Disclaimer: This post was originally made on TREMG during the early fall of 2020 (September)
General examples of the “Strong Black Woman”:
The strong black woman archetype has been popularized in black culture and in the world overall (particularly, America) despite the fact that it does harm to the black woman image. This woman is aggressive, independent to a fault, has highly masculine traits, places the needs of others before her own, and carries the entire world on her shoulders. She is unbothered and masks all of her emotions, never complains or tries not to. She is the woman who doesn’t need a man and can do everything alone, even if it kills her. This woman is very belligerent. She’s that ride or die chick who adores struggle love and misery. If a black woman is shy, quirky, dainty, sweet, and soft, she may be told to “toughen up”, “be hard and strong”. She must be loud to get her point across. She never asks for help in any way. The strong black woman can take pain physically, mentally, and emotionally. She begs for attention and affection from those not willing to reciprocate the same energy. She screams out for help, but many fail to notice signs because of her constant strength. She’s the starter girlfriend and wife who builds up a man and his career while she’s well established and he’s a dusty man with no career, goals, job, and ambitions. Not only may she drive a BMW, but she is the BMW, build a man workshop. On her sickest days, she puts a smile on her face and pretends as if she’s good and well. She can be toxic to those around her, but most importantly, to herself. The strong black woman can be so many things. The list just goes on.
Strong Black Woman Film Example:
Unfortunately, the strong black woman is the primary representation of black women. All black women are expected to take whatever is thrown at them in life and are heavily masculinized. In film and typical everyday lives, depictions of the strong black woman are seen repeatedly. One example in film:
In director Lee Daniels’ 2009 film, Precious, 16-year-old Precious Jones suffers verbal and physical abuse by her mother, Mary Jones. Precious is illiterate, obese, boy crazy, and a fighter. She does make an effort to change, which eventually pays off once she earns her GED and improves her reading and writing skills. Her mother, Mary Jones, takes her frustrations out on Precious through abuse and an unforgettable jealous rage. Jealousy on Mary’s part occurs due to Precious having two babies by her biological father. Precious’ father sexually abused her for years, beginning when she was a baby. Young Precious is expected to take care of her mother and endure continuous hardships. She has a support team behind her in a counselor, new friends, educators and even a male nurse.
*Mo’nique’s outstanding performance in this film won her several awards including an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and an Academy Award. Black women, in the history of film, have only been recognized by the Oscar’s and the Academy Awards for mammy-like roles, aggressive roles, and savior roles (Hattie McDaniel being the first back woman to win an Oscar for her portrayal as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind”).
The Matriarch…Grandmothers, Mothers, Aunties, and Sisters:
In black families as a collective, matriarchy is pushed more than patriarchy. Families look to grandmothers, aunties, mothers, and sisters to keep everything together. This contributes to the role reversal in the black community (article for another day). Equality across the board starts to diminish traditional gender roles, leaving women in masculine positions and leaving men to feel emasculated (some people don’t have an issue with this, and that’s their prerogative). The matriarchal figure is expected to be everyone’s savior, yet many fail to look after her and her well being. Family members go to her to complain about their issues, yet neglect the matriarch’s feelings and stressors. She has to be strong and put everyone else’s needs before her own. The matriarch can be very overwhelmed and exhausted, but still manages to rescue loved ones. The matriarchs are very special in black families’ lives, but they are not strong, supernatural heroes that can handle everyone’s problem along with their own. She’s human too and isn’t unbreakable. Matriarchs can get sick. She doesn’t want to be the strong one of the family, she just wants to be. Matriarchs need just as much help as the family members do. Loved ones shouldn’t complain about issues to matriarchs too much because this creates more stress for them. Be sure that she is going to the doctor regularly and is investing in self care as much as possible. Ask her if she’s having a good day and see if she needs anything: listen to her not only when she gives advice, but also when she reveals deep, personal issues and struggles. Treat her to something valuable such as the spa day (not a drink) and take her out to dinner. Just treat this lady well, love and cherish her, and take care of her because she may fail at doing so for herself.
Dark-Skinned Strong Black Woman:
Dark skinned black women as a collective are masculinized from childhood. Analysts have concluded “that within minority groups, darker-skinned girls are disciplined more harshly than light-skinned ones” (The New York Times). This same study concluded that girls of dark complexion are three times more likely to be suspended from school than girls of lighter complexion. In June of this year, young Wynta Amor-Rogers (age 7) led a Black Lives Matter protest in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many others due to police brutality. Many people of all races, ages and genders were at the frontlines of the protests. However, this was one of the only times dark skinned girls and women received recognition and praise, especially in the mainstream media. Being the “warrior” or “rider” or “soldier” is when dark skinned girls and women are validated the most along with being overly sexualized, downplaying themselves, and being seen as objects rather than people. Dark skin can be associated with aggression, strength, sex appeal, masculinity, harshness, and a bad attitude. When a woman of any race says she has a “preference” for dark skin black men, in most cases, this subconsciously is because dark skinned men are seen as more masculine than lighter skinned men (In my opinion, there’s no such thing as preference for a certain complexion, it’s just plain colorism). So, dark skinned black females are automatically associated with the same preconceived notions. Dark skinned women and girls can be seen as the fighters and aggressors more than their lighter skinned counterparts and are often believed to be stronger in their abilities to take pain.
