A Date with Misogyny and Misogynoir.
February 29, 2020. 2:25AM.
“So… I wanted to talk you to about something.” I say, pausing.
He just returned to the table; both hands holding IPA beers. It’s almost 2AM and the bar will close soon.
“What is it, that, we’re, uh, doing?” words twisting in my mouth into something nervous. When I applied my red lipstick and slipped into my favorite black dress to meet him that evening, the words I practiced in the mirror did not sound like this.
“Are we dating?”
This was date number seven or eight or nine; several months in, adventures in city we shared; months of new bars, coffee shops, bookstores, and political conversations in the middle of a ramen restaurant. He was a moderate in his viewpoints, which I felt stretched me. There was always something new to learn, to discuss.
We’d known each other since we were eleven years old. In middle school, we played sports together; both of us were these tall, lanky kids who grew faster than our bodies could keep track. I look at him; his brown eyes staring back at me. He just got a haircut, wearing a black shirt that accentuates his biceps. Our families know each other well. When we reconnected, sharing the same transition of moving back to the city we were raised in, we had a lot to discuss; where our lives had taken us and who we are now.
I pause, cross my legs, and sit back.
“I don’t know…” He pauses. “I just don’t feel settled enough in my career for a relationship.”
“Oh, um, okay,” I respond, not really knowing what to say. Why hadn’t he told me this earlier? He regularly spoke of goals of career advancement, just like I did. I never thought that I couldn’t date, pursue my career, and achieve all of my goals at the same time. He took me to all these nice restaurants and bars that I never asked to go to; waved away my debit card each time I retrieved it from my purse. Surely, this was leading to a relationship based off of time, daily communication, and effort he presented? I was glad I asked.
“It’s just… You know. You have your life together. Your own money. Most of the girls I’ve dated have lived with me or their parents. But, you know you have your own spot. You’ve travelled the world. You’re about to have your master’s degree. You just… I don’t know. You have it all together. I don’t feel confident with you. I can’t date you,” he says.
“I don’t have a job.” I tell him. He responds quickly, “But we know you’ll have a job soon.”
But I… I still don’t have a job? Am I threatening? Intimidating? On the drive home, I thought back to the conversations on his ex-girlfriend. He spoke of a relationship with a girlfriend who requested Michael Kors purses and steak dinners for birthdays. They lived together in Charlotte and he paid the rent. He spoke about the next pay raise, promotion, etc. And this worked for years.
There was nothing wrong with this. It also didn’t sound like he ever dated someone like me.
I carried my belongings in a cloth tote bag that I tossed in the washing machine once a week. I spent summers barefoot with my wild curly hair wet from the rain, in and out of bookstores, laughing with friends over coffee and street tacos. For my birthday, I wanted books that I had previously mentioned and Pothos plants. I spent money only on adventure, had a prepaid cellphone plan, and waited in online queues for library books. I wanted to advance in my career, but was not willing to sell any of my soul or autonomy in the name of career. Money only went so far. My friend chalked my experience up with this guy as a difference in values. We were looking for other people.
But for months, I couldn’t explain how this made me feel. There was something venomous in his comment that I couldn’t put my finger on.
Here I was, 27 years old, and unemployed because of the discrimination I’d experienced at my old job. Here I was, seven or eight or nine dates in with a man who didn’t want to be committed to me because in his heart of hearts, he didn’t feel confident with me.
What the fuck does that even mean? And what do I have to do to make a man feel confident with me?
I tasted this on my tongue before. Watching reruns of Moesha (a 1990s sitcom of a teenage Brandy and her African American family and friends) is excruciatingly painful now, but was fun as a teenager.
Moesha, an outspoken 15-year-old, somehow takes pride in her responsibility of cooking breakfast for her father and little brother every morning for three years. This feels odd. Or when Moesha fixes her father’s tie and kisses him on the cheek before he goes off to work. In what Moesha doesn’t do, her stepmother comes to the rescue. The first season of Moesha is episode after episode of her stepmother debating with her father; the father continuously crossing boundaries; reading Moesha’s diary without her permission; the father upset at Moesha when she mentions boys, stating that she can’t date until she’s 25.
