist. Personally, I choose the former. LOL!

I think PVW provided an excellent analysis for the roots of the distrust of the concept of feminism among many women, particularly among BW.

One element that is important to recognize though is the racism that has been a common feature of the organized suffrage/women's movement throughout most of its history in this country, as well as the dominance of the movement by upper-middle class white women and their concerns.

The Feminine Mystique is still a brilliant and important book, but even as a teen-ager I recognized that Betty Friedan was claiming that a problem that actually afflicted only a small elite of women (lack of freedom to use professional education and intellectual capacity on an equal basis with similarly situated men) was somehow a "women's" problem.

Today, this same lack of perspective is what has hobbled the movement. It hasn't recognized that the average checker at Wal-Mart generally doesn't view employment as "liberating." Nor has it recognized the dishonesty of women who dismissed homemaking and childcare as comparatively unchallenging when much of that work in their own homes was performed by servents.

And ultimately, it hasn't acknowledged the contemporary exodus of white law, medical, business, and science graduates who took advantage of the opportunities that feminism and being part of the "largest minority" have opened up for them, and basically utilized them to earn a MRS degree and entree to a life of shopping at Neiman's and abusing the help.

Non-white women, working women, and middle and lower-class women look at those women and distrust their motives, and rightly so. The women's movement in this country has a long way to go to earn back their trust.

In other words, I don't think women have rejected "feminism" per se as much as they have rejected the behavior of some of the women who adopted that label, in the same way that we can be distrustful of some of the people who hide behind the "black power" label as they abuse and degrade black women.

Aimee said...

Welcome sistastarr, and thank you so much for sharing your story with us! I'm SO proud of you, and so happy that you're living your dreams--and how wonderful that black children get to witness a beautiful, talented black woman achieving at your level! Please keep in touch and let us all know how things are going for you.

gatamala said...

And ultimately, it hasn't acknowledged the contemporary exodus of white law, medical, business, and science graduates who took advantage of the opportunities that feminism and being part of the "largest minority" have opened up for them, and basically utilized them to earn a MRS degree and entree to a life of shopping at Neiman's and abusing the help.

Non-white women, working women, and middle and lower-class women look at those women and distrust their motives, and rightly so. The women's movement in this country has a long way to go to earn back their trust.


WOW!!! :D I have nothing more to say. I adore this blog, keep it up!!!


Yea sistastarr!! Good for you!!

Evia said...

In other words, I don't think women have rejected "feminism" per se as much as they have rejected the behavior of some of the women who adopted that label,

I hear you. I guess I tend to focus more on the message and not the messenger. As I've said before, I'm not impressed by titles, degrees, IQ, money, appearance, etc. I search for content and substance. These other things are lovely IF the content and substance that will promote my interests are present, but if not, I'm tossing them all in the round file.

Would NOW (national organization of women) have been more appropriately named if they'd called themselves the national organization of "upper class women?" or the national organization of upper class white women? LOL!

Even if they had named themselves that, I would have been grateful for the advances in general they won for women as a whole in this country. It is the feminist movement that forced the legal establishment to prosecute rape as a violent crime vs a sexual crime, which tended to put the blame on women for "enticing" men. It is the feminist movement that ushered in the protection from sexual harrassment on the job and these are two major gains that ALL women have benefitted from as a result of the feminist movement,as well as the ones I mentioned earlier.

Many people focus way too much on the packaging and personalities involved and not the contents of people and/or things. I don't think that bw can afford to do this. Even if some whites and bm hate the feminist movement, I think that many bw should be grateful for the benefits we've gotten from it. This is just why we (bw) MUST become much more critical thinkers and look at what promotes OUR interests and not allow others to do our thinking for us. We should NEVER throw out the baby with the bath water!! Life is not black and white; it's mostly shades of gray.

Is it a matter of jealousy that the so-called "working class" or the more downtrodden woman tends to resent the upper class woman??? This is so divisive. As a result of the feminist movement, MANY more ww have become upper class and many bw and others have the ability to become upper-income.

No, the feminist movement did not fight or win ALL of our battles, but that movement put all women in a MUCH better position to fight and win more of our battles.

