Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Is This Your Man?

(This comes from the archive of pieces that I started, but did not finish. I saw a FB post today that compelled me to dust this off as a public service to every woman still looking for her Boaz. But please, for the love of God, don't marry any old boy that calls himself a prophet but is advertising for a wife on Facebook...)

Whenever I see a Facebook status, Instagram meme, or a tweet that begins with the phrase, "I don't know who needs to hear this, but..." I prepare myself for the laughs (or the truth). One time it was a reminder to get the clothes out of the washer which is something I ALWAYS need whenever I finally get around to doing laundry. Another time it was a reminder that everybody can't be my friend.

Well today, I am offering that same service to some single person out there. If this or a similar meme was shared by some guy you know, do yourself and the rest of us a favor...tell him to kick rocks, then unfriend/block him, and then move on with your life.

Tell him that nobody asked some dude to tell the world how real women are supposed to act. Nobody needs to take advice from a poorly doctored Facebook meme. Tell him, and I am serious about this, real women are tired of grammatically offensive viral misogynist hotep claptrap.

I don't know why, but seeing this triggered all of the nonsensical debates I had in college about fixed gender roles in relationships. These were deep conversations about last names, killing spiders, and taking out the trash, because that's what some real men were taught to believe defined them...

Before you ask why so bothered if you're such a secure Busy Black Woman--trust me, I am good. I just want to expose some of this booshay because I have lived long enough, been married just as long, and it is my duty here on Beyonce's internet to warn others. So I don't know who needs to see this, but:

Don't let some man-child list all of your kindnesses to him as a obstacle course of hurdles you had to jump over in order to 'earn' his last name. Don't be fooled by his overuse of the word Queen in his descriptions of you on social media. Don't consider it a triumph that your fidelity was finally rewarded with a walk down the aisle in your dream dress with all of your children in the wedding party. You are not best friends with his Mama...you're her tag team partner (as were all of his exes).

This same dude will be calling you out of your name the instant you make some unreasonable request, like watch the kids while I run to the grocery store. He will hit you back with some nonsense about being in the middle of the game or needing time to work on his latest MLM scheme that has y'all in so much debt that you are working two extra jobs. But if you run out of his favorite cereal, he'll be talking shit about you not holding a brother down...

That's not the life you want, Sis. FWIW, this is just my Busy Black Woman's opinion that if these dudes need someone to tell what to do, they should take up dog-training as a hobby. Grown women who are handling their business don't have time for this kind of crazy. I know, that is a generalization that might not apply to every situation, and trust, I know that the dynamics within every relationship differs from the outside looking in. I'm just saying that what works in the hotep world is what works for them and their various baby mamas. Do not be deceived into believing the false teachings of ashen men.

And since I mentioned Boaz, I feel the need to apply my own biblical interpretation--a lot of folks are preaching bad religion. They are out here telling women how to dress and act with no proven results except Scripture, which they misuse. The story of Ruth and Boaz (which is actually a story about Ruth and Naomi but I will get back to that in a few) is often recounted as an allegory about a woman's faithfulness in waiting on God to send her a new husband. And while I have all kinds of issues with that...what if we told the story from the perspective of what Ruth and Boaz saw in each other? Ruth saw a man who was willing to care for her and her mother-in-law; Boaz saw a woman who had been loyal and dedicated to her mother-in-law. Could it be possible that while this is a story about love, we've been focused on the wrong couple? 

And as for the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, have you really paid attention to what is being described there? Of course she's called blessed by her husband and children because who wouldn't love a woman who does all of that work before the crack of dawn? And she's running a profitable side business too. That's the kind of woman this dude on Facebook was advertising for, but he added that she also needs to be short, light-skinned, gorgeous, and able to sing...so damn, I missed out. Meanwhile, I'm questioning his self-proclaimed apostolic status if he leads a church but doesn't have any eligible candidates in his congregation.