Black women are at a disadvantage in terms of health. This group is greatly affected by diseases, illnesses and complications during pregnancy and birth are common. According to Black Women’s Health Imperative, “Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and 3-4 times more likely to suffer from severe disability resulting from childbirth compared to White women”. The stresses of financial instability, family issues, poor dieting, and so on can be contributing factors to long term mental health issues. It’s common for the black woman to feel the pressure of putting the needs of loved ones before her own, so she lacks the ability to care for herself. “Black women are especially vulnerable to wrestling with their mental health, consistently reporting higher feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and the sense that everything is an effort than white women do” (self.com). Sexually transmitted disease cases in black women including chlamydia and gonorrhea have decreased in recent years. Despite the decline, black women continue to surpass other race groups in contracting STDs and STIs (sexually transmitted infections). “Besides black men, black women comprise a majority of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses per year (although the number is thankfully falling)” (self.com). At one point in time, the medical staff was trained to think that black skin was thick and that black people, particularly girls and women had a high tolerance for physical pain and that the group didn’t require much medical attention. “Half of white medical trainees believe such myths as black people have thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings than white people” (Janice A. Sabin of AAMC).
I think that we can be strong in ways that won’t compromise our feminine energy. Most of the time, we are referred to as strong for beating diseases and doing everything alone, “holding it down”. In my opinion, nobody is strong for beating a disease, just very blessed. Even referring to yourself as strong because you beat cancer or some illness is harsh in a sense because without directly saying so, you’re saying that those who lost their lives from the same thing are weak. Everyone’s body is different and we have to respect that. We can be strong artistically and strong in our beliefs, just not strong in a way that practically breaks us down. Being called strong dehumanizes us. It’s a simple phrase that says so much. It says that we have no feelings and are numb to pain. The truth is, we do experience pain, heartbreak, hardships, and we are very bothered by things. We don’t have answers to everyone’s problems; sometimes, we don’t have answers to our own problems. We need people to listen to us too. We are the most disrespected and unprotected group of people and we need support and protection. We are afraid of being harmed as well. Domestic violence is a huge issue in our community and a lot of our male counterparts help destroy us when they should be protecting us from danger. It’s always been said that “black men are born with a target on their backs”. Black women are targets too. We are under stress and can’t handle everything alone. It’s also important that we learn to stop masking our emotions, acting as if everything is okay when we know that’s not the truth. Being so strong is a contributing factor to the demise of black women; like high blood pressure, it’s a “silent killer”. Choosing not to be strong doesn’t mean that one is weak. It just means that you’re a person. There are traumatic life experiences, persecutions, major and minor issues, and dramatic turns of events that we face and have to acknowledge how those occurrences take tolls on us physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s actually normal to be vulnerable and express feelings. It’s not normal to bottle up emotions inside and never discuss them. Some may be perfectly fine with the “strong black woman” title. I realize that it’s detrimental to the lives of black women and there should be a change. There are so many negative stigmas associated with therapy, but I think it can be a great start to black women opening up about everyday life issues that wear them down. Some may say the following about therapy: “it’s only necessary if one has severe mental issues”, “black people that go to therapy are crazy”, and so on. I think therapy would be a great start for a lot of black women. People may argue, “all you need to do is go to church, pray about it, the Lord will handle your troubles”. It’s great to pray, but prayer without work is failure and God made therapists for a reason. I encourage women to also have a creative outlet: writing, drawing, sewing, cooking, hair, makeup. This can be awesome ways to relieve stress. Venting on social media isn’t healthy and I don’t recommend it. Learn how to say “no” to family members and friends when they need favors. Take some time off of work and do a self care/treat day; don’t feel bad about prioritizing self-care and treating yourself well. Stay up to date with doctor appointments and consider lifestyle changes:
Cutting toxic people out of your life that don’t benefit you
Eating more fruits and vegetables than meat and starches
Learning to stay on code
Picking up new skills
Attending affordable schools
Avoiding debt and cleaning up finances (learning how to budget, save, invest)
Loved ones and their well being is highly important, but your well being comes first. Stop being so strong, trying to save everyone around you. Do yourself a favor and work on being the best version of yourself, not for your family, friends, job, or spouse, but for you.
Dedicated to my mother, Paula Bickham. I Love You!
Videos to watch: