Crystal (Black Girl) and Jess (White Girl) tackle issues of modern feminism
I’ve grown to really dislike talking about my non-existent love life.Every time I’m asked about why I’m single, I feel like I’m a patient at some clinic, explaining my symptoms to a well-meaning but subpar physician who will inevitably diagnose me incorrectly.But it’s far too seldom that I have the ear of an intelligent, attractive and generally reasonable black man.So when the opportunity for conversation arose at my girl’s party, I made the time to catch up with an old friend in between tequila shots, “dougies” and sambas.
“You are really intimidating,” says the man who stands well above 6ft with dreads that fall below his broad shoulders. If I were a patient, by now I’d have to believe the diagnosis. It’s the same one I’ve received from family, friends, and coworkers of both sexes from nearly every race. This time, rather than defend myself or deny it, I asked what I should do. “Nothing. There’s nothing you can do. You’re smart. Driven. Attractive. Accomplished. Have an incredible personality. Would make your man a better person. You can’t do anything about it.”
It was really hard for me not to begin doing the things that have come to characterize the “angry black woman” construct. Refraining from any hand motions, neck & eye rolls, I continued to press, but to no avail. At one point, my friend pointed out the women at the party who did not seem intimidating. Among the “easy to approach” women were: Asians (of many varieties), light skinned Black women, racially ambiguous women, news reporters, masters students, Center for Disease Control advisers, soon-to-be Google employees, skinny girls, thick girls, bi and trilingual girls, chicks in pants, chicks in sparkly dresses, dancing women and wallflowers. Suffice it to say, this exercise did little to clarify what makes a woman unapproachable, other than, perhaps, a dark skin complexion? Even then, the less politically correct description that more than likely expresses the sentiment better than “intimidating” is “too masculine”, an age-old criticism of Black, particularly dark skinned women.
One of the most candid accounts of Black women’s undesirable posterior dates back to Jefferson’s 1781 Notes on the State of Virginia where he rants: “Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of color in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony which reigns in the countenances that immoveable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry form, their own judgment in favor of the whites, declared by their preference for them, as uniformly as is the preference of an orangutan for the black women over those of his own species.” Barring the glaringly obvious irony in Jefferson’s public commentary on Black women and private affair with one, I’m unimpressed by how far society has come in the past two centuries with regard to social constructions of femininity that have long excluded us. Jefferson points to criticisms of Black women that are still popular today, though less acceptable to say. While lightening creams are finally taboo here in the U.S, it pains me to hear my friends comment about trying to hide from the sun in the summer. I’m disgusted by my students’ complexes about complexion, and turned off by a billion dollar Black hair industry that largely thrives on a deep-rooted identity complex.
In the pilot episode of the YouTube sensation, Awkward Black Girl, Jay’s boyfriend D dumps her for the second time because of her short, natural hair cut, “It’s just that, I feel gay. No homo.” In a later episode, a male coworker holds the door open for the females but jokingly begins to shut it on Jay, remarking “Sike, you’re a lady… almost.” The series is popular because its main character keeps it real and is relatable to so many of us, which makes scenes like those even more sadly amusing. There’s nothing I can do about the fact that I can’t blush, and there’s not much I’m willing to do to acquire a ponytail that wiggles while I talk. All of the other things that would make an “intimidating” girl less scary, I already do. Dance like a fool at parties? Check. Watch ridiculously “girly” bad television? Triple check. Say “like” in between words too much? Unfortunately, check. Misplace all but my attached head? Yup, do that too. Yet, I’m still more intimidating than the trilingual woman who works at the Mecca of public health? Please. And I only stand to get more “intimidating” with time which does not bode well for my future love life either.
If a college educated Black man who stands 6ft tall and reps a manly-man fraternity finds me intimidating, I’m probably screwed. At least “intimidating” white women can date Black men for some solace? As for me, I’m just going to ask any future love doctors of mine to replace the word intimidating with descriptors that are more telling. If I’m abrasive, say that so I can improve. But if I seem “too good” or “too smart” say that. At least then it’s someone else’s problem and not an indictment on me.
Bitch. Cunt. Whore. Slut.
Our society has lots of uncreative, unintelligent, degrading words designed to tear women down. Men and women alike are guilty of this rhetoric, including myself. She won’t sleep with you? Cunt. She slept with you? Slut. She’s beautiful! Yea, but I heard she’s a bitch. She nailed that guy you’ve been eyeing? Whore. Whether the actual intention is to say something nasty, or it’s just a projection of one’s own insecurities, these words are damaging. Don’t believe me? One in three women will be sexually abused in her lifetime, which includes your sisters, best friends, mothers, girlfriends, and daughters. “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Well said, Mr. Kipling.