You don't have to take my advice, but trust me, your dream husband is not some man-baby who feels the need to publish a superficial list on social media to get attention. Note that he did not ask for a kind and devoted woman like Ruth, or for an industrious, hard-working partner like the proverbial virtuous woman. Instead of telling the world what he wants, he should have explained why anyone would be eager to apply for the job of being his wife (and because I'm curious about the benefit package for lugging around that kind of ego).

Last year when I first wrote parts of this piece, it had been in response to a lot of crazy I had been seeing on Blue Ivy's internet, and each time, I recall wondering if these sisters would have been better off single than having to face the utter humiliation of some dude publicly branding them as doormats. Inevitably, these same self-aggrandizers will go from calling her his Queen to thot as soon as she asks for child support or moves on with someone else. And while he's trashing her, he'll only make time to see his children to take pictures in the matching team jerseys he bought last month. 

So I will say it again for the sisters in the cheap seats--YOU DON'T WANT THAT LIFE. And I know, it's getting colder, this pandemic is still with us, who knows how this Election will go, and we could very well be heading for the Rapture, but naw. There is no book of Desparations in the Bible.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsberg, The Notorious

If this year has proven anything, it is that anything can happen to just about anybody. Death is inevitable and it will eventually come to claim all of us, even the octogenarian Supreme Court Justice who successfully beat cancer three times. Even she, who took on the white male legal establishment in the 60s and proved that a woman could do more than just type her husband's legal briefs: she could attend her own classes, raise a child, and manage to graduate at the top of her Columbia Law School class. Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known affectionately and reverently as the Notorious RBG.

I will not waste any time on tears. That isn't to say that I am not saddened by her death, but I won't waste any time worrying about the political shenanigans that are already underway. Because right now, the time for long-winded think pieces on the hypocrisy and virulence of white supremacy in its last desperate, dying stages isn't worth the effort.

Instead, I will share a couple of stories that illuminate why I was such an unabashed #NotoriousRBG fan, and how just like her, I plan to fight until that day when Death comes to collect even me, the Busy Black Woman.

I first learned about Ruth Bader Ginsburg the summer I interned for the Women's Legal Defense Fund (now the National Partnership for Women and Families). Because I was in college, I simply thought it was exciting to have another woman nominated to the Court. The confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas had been an eye-opening experience for me, given the uniqueness of being at Spelman at a time when many of us were grappling with the meaning and implications of feminism. And it seemed politically correct to counter-balance the appointment of a conservative Black man on the Court with a liberal white woman.

Also of note, the semester before my internship, I took a Constitutional Law class as part of a sequence of pre-law classes to prepare for law school. I will share some anecdotes from that experience at another time (because it was at Morehouse), but the main point to this is to mention that when we studied a series of cases about gender discrimination, I was unaware that many of those cases had been argued by Ginsburg. Color me awestruck to learn that she was the Thurgood Marshall of the Women's Movement, so I was enthusiastic about her selection and confirmation. (BTW, I hate those kind of comparisons, but suffice it to say she applied a similar strategy in attacking gender distinctions in the law.)

Fast forward to several years in the future when I had a chance to hear Ginsburg speak at some event where I was still mesmerized and charmed by this little lady who swore that her best friend on the Court was her ideological opposite, Antonin Scalia. I was in the official civil rights advocacy phase of my career and our consortium was preparing to litigate at least two major affirmative action cases, and he was at the top of our list of nemeses. Yet, it was fascinating to hear her describe their friendship such as their mutual love of opera and dining at a certain Italian restaurant. The fact that she didn't take their ideological differences personally seems so retro given how ardent disciples of both are now engaged in Mortal Kombat over each successive Court vacancy.