Moesha is a show of the childhood of so many young Black girls. It feels eerily familiar watching the family sit down for dinner, disgust on her father’s face when Moesha comments on her little brother, saying- “Wow, I can’t believe Miles actually cooked dinner!” Her father responds- “No, I can’t believe I actually allowed it to happen.” The stepmother intervenes, “Oh Frank, stop it. There’s nothing wrong with a boy learning how to cook.”
Frank throws up his hands and rolls his eyes- “Right.”
Oh, the things we tell our daughters; the things we tell our sons.
When 15-year-old Moesha challenges a classmate on a project in an all-male organization, he tells the group- “See that’s exactly why we don’t need women in the room.” He pauses as everyone laughs and says, “Why can’t the Black woman just support the Black man instead of always jumping up in his face trying to tear him down?”
These are the shows we grew up watching.
It seems like on every Black sitcom, Black women married subpar men who needed their egos stroked, reassured on a daily basis. This was reinforced in the early 2000s sitcom on The Bernie Mac Show. Vanessa, Bernie Mac’s wife, rubbed Bernie’s back after they both worked that day, while she cooked dinner, and he watched television in his mancave. During each weekly episode, Bernie Mac complains how his nephew Jordan is “too soft.”
Oh, the toxic masculinity that men uphold and hand to their sons.
It seemed that these men- at their core- were kind of sexist, kind of misogynistic, kind of toxic. To counter this, Black mothers shushed inappropriate comments and raised outspoken Black daughters. Later, these Black daughters, I guess by accident, married Black men that were kind of sexist, kind of misogynistic, kind of toxic. Then these men to wrote television shows and raised sons. It was a cycle.
I thought back to my childhood. As much as my father loves me, he very much enforced gender roles in our household. What he did not tell me, he told our mother. And he loves us dearly, yes, but all behavior from both parties should be evaluated before it is passed on.
Thanksgiving dinners were events of women cooking in the kitchen and the men watching sports in the other room. Every once in a while, a male family member or my father would wander into the kitchen and ask when the food would be ready. If I somehow wandered into the wrong room, I was encouraged to get back to the kitchen and help. We were separated by gender, always.
And gender roles. My brother cut the grass, took out the trash. I cooked and cleaned. We both washed dishes. Luckily for me, my father taught me how to do things associated with the male gender. My mother pushed for us both to know both roles, but at the end of the day, both roles were reduced to the fact that although my mother had her own business and worked full-time like my father, she arrived at home to cook dinner, as my father watched the news on the couch. We called home to see what was for dinner.
Because of the fact that I was a girl, my mother and father argued about if I needed to learn how to cook. My mother didn’t care. Instead, my father encouraged me to make breakfast for the family, because I guess I somehow needed to know how? I do not remember my brother learning these things with the same intensity. I was taught how to cook, clean, do laundry, and maintain a home since I would need this skill as a woman; my brother taught by society, implicitly and explicitly, that all he was responsible for was earning money and cutting the lawn. Like the father mentioned on Moesha, his son didn’t need to learn how to cook because one day a woman would do that for him.
We raise our daughters and coddle our sons. We raise Black girls to be strong Black women.
Michelle Obama said it best during a 2017 interview– “It’s like the problem in the world today is we love our boys, and we raise our girls. We raise them to be strong, and sometimes we take care not to hurt men. I think we pay for that a little bit and that’s a ‘we’ thing because we raise them. It’s powerful to have strong men but what does that strength mean? Does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much so that they feel a little entitled and a little, you know, a little self-righteous sometimes? But, that’s kind of on us too as women and mothers, you know, as we nurture men and push girls to be perfect.”
But no, no. It was different right? My father taught me how to run his business, how to take care of my family since I was the firstborn. My friend from the Dominican Republic said this was progressive. “My father has a business, but he’d never teach me how to run it because I’m a woman. Instead, he’s teaching my younger brother,” she told me in Spanish over café con leche in Santo Domingo. And here I was vice president of the family business. Imagine how I felt when my uncle visited the office and asked me how I liked being the secretary.