I’m retiring a new word to the lexicon of verbal subjugation: intimidating.
I’ve been hearing this word a lot lately regarding my perpetual singleness. “Well, you’re intimidating,” say my best friends, ex-boyfriends, roommate, and, most painfully, my father. It’s uttered with the same matter-of-factness that I imagine someone might gently remind me, “Well, you have three heads.”
If you consult the nearest thesaurus, you’ll find some helpful synonyms for intimidating. They include, but are not limited to:
You can imagine why I, standing at all of 5’3” with the exactly prescribed number of extremities and digits, might be confused by this terminology. Yet, for about ten years now, this is the word most commonly used to explain my D.O.A. dating life.
Through years of pressing, “What do you mean?” when people apply that statement to me and other women I know, I’ve pieced together a modern definition of the term. Intimidating may now be used as a catch-all to describe women who are one or more of the following:
Essentially, the newest social construct of this word encapsulates all the hypocrisy that surrounds modern feminism. We tell young girls and women to work hard for and be proud of all these qualities, then paint them as flaws when it comes time for them to step into the still traditional gender roles of dating or marriage. Of course we want women to be CEOs and entrepreneurs, but who will watch the children? Who will cook dinner and clean the house? While women have risen to the challenge of fulfilling all their vast academic, social, and economic potential, men have yet to collectively step up to share the domestic burdens, nor or they entirely comfortable with relinquishing their economic control in a relationship. So, it should come as no surprise that when I paid for dinner two weeks ago on a date, he said he felt emasculated and never asked me out again. Another man’s profile listed “power” as a turn-off. When I questioned him about it, he responded by telling me I was fat.
Calling women intimidating is to take every wonderful quality for which they have worked or with which they were born, and shroud it in negativity. After maybe the hundredth time I heard it - and I shudder to admit this - I started contemplating how I might make myself less “scary.” Perhaps, I could refrain from using those “SAT words.” I should limit my diatribes on the shortcomings of education policy and instead talk about, like, shoes or Kim Kardashian. Maybe, I should just drink a little more and talk a little less. I should stop talking real-estate and start talking throw-pillows. I should giggle enthusiastically (whether it’s funny or not). I should wear shorter skirts and lower shirts.
Oh, hell no.
Any man who is insurmountably frightened or put-off by a woman’s best assets does not deserve her. And since she probably has a job, she can reasonably afford to scare-off as many potential suitors as necessary until she finds the one who thinks she is not intimidating, but incredible.
Perhaps my father’s explanation was the most clairvoyant: “You’re not like, ‘Fuck me and give me babies!’” No. No, I am not.
Jess, I think that you hit the nail right on the proverbial head when you say that “men have yet to collectively step up to share the domestic burdens, nor are they entirely comfortable with relinquishing their economic control in a relationship.” And for this very reason, the combination of say, opinionated, willful, independent, powerful, and strong, translates to some men to some of the terms that are synonymous with “intimidating”— frightening, scary, alarming, browbeating, daunting, and terrifying.
I believe that a lot this has to do with the idea that “traditional” gender roles of dating or marriage have so little to do with forming equitable partnerships—and unfortunately, so many of my peers haven’t been reared or socialized to understand that if you’re pursuing an equitable partnership in your relationship, traits like intelligence, ambition, and determination are ideal.
Of course, the opposite is also true: if men are telling you that you are too “intimidating,” to me it suggests that these men don’t possess characteristics of strength, intelligence, etc. that you might be looking for in a partner. As you note, you’re not the “fuck me and give me babies”-type, and after all, do you want to partner with someone who is attracted to the “fuck me and give me babies”-type?
So, you’re absolutely right that it’s incumbent upon the male to see “incredible” where another might see “intimidating.”
As a society, however, we need to bring men up to understand that these “intimidating” characteristics are not “scary” but are to be valued. We’ve done a much better job of empowering women to break traditional gender roles, but haven’t been nearly as successful with doing the same with men. Then again, I’m not so sure we’ve really given it the attention required. It’s visible in an array of male-female interactions, from romantic relationships to in the workplace.
Crystal’s framing of the college educated, black manly-man can be interrogated a bit further—the “manly-man” is a traditional gender concept, in fact, it is worse, as it is a hyper-masculinized portrayal of manhood, and it has to be deconstructed. But that’s something that has to be done on a societal level. I’m not so sure that an “intimidating” white woman can date a black man for some solace. I’m not sure that I agree with that—but I agree whole-heartedly with her point that society has progressed so little the past two centuries with regard to a definition of femininity that includes black women.