That Ginsburg was dubbed Notorious by her admirers and probably called worse by her detractors is a testament to her insistence that she be heard. She authored many opinions during her tenure on the Court, a time of monumental shifts within the legal profession. Coincidentally, a lot more young women and people of color attended law school during her tenure, so we had a lot more reading to help define our generation's advocacy. Ginsburg became our shero because she was so relentless and indefatigable--and this was before we knew about her multiple cancer diagnoses and the workout regimen and the fact that she probably hasn't slept for more than four hours a night since her third year of law school. 

That brings me to one of the criticisms I have seen on social media--that she should have relinquished her seat when Obama purportedly asked her to resign. I disagree. She was confirmed to a lifetime appointment, and much like a few other women that I have come to respect, the concept of dedicating one's life to a particular cause typically means that the cause itself becomes one's reason for living. There is no such thing as retirement...die on the field in battle, not on the sidelines. And it was her seat, not Obama's so she had the right to decline his request. She knew as well as anybody else that her departure would launch a thousand missiles from both sides of the political spectrum, and perhaps once she knew that she would not outlive this current Regime, she decided to bequeath us with sufficient motivation to press on with the movement.

Movements change things. Those who are now second-guessing her decision to stay on the Court are thinking in terms of monuments. Monuments are content to stand still to be admired. Anyone who thinks that Ginsburg was concerned about admiration missed the point of her entire career. 

The point was not to become a meme or an inspirational Halloween costume. If her life could be summed up in one word, it was dissent. The norms of her upbringing had been that true happiness and fulfillment for young women could only be found in a family. She had both a husband and a child by the time she graduated from law school, but decided that she had more to offer the world. So she dissented. She eventually found a job as a professor, but then resolved it was not enough to shape the young minds that went forth to challenge the status quo; she had to be willing to march into battle as well. So again she dissented. She had ascended to a seat on the highest court in the land and had served that institution for more than a generation, but instead of enjoying a well-deserved retirement, she would vacate in her own time. Another dissent.

I saw the RBG documentary (2018) when it was released, and it hinted at a few of her personal shortcomings. I took note of one in particular, but it was in the dramatized movie of Ginsburg's life On the Basis of Sex (2019), that it became more clear. Like everyone who aspires to and achieves greatness, there are high costs. In her case, Ginsburg was revealed to be a less than involved mother. Her husband became the happy homemaker and made the sacrifices (and connections) that propelled her career. She acknowledged that, and while there is no cup for measuring maternal instinct my guess is that hers was small. Her single-minded focus on dismantling gender inequality didn't give her much time for mothering, but it empowered women to choose their own path to happiness and fulfillment.

Another critique on social media has been the elitist blind spot she (and the rest of the Court) have had with respect to hiring diversity. I agree that she could have done a better job of democratizing the fraternity of Supreme Court law clerks, as it is a rarefied gateway to every elite space in the profession: white shoe law firm partnerships, executive appointments to the Department of Justice, endowed professorships, the federal judiciary, and possibly back to the Supreme Court as a justice (as was the case for John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh). Ginsburg should have hired a more diverse assortment of clerks, but so should every justice. It is a blight that everyone except for Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor share. (And yes, that includes our other SCOTUS hero Thurgood Marshall as well.) But it is a bridge too far to assert that her failure in that respect is proof that she did nothing for people of color or Black people in particular.

That kind of rhetorical nonsense is the stuff of zero-sum cancel culture. It is the bullshit logic of the keyboard whiners who never gear up to fight because they would rather complain about there not being any vegan snack options. Don't be so precious about losing a battle that has not yet been fought.

Of course the odds are against us. Of course this DESPOTUS and his Regime believe this is some kind of flaming cross--a sign that they can still stack the deck and win everything. Maybe. But so what?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote mostly dissents as a member of the Court, and if that record is to be compared to the number of cases she won as an advocate, that could brand her as some kind of sore loser. But if you are mourning her death, then you should already know that she didn't mind losing. The point was to fight on anyway. For example, Ginsburg didn't write the majority opinion in the Lilly Ledbetter case, but her dissent helped to inspire the law that sought to correct the injustices Ledbetter had endured.