My father is a loving father and improved later, but did his friends? Society? And is this not just as harmful? As misogyny vibrates through generations, the taste leaves a stronger impression than a beer at a bar with a boy.
As a child, I watched women marry men that were OK, you know, nice people, but there was always a mismatch. They weren’t men I’d ever want to marry myself. My mother spoke of men that cooked, cleaned, and took care of general maintenance, but I never met any stay at home dads.
As much as my father loves my mother, when asked how he knew he was going to marry her, he said that he absolutely loved her salmon dinner. This was followed by stories of how free she was, how she wasn’t afraid to get her hair wet when they went swimming on a date. He mentioned how they had similar values. It was a nice story, but what always bothered me was that in these stories I heard, men never mentioned a woman as her own person. It was the fact that the story was told in a way that was centered around the way my mother cooked salmon, not the fact that she’s a free spirit, entrepreneur, kind person, a great friend. It was the fact that these stories only mentioned her as a human being after what she did for others.
Growing up, love always felt measured in what women did for men, not who women actually were.
My aunt came over to my childhood home on Sundays to spend time with us. As the clock approached 2PM, she rushed to her car in a hurry. “I’ve got to get home and make something smell before your uncle gets home from work! He likes to come home to a hot meal.”
And for the life of me, I never understood why he couldn’t just put something in the microwave when he got home. Maybe this was their generation? My father told me the story when my grandmother had the opportunity to teach a six-week long Fulbright program in Japan. My aunt, a college student at the time, was responsible for cooking for my grandfather because he didn’t know how to cook. What is this? Maybe this was some generational gap, a concept I would never understand. But somehow it had crept into mine. As a child, I watched women that were my heroes shrink themselves thin, into people that I didn’t recognize, all in the name of love.
So where does this leave someone like me?
As a young girl growing up in the south, you see this example over and over. There was the woman entrepreneur, almost a millionaire with the beautiful car; her husband left her. The underlying reason was that she was a little too successful, outspoken. I was taught and shown repeatedly that the women who are chosen are those that bite their tongue until it bleeds.
There was my father’s friend who corrected his wife at dinner and reminded her that he earned more money than she did; the men that talked over their wives, clarifying the specifics of their wives’ careers during family dinners, cutting across their wives who sat silent, nodding.
When I was well into my 20s, my dad and I went to play tennis at the park up the street. My dad introduced me to acquittances, sitting around the court, drinking. I said hello to everyone.
“Your dad said you live in Spain. Are you living there off of your daddy’s money?” One guy said. The men laughed.
“No. I have a job.” I told him, extremely confused. His comment came from nowhere.
“But I know your daddy gives you money though, right? How else could you live there?”
“I’m 23 years old. I support myself,” I explain, frustrated. Laughter.
“Oh, excuse him, he’s just like that. He treats all women like that, even his wife.” Another guy said, laughing.
My dad would later retell the story to friends, extremely proud that I stood up for myself. As we leave, I glare at this poor excuse of a man, beer bottle in his hand, half drunk at 11AM on a Sunday morning. I pity men like him, yet, we do not hold men like him accountable.
“Dad, that’s sexist,” I tell him in the car. “Oh yeah, you could call it that,” he says.
Years later, at the dining room table during lunch, my father’s friend stated that Beyoncé’s 2011 song Girls Run the World was problematic. “Black women like that are ruining the Black community. They’re teaching young Black girls that they need to be independent and shouldn’t depend on a man.” When I asked what was wrong with a woman being independent, I was waved away. “That’s just who he is, Tianna. That’s just his opinion.”
Oh, the things we tell our daughters.
A few years later, when I excitedly announced that I was accepted into graduate school, my father’s friend straight up told me that I would not be able to find a Black man to marry. “You’ve overeducated yourself. Most Black men won’t want you because they won’t be able to relate to you now.” My excitement was now disappointment in his comment, hovering over me like glass ceilings.
