Black in America | Sexism and Respectability Politics

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Yesterday, I went to an interview just outside of DC. I did my typical interview routine - showered, pulled my hair back in a bun, had a small breakfast, brushed my teeth, and put on my suit. My suit isn’t anything fancy, a black, slightly flared skirt with a blazer, and a dusty pink tank top. Conservative, with a slight hint of my feminine style, I had worn it many times before and received more than a few job offers in it. Before I left my apartment, I looked in the mirror, tidied up my hair, straightened my skirt, and felt a sense of confidence that I would nail my interview.

Outside I walked through the city like suburb that I reside. For once, I wasn’t in a hurry, I purposely gave myself an ample amount of time to take the metro over to Virginia, and even allowed time to accommodate typical metro delays. As I approached the entrance to the metro station, I noticed a man staring at me. I refused to acknowledge his glare and walked up the escalator. I noticed another man staring at me as I stood blank-faced waiting for the train. I know this look all too well…it’s the same look I get in a bikini, a mini skirt, a crop top, skinny jeans, sweatpants, sweaters, and even a business suit.

It’s frustrating, you know. I see memes on Instagram comparing “classy black women” to “ratchet black women.” A young college grad holding a degree with the caption “this could’ve been you, but you were too busy twerking.” A cartoon image of an Egyptian Queen saying, “queens get kings, bitches get bit.” And another image of a woman in booty shorts and a crop top next to a woman in a suit saying, “some women crave attention, others demand respect.” You mean like the respect that I wasn’t afforded when I wore a suit yesterday. Or what about that time in winter, a man felt I was obligated to respond to his hello, and he spit at me when I didn't. I was clothed then too.

I used to engage in respectability politics, slut shaming, and victim blaming in my high school days. I was a “good” girl, an honors student that kept her nose in the books. My mother bought my clothes, and she made sure that nothing showed any cleavage or midriff. I was your typical, high school geek. And in my high school, I was one of a few black students, so I fought racism on a daily basis. I really couldn’t understand the complex nuances of sexism at the time. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized just how detrimental my thought process and beliefs. It was then that I realized a baggy pair of jeans would afford me the same disrespect as a mini skirt. That my desire to get a college degree was no different than someone else’s desire to be a stripper. That no matter how classy and educated I was, there was always someone who would still treat me like dirt. And even worse, society would perceive something wrong with me because of someone else's actions.

Recently, Cari Champion was promoted to SportsCenter anchor. I’ll be honest, I had no clue who she was when I saw the link on Facebook, but I noticed that she was a black woman doing something positive on a network with mostly white men, and I said “that’s wonderful!” And then I read the comments. Ugly, disgusting comments ranging from sexual fantasies to “she sucked someone’s dick to get that job.” I had to Google Cari to see that she graduated from UCLA, she’s been working in journalism for over 15 years, and that spent 6 months trying to be an anchor on SportsCenter. If anything, she deserved that position and did so through hard work, perseverance, and determination.

She doesn’t twerk...but yet her promotion didn't reward her the respect she demanded.

The phrase “how will men respect a woman if she can’t respect herself” kills me. Any variation of that phrase kills me because it can’t be farthest from the truth. I was disrespected wearing a suit going to an interview. Cari Champion was disrespected for becoming an sports news anchor. And Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the Untied States, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law, is bombarded with disrespect on a daily basis…and here some sit so quick to imply that if a man doesn’t respect a woman, she doesn’t respect herself…

And I have yet to even touch on the complex dichotomy of an individual's personality and interest that could allow one to wear booty shorts and dance in front of strangers, while also holding a PhD in Neuroscience. Don’t believe it’s possible, ask Kelly Bennion, NFL New England Patriots Cheerleader.

But, this is the miasma of sexism and respectability politics, that a stranger’s actions and opinions define you instead of you defining yourself...

I fight this mentality everyday on Facebook. It's starting to get hard, defending everything from a woman's right to wear a short dress to her decision to focus on her career and remain single til she's ready to date. It's so sad because all I'm doing is defending a woman's humanity, the right for her to live her life as she chooses...it's starting to get hard. I am soon thinking of "hanging up my hat." But even if I do, I still have to put on my suit, go outside, and fight this battle everyday myself.

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1 comment:

  1. To paraphrase Malcolm X, what do you call a black man with a Ph. D? A n****r. You're right. I agree completely with this post, but never give up the fight.

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