Aimee, sometimes many women (in general) and many black folks (in general) do get on my nerves because BOTH groups should be a lot smarter considering what we've gone through, living in a sexist world that's been dominated by white and black patriarchs for thousands of years. On a daily basis, I'm just floored by the fact that we're not thinking more critically about what promotes OUR interests.

Anonymous said...

Evia said:

1. In other words, I don't think women have rejected "feminism" per se as much as they have rejected the behavior of some of the women who adopted that label...

2. Would NOW (national organization of women) have been more appropriately named if they'd called themselves the national organization of "upper class women?" or the national organization of upper class white women? LOL!


So true, Evia!

1. For example, those who became dominance feminists (and lesbian feminists) argued that everything was about male domination, that all men and social institutions dominate and denigrate women, which turned off a lot of women who wanted a feminism that didn't require them to see the men in their lives as being enemies to be rejected, or who were feminists but didn't want to reject traditional institutions like marriage.

So some of my young students say, "I believe in equality for women, but I'm not a feminist...," because they don't have a full understanding of different feminisms, and they think all of feminism is dominance and lesbian feminism, forgetting about others, like equal treatment, cultural/difference and critical race feminism.


2. There were women of color involved in feminism from the beginning, like a bw, Pauli Murray, civil rights activist, feminist, lawyer, poet, teacher, and Episcopal priest. She was an early example of a bw trying to bridge the concerns of race and gender. Yet, the movement leadership was primarily white female, just like the civil rights leadership was primarily male.

Another comment:

Part of the failures that Aimee has been describing, I talk about my students as the failures of equal treatment liberal feminism: presume men and women are exactly equal, treat them the same, built on a foundation that gender alone hinders women. But for some women, it's true, gender was their only concern--they were middle and upper class. So they made many gains, and it appeared that the movement was successful for everyone. But the issues of class persist, which is why the movement has faltered.

Class, for working class women and many women of color, remains a persistent barrier to their opportunities, yet policies presume all women are middle class with the access that can follow.

Thus, a movement that has become ineffective: the middle class women no longer feel the need to be activists--they got what they wanted, their gains are pretty mainstream, and no one addresses the needs of working class, impoverished and poor women of color.

But I agree with you, I thank God for the benefits of feminism; I know how I have benefited. Having been born in the post-civil rights era (1967), I don't feel the exclusive racial loyalties that many bw of older generations feel, and which arguably have limited their critical analyses of race and gender. I'm black and a woman. I'm a critical race feminist.

Pioneer Valley Woman

Aimee said...

Evia said...

Aimee, sometimes many women (in general) and many black folks (in general) do get on my nerves because BOTH groups should be a lot smarter considering what we've gone through, living in a sexist world that's been dominated by white and black patriarchs for thousands of years. On a daily basis, I'm just floored by the fact that we're not thinking more critically about what promotes OUR interests.
___________________________________

I definitely agree that we have to be careful about not throwing the baby out with the bath water. The wholesale acceptance of the black nationalist critique of feminism as anti-BM, pro-lesbian, and exclusively for WW is a good part of what has led many BW down the path to self-destructive "loyalty," that equates black masculinity and patriarchy with the intrests of black people as a whole, where so many BW are trapped today.

I think the problem is that the feminist movement has fallen in the same trap that many black progressives did in the wake of macho black nationalism: an unwillingness to confront and criticize what were obviously backwards and destructive forces, that adopted the cover of their movements, primarily to undermine them.

Too few feminists have been comfortable pointing out the flaws in so-called "choice" feminism, that encourages educated, privileged women, who have gained the most from the movement and are in the best position to open more doors, to opt of the labor market and the ability to support themselves for decades at a time.

Too few feminists have seriously criticized the "Girls Gone Wild/Playboy" pornification mentality that encourages women to participate in the commodification of their own bodies, and in the inevitable racial hierarchies of feminine beauty entailed in selling female sexuality, and confronted the dishonest contention that this represents "freedom" for women.

Whatever their flaws, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinam, Flo Kennedy, Angela Davis, etc., would NEVER have gone along with his nonsense out of some misguided sense of "loyalty." And just as "black power" began to lose its moral authority when it didn't challenge men like Eldridge Cleaver "practicing" rape on black women before "raping the white girls, raping their fathers," the women's movement began losing its public legitimacy when it failed to vigorously confront the women who promote false feminism.

