This post was originally published on our previous blog "The Life and Times of a Black Girl Nerd" on June 3, 2014
I have been very lucky in my life to be surrounded by strong, intelligent, and artistic Black females. From the older relatives who raised me (it takes a village) to my contemporaries (mostly cousins) and even a younger generation who inspire me and teach me more about myself than I ever imagined I could learn. I have also been very fortunate to be exposed to women whose lives are chaotic and decidedly different from what I would like mine to be; you learn a lot about what you don’t want by seeing it up close and personal.
Being a female is hard and, let’s be honest, at times it downright blows. You are constantly judged by your appearance and are taught that your worth is directly tied into your desirability. Being a black female is even more difficult at times, because everyday you’re shown images of the ideal woman and it dawns on you that no matter how fit or put together you are, you will never be blonde haired and blue eyed. You are not and will never be close to the media’s ideal woman and are therefore undesirable and worthless no matter what you do. It takes good support systems and constant reassurance at a young age to realize your beauty is not in spite of your failure to live up to mainstream standards of beauty, but that it is inherent. Your skin, curves, nose and full lips are beautiful and you don’t need to straighten, weave and dye your hair blond to be desirable, but without a good foundation and understanding of how culture mandates beauty and the damage done through exposure to images, not every Black woman will realize their true beauty.
The expectations of womanhood have greatly changed over the years, but it is still hard to escape our male dominated culture and ideal that women rule the home and men the business. So as a woman the prescribed societal way to demonstrate success in life is to settle down and make a home and a family. There’s nothing wrong with this, in fact, all of the best women I know have done just that, in spite of the fact that this “ideal womanhood” at times explicitly excludes Black women. In the recent past (and even currently) Black women have been excluded from entering certain fields and confined to a narrow set of options in the work they were able to do to support and keep their family stable, solely because of the color of their skin. This, of course, stems from slavery, though I would be hard pressed to find the Black women in my life using these justifiable obstacles as discouragement to achieve success. Instead, they’ve built their families and done so much more; they’ve started businesses, pursued their dreams, managed to succeed in the corporate world then come home and make a gourmet meal fit for kings. It’s a lot of pressure to live up to as a woman in my late 20s who is in no way close to achieving any of those things.
The frustrations of a single female is having the plan laid out in front of you, executed flawlessly by those before you and having the courage to question if the plan is even something you want for yourself. It seems that while expectations for men decrease, especially Black men who are generally expected to die or go to prison (which is a whole other blog post), the expectation for Black women continues to increase. I have seen single mothers, I have seen successful single mothers; I do not want to be one. I also don’t want to settle for a fuck boy.
A person who is constantly making people's lives worse. There are many ways in which one can do this. That person is usually very annoying, will take things from you saying they will pay you back but never will, always bum other peoples things (food, gas, weed, alcohol), only wants to be your friend because of things you have that the person wants, etc.
It seems that the daily life of a single black female in the world is to swallow aggressions (micro and macro) for the sake of safety and sanity. It is not safe walking down the street without headphones unless you want to be accosted by cat calls as though your entire existence is solely for the benefit of the Male Gaze. Also, the idea of standing your ground and standing up for yourself is also to put yourself in a position of vulnerability.
Recently a “mentally ill” male shot and killed 6 women on the UC Santa Barbara campus (he was mentally ill, I used the scare quotes because if he was a minority he would’ve been labeled a thug or terrorist first, mentally ill second but that’s also another post for another time) and in the aftermath a slew of misogynistic and racist writing and recording was found. He felt victimized by women because they did not stop everything to date him, sleep with him as though sexual virility and female attention was his right and not a privilege to be earned. The saddest part about this however, is how unshocking it actually is. Ask any woman of any age, color or size if they have ever been a victim of unwanted male attention and I would be shocked if one of them ever said no. From the small slights of being told to smile as though your lack of cheer is an affront to them to the more extreme examples of being grabbed at, hollered at from street corners, to even being groped uninvited on a dancefloor without so much as an introduction these are commonplace occurrences in the daily life of a female.
Currently I find greater fulfillment in my relationships with males who are gay, married or in my family. It’s not because of a feeling of them being less threatening, though they are, but there is an acceptance of being friends with someone’s entire being without fear of being marginalized. I can hug and embrace my homosexual male friends without fear of that sending an unintended message of sexual interest. My married friends can comment on my appearance without me wondering if they think that appearance helps or hinders my worth and family, well that’s just love, unconditionally.
It seems to me that the only way to survive with sanity intact is to practice superhuman poise and patience. As a woman I am strong, I am resilient and I can wait. I will continue to better myself, be happy with what I’m putting into the world. I will remain alone until there is someone worthy of my time and emotion. I will find my worth and desirability from within myself and I will not settle for some man who thinks that a backhanded compliment or a lazy shout out of a car window is enough to be rewarded with my time and attention. And I implore all women to practice this same patience because until we ALL demand respect we will all be open to disrespect. When one woman falls for flattery and not substance, men will continue to believe that that is acceptable behavior. It is not.
We should all bear our frustrations but refuse to lower our expectations. Women have a history of demanding and creating great change. Black women have a history of strength and perseverance that is not easily matched by another group in history. As such, we are stronger and though we can are tired and giving up is easy, we should lean on this legacy and keep moving towards a future of equality and respect.
Convo with Bayana