“That’s just his opinion,” we say. Do we ever acknowledge that his opinion is sexist?
Do we ever acknowledge why a man is not confident when a woman is just as successful as he is?
And do we ever call a spade a spade?
In adulthood, my friend from college and her husband gave me a tour of their house. As they showed me the extra bedroom near their one-year-old son’s room, the husband said, “This will be our second child’s room.” My friend paused and responded, “I don’t want another child.” I looked down. Scrolling through Instagram seven months later, my friend announced that she’s pregnant with their second child and I will wonder how she feels.
Over coffee dates, one of my friends stumbled over her words when asked the specific qualities she wanted in a man. As a woman, there is always a tendency to offer a preface, excuse, and the uneasiness in asking for what you want with no further explanation. A man that knows how to read never says that he would like to date a woman that can also read. He just finds one.
In adulthood, I’ve dated men that never really know what to do with me. Dealt with the explanation that he didn’t really feel confident around me. There was the man who explained what Madrid was like without asking my experience of living in Madrid. I was constantly talked over. There was the man I dated for a while in Mexico City who broke up with me when he found out I earned money than he did. The thing is, I never mentioned my income. He Googled my salary.
Be outspoken, but not too much. Be educated, but not too much. Be independent, but make sure a man needs you. The things we tell our daughters; the things we tell women.
In the living room, my 23-year-old brother and his friends watched a Netflix comedy special. As I worked on a paper for grad school, I heard the male comedian make jokes about sexual assault. My brother’s friends laughed and I cringed. I turned my headphones up, checked my phone, and saw a text message from a friend about their sexual assault.
How is it that we live in different worlds?
Men decline to address and heal themselves and women feel their pain as consequence. Instead, we depend on men to accompany women through dark alleys at night, but at the end of that alley, danger is in the representation of another man. Text me when you get home, he says. Who are we protecting women from?
The other day, my brother and I watched the conversation between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni in 1971. During one portion, they addressed the pain men and their fathers inflicted on their household. James Baldwin explains the reasoning behind why a man would do this.
Nikki Giovanni says, “My relationship to that whole syndrome remains true. I’m 28, and I really don’t understand it. On one hand, you’re talking about a Black man- that he can be nothing in the streets and so fearful in his home. That he can be brutalized by some white person out there and then come home and treats me and my mother- the same way that he was being treated- which further perpetuates this, you know. You take someone like me, I’m not married. I couldn’t play my mother, I just couldn’t deal with it- I said no, no, no; this wouldn’t work.”
“But Nikki, since your mother played that role, you haven’t got to,” James Baldwin refutes. “I’m not trying to defend it; I’m trying to make you see it.”
“I see the same syndrome in the guys that I date now,” Nikki Giovanni continues. “What I’m trying to get you to relate to – and I lay this on Black men because I’m a Black woman – I’m sure it’s that arbitrary… But what she needs at that moment is a man. If the man functions as a man, who is not necessarily a provider… If there’s no job, what she still needs is a man to come by and say, hey baby, you look good… But a man can’t do that because he wants to say ‘I’m gonna bring the crib when I come.’ But he’s never gonna get the crib. Bring yourself.”
I grab my phone to research if Nikki Giovanni is currently married. She isn’t married. Is this a surprise? Society reinforces the fact that men do not marry the Nikki Giovanni’s, the Dr. Mae Jemison’s, the Toni Morrison’s, because society would not allow these women to be married and be the women that they are today. I assume this is what Nikki already understood at 28.
So where does this leave someone like me?
My brother pauses the television. “Nikki Giovanni’s point is unrealistic; she isn’t speaking about the average women.”
I refute, using the man I dated as an example, the one who mentioned he didn’t feel confident with me because I had my own.
“But he exists because women want men who have good jobs. Stable income. That’s what a man feels the need to provide,” my brother replies.
“No; he is an idea. He exists because women are still not equal to men.”
Misogyny– “Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.”
Misogynoir– “The specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women,” coined by Moya Bailey.