I think that just as BW have to be 100% clear that we do not "betray" black people by caring for our own interests, loving ourselves, and settling for nothing less than the best in our lives, all women have to be equally clear that we can be loving wives and mothers as well as capable professionals and leaders, that we will never retreat into dependency and selling ourselves because its "easier" while claiming to be "feminists." Both other women and men resent and disrespect that kind of hypocrisy.

That's why your blog inspired me: it's so straightforward and consistent in the message that we can empower ourselves to have the lives we want. We need that message so much!

Anonymous said...

Wow, Aimee, it's as though you're channeling my lecture on third wave feminism, and the contentions second wavers have with it!

Think Camille Paglia, Naomi Wolf, Lisa Belkin, they could afford to develop a notion of "choice" feminism, because they spoke to the choices of privileged white women, forgetting that different women's choices mean different things in the same context: ie., the middle class white women who feels empowered through the pornography and the porn industry, as compared to the underside: women who are exploited by it, and are pushed into it because they have been abused, they have few options...

Yet, don't forget the glorification of misogyny that came with blaxploitation in the popular culture--Iceberg Slim celebrated as a pimp et al., "Pimps up, ho's down," and hip hop culture, all of which were arguably related to the popularization of black nationalist rhetoric in the shoddiest, most commercial, and exploitative senses.

Being a man, meant "getting yours, by whatever means necessary," (a perversion of Malcolm X, if anything), opposing "the man's" values, "keeping it real," "being street," and yet, all of these seemed to be predicated upon the exploitation and denigration of women: women as prostitutes, women in videos...

Wasn't that song, "It's hard out here for a pimp" a grammy nominee or winner, a few years ago, from a movie where a young bm was a struggling hip hop artist and he had a stable of prostitutes working to help him make it big?

Pioneer Valley Woman

Evia said...

Aimee, I'm in my studio, supposedly working but loving this chat with you too much!!


Re:

Too few feminists have seriously criticized the "Girls Gone Wild/Playboy" pornification mentality that encourages women to participate in the commodification of their own bodies, and in the inevitable racial hierarchies of feminine beauty entailed in selling female sexuality, and confronted the dishonest contention that this represents "freedom" for women.

Honestly, I've never seriously applied the "feminist" label to myself but I, too, would have argued that if an adult woman wants to show her body, that's her perogative because it's HER body. I realize it's not that straightforward, but shouldn't this be looked at on a case by case basis? And "who" is the judge on these matters? And what's the criteria for being a judge?

For ex., some people say that if a college girl is an exotic dancer and uses the money to pay her college expenses, that okay, whereas if a woman who's a h.s. dropout dances in rink-a-dink "nudie clubs" and uses the money to buy food and pay rent, then it's immoral. I know this is why I've tended to bow out of such matters and say that the woman, herself should decide and it's no one else's business.

I do understand how such matters have impacted bw, but this can really get sticky.

I think that just as BW have to be 100% clear that we do not "betray" black people by caring for our own interests, loving ourselves, and settling for nothing less than the best in our lives,

This too is a sticky situation. You and I know that MANY black folks, especially bm would say you and I are "betraying" bm and the black community by marrying wm. The "black love" proponents would have a field day with this and definitely say we're not loving ourselves or other black folks, and that we're very much working against black folks. Many bm and their mammy supporters would certainly take great offense at the phrase "settling for nothing less than the best" because they would read "the best" as being wm--especially in our cases.

Could these upper class feminists have felt that they can't or shouldn't tell other adult women of any class or race what to do or how to live their lives? After all, that's what the patriarchs did and still try to do.

It would be very easy for an opinionated (not authoritative) person like me--LOL!-- to tell other women what to do, but I consider myself as being respectful when I give adult women the information and let them make their own decisions--"good" or "bad." This is why I continue to point out to sistas that there are many non-DBR men available but I can't and wouldn't want to decide for any bw whether she avails herself of any of these men. I want these sistas to decide because I want them to learn to think "critically."