Don't dis the RBG for the state of the world if you don't know basic civics (Supreme Court justices don't legislate from the bench). Don't come for the RBG if you aren't registered to vote or only think about elections every four years (there are nine seats on the Court, but hundreds of federal judgeships and McConnell has been green-lighting every Trump appointee that can spell). Don't get so caught up in ideological purity that you would rather ruminate on her shortcomings instead of strategize to move the needle forward on progress. Don't give up the fight just because the battle will be fierce.

Be Notorious. Dissent.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Flashdance Culture Cuties

I ask myself this same question every time I watch more than a few minutes of Flashdance: how did this movie ever get made and why was it such a big deal?

Or is that just my imagination? Because when Flashdance came out in 1983, I recall that it was a huge hit (even though it was rated R, so I didn't actually see it until many years later). I remember watching the music videos for What A Feeling by Irene Cara and Maniac by Michael Sembello and thinking that they were exactly the same (they aren't). I wanted to cut my tee shirts to fall off my shoulder so that I could look effortlessly cool like Jennifer Beals, the star.

In fact, I wanted to be Jennifer Beals. I wanted her hair, her legwarmers, I wanted to break dance and table dance just like she did...luckily my parents had better ideas and enrolled me in ballet class. As you know, I went on to take ballet for many years, so by the time I finally saw the movie and realized that was the whole point--that she wanted to be a ballerina, there went my childhood dreams and naiveté. How come no one told her that you can't go from the strip club to the Pittsburgh Ballet without any ballet training, no matter how flexible or agile you are, and in spite of the generosity of a nice elderly white lady who can arrange an audition?

Of course, that was the 80s and I'm sure crap like that movie propelled many a young girl to beg her parents to let her take dance class, only to show up to learn that first day, NO you cannot wear black jazz shoes nor wear your hair all over your face without receiving a strong rebuke from the stern ballet mistress.

Ironically, I was watching Flashdance and contemplating its enduring absurdity as I became aware of a #CancelNetflix campaign on Twitter, related to the release of the French film Cuties about the sexualization of underage girls in competitive dance teams. I read through a few tweets and quickly realized that the controversy was unnecessarily overblown and politicized, so I moved on. But then I read this article about how the director is now receiving death threats, and wow. Judging from the tone of the tweets, I was right to ignore the hashtag initially; however, it might be timely for us to address the issues raised by this film. 

Let's start by dispensing with the politicized outrage because really...your biases are showing like a church lady slip. You ain't fooling anybody with all of this pearl clutching over exposed midriffs and metallic eye shadow. It was all good when you were fans of Dance Moms, a show that is still airing and that features the very world of dance competition at issue in Cuties. And surely some child in your orbit went through a phase when they begged you to turn over your phone so that they could watch JoJo Siwa videos nonstop.

You are suddenly concerned about pedophilia now? Have you been clothes shopping for a child lately? Have you seen the shows on Nickelodeon or the Disney channel? Do you listen to Kidz Bop? Did you even look into the backstory about Cuties before you decided to comment and retweet conspiratorial nonsense? Or did you just react to the possibility that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros  all walked into a bar and colluded with the Chinese bartender to mix the ingredients for this COVID mocktail hoax that has killed 193,000+ people?

Second, let's analyze the timing of this, just not in the context of politics. A few weeks ago, we learned a new acronym that brought more pearl-clutching from decent respectable ladies who would never...and for what it's worth, I am not walking back what I wrote. But I am just taking note that reactions are very much dependent on the messenger. Y'all weren't this animated when Britney Spears went from the Mickey Mouse Club to being Toxic.

