11 March 2013

Beyonce is Strong And Marilyn is Feminine?

A friend of mine said this to me once, and it stuck in my head though at the time I didn't think anything particular about it.Weeks later I realised why this innocent little statement was knocking around in my brain like a drunk on a bus.

Beyonce is strong and Marilyn is feminine?  Aren't they both feminine, womanly women?
Beyonce: Yeah. She'll totally break your face.

Beyonce is one of the few celebrities today- one of the only female celebrities left- that triggers world wide recognition. Her concert tours sell out, her albums always chart near the top or at the top, she's worshipped as one of the most beautiful women on the planet, and yet she's always tagged with adjectives like 'strong' and 'fierce'.

Donyale Luna: epitome of grace
I don't think there's anything at all wrong with being a strong woman - in fact, I think it's a must. But as a black woman, I sometimes feel like 'strong' is the kindest adjective they can give me.

If our women aren't ever described as 'feminine' or 'womanly' or 'graceful', then in the minds of our heavily male dominated, vaguely misogynistic culture, we're not fully women. 

Black models are described with all kinds of adjectives like 'exotic', 'powerful', 'evocative' etc etc, but how often are we tagged as just plain beautiful? Womanly? Graceful?

Why are the women who are most associated with these terms: Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivenne Westwood, and of course the indomitable Marilyn- all white? Maybe it's because of the era: the words are almost archaic now, as is the image conjured by them, but the residue sticks in all our minds.

Another friend told me how terrified she is walking home at night in her area. She had every right to be afraid of the drug dealers and shady characters lurking around the streets that sometimes actually accosted her, but I wondered, if it was me, would people be that sympathetic? Are black women allowed to go all wide-eyed in terror at the thought of walking home alone?

It annoys me to no end that western culture turns black women into angry, brawling, I ain't afraid o' nothin'!  type stock characters. That kind of misinterpretation downplays our very real fears and anxieties as women who live in a world run by men. We're no less afraid of being bothered on the way home, of being mishandled, bullied, and shouted at on the street- but we're supposed to be 'strong black women', so society can do what it wants, and we're just going roll our necks and keep on walking?
Joy Bryant: girl next door.  
 I disagree with the idea that women should have to be 'one' thing- but by assuming that all black women are of the 'break your damn face' persuasion, they're doing exactly that- making us all 'one' thing. That kind of assumption means that as a young black woman who is quite often afraid, I look around and wonder If I screamed, would anyone help me?  That's a scary thought when you're walking alone at night.

Alex Wek: Womanly woman and feminine beauty
I think A. Wek is GORGEOUS- look at that
skin! I'm so jel. I LOVE HER!

If I was a white girl, as evidenced by all the seriously high profile cases of young white women that decorate our news-feeds, if they didn't, there'd be hell to pay later.

All women - ALL WOMEN regardless of race, have the right to be strong and feminine. Most of us have grown up watching our mothers, sisters, aunties and Grans do just that. Racism is emasculating, and women of all races tend to bear the brunt of their men's let downs. So why I ask you, do we warrant a loss of femininity when we are women too? When we come in 'beautiful', 'womanly' and 'graceful' just like other women do? Maybe it is time to redefine the terms, and embrace what is truly the beauty and strength of WOMANHOOD full stop.

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