Anonymous said...

Evia said,

Could these upper class feminists have felt that they can't or shouldn't tell other adult women of any class or race what to do or how to live their lives? After all, that's what the patriarchs did and still try to do.

Hi Evia,

I hope you don't mind my responding, but I'm enjoying this too! I too am sitting in my campus office, procrastinating....

Absolutely, and that mindset might relate to other trends too in recent intellectual and cultural history.

I wonder whether the rise of a mindset that there is no one reality, no one standard of morality (what some critics argue is really nihilism) that reality is dependent upon situation, and power relationships, could relate to that...So who are we to judge...related to the rise of postmodernism...

Or even a glorification by feminists who "stuck it to the patriarchy," in opposition to it, arguing that by seizing patriarchal power, they subvert it, could be another means of understanding...

Pioneer Valley Woman

Evia said...

I wonder whether the rise of a mindset that there is no one reality, no one standard of morality (what some critics argue is really nihilism) that reality is dependent upon situation, and power relationships, could relate to that...So who are we to judge...

Girl!! I know this was pounded into me in grad school--that I couldn't make decisions for my clients, that I couldn't sit in judgment on others, that my values were MY values and their values were theirs, that we were all on different journeys in this life, etc. etc. So I try to be careful about telling other adults what to do and they won't pay attention anyway, unless you're giving them something concrete.

I think I'm supposed to provide info, including my opinion, and let them decide. So my blog is thousands of pages of info. LOL!!!

Whereas I don't

Anonymous said...

Indeed, I tell myself every day when I teach...I am providing information only, let people do with it what they want. So that's why I respond to your blog, to Aimee's, to Classical One's and Halima's.

I don't think I would have the time to write a blog, or get into the mess that can follow with the trolls coming out of the woodwork, but I sure do find the time to read them though!

Pioneer Valley Woman

Aimee said...

Wasn't that song, "It's hard out here for a pimp" a grammy nominee or winner, a few years ago, from a movie where a young bm was a struggling hip hop artist and he had a stable of prostitutes working to help him make it big?

Pioneer Valley Woman

___________________________________

That was just last year, if I'm not incorrect--all I could think was it couldn't be harder out here for a pimp than it is for a ho, but as black people, we were all supposed to be cheering and feeling "proud" for Three Six Mafia. Uhh . . . no.

You know, I really haven't seen any serious discussions specifically addressing the role of pornography in views of race, sexuality, and certain relationship norms, especially since pornography has become so commercialized and mainstream.

Think in particular about the racial images in pornography: the normalization of sex between AW/WM and WW/BM, but only within rigidly stereotypical parameters; the complete marginalization and degradation of BW. How much has this effected mating and marriage habits in everyday life? Maybe a better subject for a sociologist than an historian (hint, hint) but a provocative subject nonetheless!

Aimee said...

Evia said...

Honestly, I've never seriously applied the "feminist" label to myself but I, too, would have argued that if an adult woman wants to show her body, that's her perogative because it's HER body. I realize it's not that straightforward, but shouldn't this be looked at on a case by case basis? And "who" is the judge on these matters? And what's the criteria for being a judge?

Could these upper class feminists have felt that they can't or shouldn't tell other adult women of any class or race what to do or how to live their lives? After all, that's what the patriarchs did and still try to do.

___________________________________

A woman's freedom to control her own body and choose her own destiny was absolutely one of the key concepts that restrained many early feminists from criticizing sex workers or "choice" feminists.

The only problem I have with that decision is that a woman having the right to work as a prostitute or permanently walking away from her capacity to earn an independent income does not somehow reflect feminism at work; the word may not have only one meaning, but it has to have some meaning. After all, no matter how sexist or racist a society is, some women and some black people actually benefit from the sexist, racist nature of the system--look at DBRBM.

Feminism at its root concerned with equality between men and women--and a society in which women are still expected to sell their bodies to survive or to abandon their ability to be self-supporting in order to be mothers is not equal, even if an individual woman has chosen to do these things. An individual black person's choice to be a slave would not make a society in which black people were widely enslaved free.

I just believe our choices are made within a context; and there are reasons why so many women "choose" to sell their bodies for money or "choose" to be permanently dependent on their spouses--while very few men make either choice.