Or maybe you were, and now that I have my own impressionable five year old, I am more aware because I too wonder about the conflicting messages we send our children about their bodies. I worry about this culture of competitive dance as I prepare for a new season of ballet classes via Zoom. I think back to what got me hooked on dance, and indeed it was the flash. It was watching hours of the Solid Gold dancers, Soul Train, Fame, and the synchronized choreography of the Beat It video. It was also watching Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre performances on public television. It was seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland dance every Christmas for many years in The Nutcracker. However, the reality was this iconic speech that Debbie Allen delivered in the first season of the TV show Fame.

I put in the work, had big dreams, but I was tall and Black in the 80s. I felt more comfortable at the ballet barre because no one made fun of my lanky limbs. In the corps de ballet we moved with control and precision, so that was my comfort zone. Through dance I learned discipline and commitment. I also learned to regard my height as an asset even though I wasn't even the tallest dancer...that was my dear friend Karen who stood six feet tall before she effortlessly rose to the tops of her toes in pointe shoes. Those fundamentals allowed me to continue dancing (and to perform, thank you very much) well into my eighth month of pregnancy and beyond into my 40s. Hell, for my 50th Birthday I am thinking of pulling a JLo at the Superbowl! (Note that I said JLo, not Jennifer Beals, who didn't even do her own dancing in Flashdance...)

As a society, of course we send conflicting messages to children, regardless of gender. We have gender reveal parties to determine what color baby clothes we will shower on new parents. Somehow, we have determined that actually matters, even though we also claim to believe gender is a construct (well some of us do). Which is why it seems rather predictable that a majority of the #CancelNetflix crowd tend to be those who were just fine with voting for a man who once exploited his ownership of a beauty pageant as license to go hunting for genitals to ogle and grab.

Finally, it seems rather fitting that the director of Cuties, Maïmouna Doucouré, is a French Muslim woman. I'm guessing she knows enough about modesty to issue an indictment on western cultural hypocrisy, which appears to be the entire point. After all, France is the land of the can-can and Moulin Rouge, but also Edgar Degas so go figure. From what I can tell (and I haven't seen it yet), this film has become a convenient pawn in our culture wars because of the U.S. marketing and it's mature audience rating. The U.S. poster is problematic...but so is competitive dance, in my humble veteran dancer now dance Mom opinion. And how would these complainers have felt if the film had been rated PG since the point is to make people uncomfortable?

We should be uncomfortable. We should feel just as horrified as I was a few years ago when my Niece took classes at one of those competitive team factories. We were invited to her summer recital, and though she was dressed age-appropriately, that was not the case for many of the performers that day. The worst part was when my daughter, still in diapers and sucking on a pacifier started dropping it like it was hot in the aisle to one of the songs, mimicking what she saw on stage. That audience was full of applauding parents who had paid top dollar tuition for what was essentially a kiddie burlesque revue. 

If we don't want our children to emulate Cardi B, then we've got to give them Misty Copeland as a viable alternative. And if you think this is my elitist preference for ballet showing, I assure you that it isn't because just the other night, my child and I both were transfixed by a contemporary step dance company. I know that there are other layers to this conversation, such as the institutional racism of classical dance that limited options and opportunities for dancers of color, and I am willing to concede those historical biases are yet to be overcome. However, from what I have observed, competitive dance is just another example of how everything ain't for everybody.

One more point to clarify before I conclude, yes I did joke about wanting to pole dance like JLo, but allow me to point out that she also is a lifelong dancer. If you want to have that kind of flexibility, stamina, and strength, it requires training, not just talent. Talent will distinguish you in a chorus line, but training is how the body double in Flashdance fooled me as a child. Training is why Debbie Allen can still lead a dance class that rivals half an hour of zumba. Training is what you need to ensure that your child is getting in addition to those expensive costumes and glamour shots.

The controversy over Cuties is precisely that as well--this film might not be your cup of tea for any number of reasons. But if you didn't cancel your Netflix subscription after Tiger King but you are an ardent fan of Dancing with the Stars...then know that I am judging you. But I might reconsider if you slide me your password.