Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sorry, Steve: Thinking "like a man" won't help women find love

Okay, I have tried to avoid talking about Steve Harvey's relationship book, cause it makes me tired and frustrated. But, now I gotta...

My husband and I visited a local church about a month ago and wound up on the institution's e-mail list. Today in my inbox I received an announcement about an upcoming talk at the church, part of a monthlong series on relationships called "Act like a lady, think like a man (in Jesus' name)." The series is based on a blend of Biblical wisdom and comedian Steve Harvey's best-selling relationship book "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man." Too often, discussions of heterosexual marriage and relationships in the black community (and outside it) revolve around what women need to be doing differently. And I fear this discussion, like Harvey's book, will be no different.

Harvey offered a sample of his wisdom during an appearance on "The Tyra Banks Show."



Some of Harvey's advice is basic relationship common sense, but much of it perpetuates the notion that women and women alone are reponsible for the health of heterosexual relationships. He implies that it is women who must change the way they act to adapt to a man's needs, that courtship is some kind of elaborate chess game where women have to cajole and manipulate men into commitment. Worse, his views on what women and men want and need seem to be based on outdated gender roles. What is this "act like a lady" stuff?

Missing from Harvey's schtick is the idea that every being has a right to be their true selves and finding love is about connecting with a person who complements and embraces that true self, with a touch of compromise on both sides. I suspect that most women would be happier in relationships if they did more to be true to themselves and their needs, rather than twisting around to "think like a man" (whatever that is). (I also wonder, with all the problems black men face today, whether Harvey's time would have been better spent counseling the men he professes to know so well, rather than women.)

I guess it should be no surprise that a black church is preaching relationship salvation from the Bible of Steve. On the whole, I find views on women in the black church regressive and that's a pity considering how much black women put into the institution. I worry that all the women I see swearing by Harvey's wisdom are doing so because it sounds so familiar, like the patriarchal oppression cloaked as God-given truth so many of us have been fed all our lives.

If you're a woman looking for the key to successful relationships, I don't know if I would bet the farm on the advice of a thrice-married comedian. You probably shouldn't listen to random bloggers either, but for what it's worth, here's my view on marriage and dating from a post that originally appeared in July of 2008:

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It's funny the perspective that time gives.

Occasionally I see a young sister made crazy by society's romantic expectations and I want to reach down from my lofty perch of 30+ years of life experience, grab her and say, "It will all work out...truly it will." I think of my early 20-something self, so worried about being paired up with someone. I admit that in some romantic entanglements back then, I forgave when I shouldn't have, overlooked what should have been obvious, gave up things that ought to have been sacred and a few times tried to make Mr. Right out of Mr. Wrong for Me.

I graduated from college and started my "real life" with big plans. I never wanted to marry young, nor did I want to have children. I wanted to join the Peace Corps., work at a newspaper, live in a big city, have a fancy job in gleaming high-rise, live on the East Coast, live in Europe, see the United States, see the world...I did several of those things, but part of young me was a little scared that after all the fun, I wouldn't find someone to settle down with. Now, before I lose my womanist bonafides, let me make it plain: I never believed that a woman needs a significant other to live a full life, I simply wanted a partner to come with me on life's journey. And most women reading this know that the pressure for a heterosexual woman to marry grows stronger as she approaches the 30-year mark. Friends start coupling and choosing china patterns. Questions are asked...Are you dating anybody?...Don't you want to get married?...You'd better hurry up...Don't you want to have kids? Then folks get to throwing around dire statistics about black women and marriage. It can make a girl feel a little crazy...a little desperate. It can make a girl do stupid things. Over time, one becomes more mature in her singleness--at least I think I did. At around 29, I realized that, while I hoped to find the right man with which to share my life, I would have a damned good life no matter what. And frankly, there were too many rewarding things I could do alone or with friends for me waste even an hour of time on a dinner date with an aggravating knuckehead. I became pickier (Lately, I've heard a lot of folks trying to tell black women they don't have a right to high standards. Every self-respecting person ought to have high standards about whom they are intimate with. Don't let anyone tell you different.). I spent more time alone. I discovered who I am. I explored and experimented with life.

So, this weekend, I watched this young sister I know flail around in a relationship, trying unsuccessfully to live her life around a prospective husband's, trying to force something that doesn't fit. She is an acquaintance. I don't know her well enough to be all up in her business. And I'm not one to go around making pronouncements and dispensing advice (Unless you read my blog...hee.) But I just wanted to tell her to relax. I wanted to quote my favorite part of that song from Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)" (Ya'll know I have quirky musical tastes.):

Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't
Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't
Maybe you'll divorce at 40
Maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary
Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody elses.
By chance, I did get married at 31. I have a wonderful husband who suits me in all my eccentricity. I love him very much--with all my heart. We will celebrate our seventh anniversary next week. I enjoy being married. I grew up with married parents and married grandparents. I support marriage for everyone that wants it (Cause not everyone does or should want it.). And I regret that it sometimes seems that the black community has dispensed with the idea of healthy marriage. But...if I had never met my sweetie, I think I would have been okay...better than okay...great. I would have tried to be great anyway (It's easy to say you would have been okay not getting the thing you wanted after you already have the thing.). I'm sure I would have been lonely sometimes...stressed sometimes...worn down sometimes...cash strapped sometimes...depressed sometimes, but marriage does not protect you from any of that. Marriage does not make a life and it doesn't make a woman.

I see too many young, black girls defining themselves through the gaze of young men. As they get older, little changes. In my circle, it is the diamond ring women are supposed to covet. In some other circles, it is some man's (or boy's) baby. But I think that's crap (Intellectually...emotionally, it is hard to unhook from these things). Men are judged as people separate from their romantic and familial entanglements. Women should be, too.

So, I have this to say to my single sisters (young and old): Be picky, but be fair; be adventurous; be YOU. Screw the folks who want to make you feel bad about not being hooked up. And if you're feeling down about your single status, hold on.

It's funny the perspective that time gives.

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