I certainly wouldn't presume to judge another woman's individual decisions about how she chooses to live her life. But I absolutely want to share as much as I know about ALL the alternatives out there, so that every sister is making her choices from a places of the fullest sense of possibility and information. That's also why I welcome the exchange of ideas, because I am FAR from having all the answers!

Anonymous said...

Think in particular about the racial images in pornography...How much has this effected mating and marriage habits in everyday life? Maybe a better subject for a sociologist than an historian (hint, hint) but a provocative subject nonetheless!

My response:

Perhaps my media/communications colleagues have done that kind of work? Has Rachel of Rachel's Tavern, or Hugo Schwyzer, some other academics who blog?

I have focused in my teaching upon the historical foundations of that sort of thinking which we can see in porn, of certain women being seen as playthings, as compared to wives and partners, in the racialized context.

Pioneer Valley Woman

Evia said...

Feminism at its root concerned with equality between men and women--

But does this mean that a woman MUST do everything that a man does? Does equality mean "same?" I thought that a major aspect of feminism was about "choices" for women: the choice to work outside the home or not to do so; the choice to take an engineering position if she has an engineering degree or work as a waittress if she chooses, with her engineering degree, the choice to have a child or not; the choice to marry or not, etc.

I may have totally misperceived feminism. LOL!

and a society in which women are still expected to sell their bodies

Are women "expected" to sell their bodies?
I would consider an adult woman making a decision to sell her body to be on a par with a man making a decision to sell his body. I've heard of women who would rather be sex workers than be secretaries, for ex. just like a man might prefer to do that than do construction work. LOL!

to survive or to abandon their ability to be self-supporting in order to be mothers is not equal,

What happens if a new mother, say a corporate lawyer or a female M.D., wants to spend the first 5 years of her child's life raising her child? Or let's say a mother with advanced degrees might want stay at home, grow flowers because they're pretty and home school her children? Shouldn't that woman have that choice? After all, isn't motherhood, at the least, on a par with any other noble profession? And IF a female M.D. can't or shouldn't (according to feminism)take a break from working during her pregnancy and during the first few years of her child's life, then what exactly are the parameters of her mate's role in her life (not the child's) during this time?

Aimee said...

Evia said...

Feminism at its root concerned with equality between men and women--

But does this mean that a woman MUST do everything that a man does? Does equality mean "same?" I thought that a major aspect of feminism was about "choices" for women

___________________________________

I understand your perspective and I don't believe at all that women and men must make the same choices in order to be equal. But I do believe that we must critically examine whether our choices really are being made in an equal environment. When all the same people make all the same choices--and suffer disproportionately bad outcomes as a result--then I think we have to question to what extent we are simply witnessing the exercise of free will.

For example, as Leslie Bennetts pointed out in her recent book "The Feminine Mistake," voluntarily withdrawing from the labor force has serious repercussions for women, not the least of which is that it is much harder to rejoin the workforce at some later date (even for well-educated women with elite educations) than most women anticipate. She also pointed out that even in families where women make the higher income, it is typically the woman who withdraws from the labor force to stay home--why is this always the "choice"?

It is not that I believe that mothering or homemaking are somehow "unworthy" pursuits--as I pointed out, one of the early breaches the feminist movement created was the way in which it discounted this crucial work. I'm just pointing out that, as with any choice, there is an opportunity cost--and women and their children disproportionately bear that cost.

If a women makes such a choice in a truly equal environment from a position of power, it would be with full compensation for the loss they will experience and the potential danger to their children's future support if anything were to happen to their spouse--and having seen the unhappy result of many divorces in the legal system, I can assure you--this is rare. An acquaintance of mine just purchased his glossy new Bentley with proceeds of his well-drafted pre-nupts, 99.9% for male clients. Affluent men put a great deal of practical thought into protecting their assets from any eventuality before entering marriages.

