So, yesterday was Thanksgiving and all I can say is that my great aunt pushed the ultimate button and questioned why I consider myself a feminist. I tried to ignore her comments about feminists being lesbians. I tried to take the higher ground when she said, “Our men need for women to help them, cook for them . . . be their neck and that’s the only way the black community will survive.” I tried . . . but then she said feminists have not done anything for the black community, but to divide it. And, then I said, “If it was not for black feminism I could not tolerate let alone love your alcoholic abusive nephew (i.e. my father).” Yes, I said exactly that and the whole house became quiet. And, of course, she was very offended and left. But, all this got me to thinking about why I am a black feminist.
Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Life can only be understood backward, but must be lived forward.” As I sit here recounting why I am a black feminist, my mind spins 15 years back to the many nights when I was a pubescent black girl crying and at times screaming outside the locked bedroom door of my grandmother’s room. I needed sanctuary. I needed sanctuary from the evil that stalked me when the lights grew dark and when my eyes became heavy with sleep. You see, my father was an abuser and an alcoholic. He mastered the art of black eyes and bruised brown skin. His mere presence dictated silence . . . no words, no tears, and, most importantly, no acknowledgement that women were capable of speaking and defending themselves. In The Wounded Woman: Healing the Father Daughter Relationship, Linda Leonard (1992) writes that daughters who have abusive fathers often learn to play the role of the “eternal girl.” Meaning, they learn how to please others by embodying a hyper-feminine disposition and silencing their “representational voice” (Belenky, Clincky, Goldberger, and Tarule 1997).
And, this is what happened to me. I learned to be the proverbial good girl, straight-A-student, sweet as pie, and blithely ignorant of the “barriers’ that shaped women’s lives. Just looking back over my life—the many sleepless nights, the many black eyes my mother wore to work, the leavings and comings, the bitch utterances, the suicide thoughts and faux attempts, the beliefs that it was better to be born a man than a woman, the fear of realizing how damned it is to be female, the silence that comes from being not seen—on a whole, I learned to be silent until I met a black woman professor in undergrad who shared with me a compendium of black feminist and non-black feminist writers. I learned to mumble by chewing on bell hooks’ conception of the “male gaze.” I learned to hum while reading the Betty Friedman’s The Feminist Mystique. I found annunciation of syllables while falling into Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. I found stuttering in Nancy Mairs’ Voice Lessons. I found vocalizations while reading Renita Weems’ I asked for Intimacy: Stories of Blessings, Betrayals, and Birthings. And, I spoke with acute defiance while reading Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider.
Yes, I learned to speak because I met a black feminist professor, who gave me books which tasted like ambrosia and opened my eyes to God-like albeit Goddess-like thoughts that women and girls are not mere objects of the “male gaze” that they like Demeter, Isis, Kali, Ianna, Yemaja, and Mary of Magdalene are capable of physically, spiritually, financially, and metaphorically creating and recreating the world we live in. Therefore, I speak and create spaces for other women to speak and to learn how to speak.
So, perhaps, I will send this blog to my great aunt to read. Perhaps, she will understand why instead of cursing my name to hell as she leaves with a full container of “my” grandmother’s Thanksgiving food. Just saying.