Too many women, including women with lots of formal education, still see marrying a rich man as hitting the jackpot and getting the golden key to early retirement. When he trades them in for a younger model 10 years down the line, they almost always learn the hard way the limits of "choice" equality. This perspective also engenders resentment in men, who see many upper-class white women as trying to free themselves entirely from adult responsibilities--as workers, as parents, as homemakers--and simply retain the roles of consumers and trophys, who exist simply to display men's financial success. I think working with such men so closely has exposed me to a level of rage whose explicitness and intensity surprised me, and has definitely led to more insignt into the growing hunger for "mail-order" brides and non-American women generally. Fair or not, there is a perception of materialism, selfishness, and lack of values.

Obviously, if we're talking about sex work, the long-term outlook for most women is incredibly bleak, and I don't think it is an accident that women simply provide the labor pool, while men retain almost all the ownership. All those women who "choose" sex work--why don't they "choose" to OWN the clubs where they strip? Or choose to own the studios that produce their films? To paraphrase Germaine Greer, equality is when Hugh Hefner comes on stage with a bunny tail attached to his rear--and the "Girls Next Door" own some stock in Playboy. Otherwise, we just have the 1950s, but with women telling themselves they "chose" it.

I'm a strong advocate for choice as long as the choices are real. Other than that, I really don't think we disagree, because I will always believe in every man and woman's right to make the choices that are truly best for them as they see it.

Now I'm going to leave you alone and stop blathering! LOL! Thanks for the great conversation!

Aimee said...

I have focused in my teaching upon the historical foundations of that sort of thinking which we can see in porn, of certain women being seen as playthings, as compared to wives and partners, in the racialized context.

Pioneer Valley Woman

___________________________________

This is what I find curious though--that the images seem to translate now in that the "plaything" is now seen as an appropriate partner, and the women whose images are not present simply don't exist as viable in the world, either as playthings or partners. I'm still looking, but it's an interesting idea . . .

JJ said...

It's a bit interesting to read thru Aimee's and Evia's comments regarding choice and SAHM b/c it is a conversation that regularly comes up between friends of mine since we are of an age where our careers are getting started and children are talked about (I have a daughter):

My take on the whole thing is not whether women choose to stay at home or not or not if women choose sex work over other professions but how the women's right movement was an unfulfilled, uncompleted movement in much the way the Civil Right's movement was.

If a woman wants to stay home and raise her kids she shouldn't take a hit for it. She does because we live in a country that does not respect homemaking and where for all the strides that were made in the WRM the workforce didn't change. Concessions weren't made for the fact that women have kids and that babies and toddlers are labor intensive and daycare is very costly and not always and ideal choice.

As far as sex work the reality is it pays very well. And for many poor and working class women it is a way to make a decent living and have some control over their life.

As an older porn star pointed out in an HBO documentary on Porn Stars,"For women getting into porn it's not a choice between Harvard and porn but porn/paper hat, porn/double wide, porn/5 kids"

And as I pointed out in a post on my blog, "Hoin' pays" bottom line. Even for College educated women sex work, which can mean a lot of things can pay more then she could ever make working a 9 to 5 and for some (Supahead) make them wealthy and famous.

Now obviously I recognize that a lot of people get caught up but if u don't have any habits (alchohol, drugs, abusive boyfriends) that money could mean a comfortable life for you and your kids without relying on any man.

And marriage is still a viable way for women to secure a good life for herself and her children. And outside of the sex industry probably the best way.

A smart woman who married a rich man (particularly if she wasn't well off herself) would be to have a prenup that secured her interests and well as any children she may have.

I don't think the choices are the issues but the world in which the choices are being made. The answer isn't to not stay home and take care of your kids or to work McDonalds instead of the strip club, but to recognize that women (of all income classes) have a dearth of choices when it comes to work and family and the choices that are afforded them come at a very high cost.

Anonymous said...

Hi Aimee, I'm trying to figure out the issues you described here.

Your comments...

Think in particular about the racial images in pornography: the normalization of sex between AW/WM and WW/BM, but only within rigidly stereotypical parameters; the complete marginalization and degradation of BW.

This is what I find curious though--that the images seem to translate now in that the "plaything" is now seen as an appropriate partner, and the women whose images are not present simply don't exist as viable in the world, either as playthings or partners. I'm still looking, but it's an interesting idea . . .

My comments...

The plaything, in the sense of my historical work, the 19th century American South, was the bw/wm, so it seems that you're saying, in porn, they are invisible, or they are degraded, but aw, who, in a different (20th c.) context, have been seen as playthings, are now desirable, but in a very narrow context, and ww/bm, are also presented as desirable in a very narrow context...

Interesting...A connection, perhaps to the industry's creating a norm, as you suggested, of what kinds of sexual relations are deemed appropriate, or is it a matter of who their target audience is? WM, BM...What each "typical man" sees as the ideal he would love to have, in the form of the exotic other?

If this were the 19th century South, the equivalent of the porn star might have been the "fancy girl," a light skinned black woman purchased for the purposes of sex, admired for her closeness to whiteness, but seen purely as a fetishized sex object...Edward Baptist(e) writes about this...

Marginalization of bw, in the form of being ignored, I'm not sure I'd be troubled by that--do I want to see black women in porn? No. However, if they are degraded in ways other women are not degraded, that is not good...Presented as the woman to be abused, not as an ideal sex partner?

I think you're onto something here, Aimee. We might need to find some communications/cultural studies/media scholars here...Smile...

Pioneer Valley Woman

Anonymous said...

Why is it that people are forever butting into other people's business.

As for marriage, well too often regardless of race people try to change people they are married to. That does not work out.

Also drugs, alcohol and abusive behavior are poor engrediants for any relationship.

There are people in all races that just are not a good choice for marriage.

As for black women being fat, well they are not exactly alone in that department. It is not race that makes a person fat it is diet and activity. When I was young it was rare to find anyone of any race who was fat. Well that was then and now fat is becoming pandemic.

Aimee said...

JJ said...

I don't think the choices are the issues but the world in which the choices are being made. The answer isn't to not stay home and take care of your kids or to work McDonalds instead of the strip club, but to recognize that women (of all income classes) have a dearth of choices when it comes to work and family and the choices that are afforded them come at a very high cost.

This is the crux of the issue as far I'm concerned--not that women (or MEN for that matter) shouldn't choose to stay home with their children, but that the context in which such a decision is made determines the extent to which it is a choice at all, and the extent to which consequnces a woman will have to face for making that or other choices will be borne by her and her alone, despite the benefits of that choice being shared.

As for the profitability of sex work, Supahead and "G-String Divas" are no more typical of most sex workers than Julia Roberts is typical of most actresses. As with McDonalds, it is typically employment of last resort that rarely provides a long-term income sufficient for a woman to support herself or a family, which again begs the question of why "feminists" would promote it as somehow "liberating."

Aimee said...

Hey PVW! Thanks for all the great insights, as usual . . .

A connection, perhaps to the industry's creating a norm, as you suggested, of what kinds of sexual relations are deemed appropriate, or is it a matter of who their target audience is? WM, BM...What each "typical man" sees as the ideal he would love to have, in the form of the exotic other?

This is what I'm curious about. As porn has become more "acceptable" in a sense, has it become more acceptable to view its imagery as a template for what is attractive in a real world mate?

Marginalization of bw, in the form of being ignored, I'm not sure I'd be troubled by that--do I want to see black women in porn? No. However, if they are degraded in ways other women are not degraded, that is not good...Presented as the woman to be abused, not as an ideal sex partner?

I think of BW as "marginalized" in a sense by simply being absent, and by the degraded manner of their presentation when they are included. It's a double-edged sword--knowing how sex workers are treated, I certainly would not want more BW put in that position. On the other hand, I think what we may be witnessing is the complete disappearance of BW from the spectrum of sexual desireability and feminine beauty in our society--a certain invisibility, of which porn is only a part. Fashion, beauty, commercial advertisement--I think they all act in some ways to "train" young men to not view BW as sexaully and romantically desireable, and porn seems to reflect this.

I think you're onto something here, Aimee. We might need to find some communications/cultural studies/media scholars here...Smile...

I think so too--any takers? :-)

Halima said...

I have to agree with the above, i also would like to add that i believe the disapperance or the exclusion of bw from porn (advertising campaigns and any such imagery that deals in beauty ideals) might be due to a hypersensity to the images of bw-wm and its direct link back to slavery and of course the resulting white males guilt or fear of some sort of condemnantion.

i have said that i also believe that when white males hasten to declare that they 'cant find bw attractive' it is also rooted in this guilt-fear complex, which makes them "Protest too much". I am sure some of them believe it but however i think this need to declare bw as unattractive to them when they are in groups of other men etc reflects a certain hypersensitivity, a need to refute that they could be linked back to the kind of wm involved in the abuse of bw. Its like saying, "Had i been there, such would never have happened because i am in no way turned on by them"!

lets face it, in porn, bm are constantly portrayed as the 'buck' and you dont need to do any logical leaps to connect this back to slavery, but while bm embrace these ideas and role (men are never deemed losers in anything sexual), what would be the underlying theme for bw-wm porn? Slave-slave master games? I think that this is still too sensitive for the american conscience even in lewd mode!

Supposing I wanted to Date a White Guy...?

Aimee said...

Halima said...
I have to agree with the above, i also would like to add that i believe the disapperance or the exclusion of bw from porn (advertising campaigns and any such imagery that deals in beauty ideals) might be due to a hypersensity to the images of bw-wm and its direct link back to slavery and of course the resulting white males guilt or fear of some sort of condemnantion.

Hey Halima! Congratulations on your inclusion in the ABC News Article--we're all so proud!

I think you're right that this residual fear of harkening back to images of slavery and wholesale rape and abuse also burdens the extent to which images of BW are included/excluded. In Western culture, black female sexuality is still inextricably linked with slavery, even to an extent that BM's is not--as Frederick Douglass often pointed out, the big black rapist brute is an image that primarily arose in Reconstruction, as an excuse for restricting the freedmen. It's fascinating in a sense how porn specifically, and beauty culture more generally, in our society still relies on these very primitive and rigid race-based conceptions of beauty and sexuality--me love you long time, Mandingo, the blonde goddess.

D said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D said...

Re: "What happens if a new mother, say a corporate lawyer or a female M.D., wants to spend the first 5 years of her child's life raising her child? Or let's say a mother with advanced degrees might want stay at home, grow flowers because they're pretty and home school her children? Shouldn't that woman have that choice? After all, isn't motherhood, at the least, on a par with any other noble profession? And IF a female M.D. can't or shouldn't (according to feminism)take a break from working during her pregnancy and during the first few years of her child's life, then what exactly are the parameters of her mate's role in her life (not the child's) during this time?"

I may be mistaken, but it seems there's a little bias built into the question, as if these duties are more suited toward females than males. : ) In a way, obviously, that is "true" in a few ways...

BUT... evolutionary psychology shows us these parental instincts are reinforced by using them... and also that the less desirable traits stereotypically assigned to men are statistically correlated (strongly) to a lack of parenting exposure... in the short and long term of one person's life, and over generations as well.

In other words, why can't men talk about the "freedom" to stay home also? Whatever the stigma about that (post feminism) for women, it's ten times worse for the men, for different reasons. BUT in a way, this feeds into our biggest problems, including the DBR phenomena - unused and under cultural stigma as "sissy" for men, the skills of parenting atrophy away, and the cycle feeds itself in both the short and long run.

From an evolutionary standpoint, gender roles lead to actual psychological traits over time.

A weird example... in seahorses, the father takes care of the kids. Mom is the traditional breadwinner. Guess what? Males tend to be choosey about who they select for a mate, and protect the young at all costs, and females tend to be more aggressive, irresponsible to the family, and are out chasing skirts (well, seahorses don't wear skirts, but you get the point.)

The bottom line is that if we want men to be more responsible with the kids in the long run and at a societal level... then men have to be more responsible with the kids in the short and medium run on a personal level. Practice makes perfect (of course under supervision at first, if needed).

Signed... a male.

D

D said...

Oops, forgot to post the name of this... it's called "parental investment", and it seems that the difference in parental investment between sexes seems to be at the root of the majority of our stereotypical gender roles.

classical one said...

One thing I would add, if you look at a man's computer hard drive (porn wise) it will reveal his ultimate attraction. It might never be something he could admit to in real life, but it is true none the less. Something to think about.

Carole said...

Loved your article! -C