This post now featured in African Woman Magazine
I endured the first 6 or so episodes of Shonda Rhimes' 'How To Get Away With Murder' and was enthralled by yet another depiction of the 'Strong Black Woman' (SBW) in the media of late. Case in point: Scandal's Olivia Pope, Suits' Jessica Pearson, not to mention the latest offering from BET, Being Mary Jane's Mary Jane Paul. The image of the SBW is being shoved so far down our throats as a flawed mould that it's odd to see why so many aspire to be carved into it in the first place.
Jumper : TKMaxx | Tanktop (layered) : H&M | Leggings : Mango
All the characters named above are prime examples of the fact the SBW is expected to function without limits; without emotive reasoning; in solitude...in fiction. A SBW is somewhat superhuman; enduring all manners of social ills, caring for everyone else's need but theirs, and much more all without relying on another soul & bearing the brunt of the burden solo. One of my favourite songs from The Hills' soundtrack is Ingrid Michaelson's Breakable, whose chorus lyrics always resonate with me; "we are so fragile like cracking bones, we're all just breakable". The SBW is flawed because it discounts for the simplicity of human nature; we are fragile creatures. It's falicy to think the SBW can survive abuse, under-appreciation, subordination, overwork, infidelity, and all-in-all BS, because she is built of stronger stuff than her counterparts.
It's taken my own self-analysis & the near breakdown of an SBW, for me to humanise this model & see its unworkability because there was a time (and I'm sure many can relate & still pine for it) I too wanted to be an SBW. Growing up watching my mother as superwoman beat the odds, sh*t on gender stereotypes & still hold down a home, was admirable to say the least...but at what cost? Maturity of mind is necessary to understand that invincibility is mythical. A SBW, like every other woman, suffers, and it need not be in silence; cries, and it need not be in the confines of her room; yearns, and it need not be for material possessions but the love & support of another; works, and it need not be for others to reap the fruits of her labour...and the list goes on. This image of self-sufficiency is damaging young women growing into the mould & falling short when deemed undesirable because they lack vulnerability they were never taught was desirable in the first place.
Hat : Forever 21 | Jacket : ZARA | Necklace : Dorothy Perkins | Boots : New Look
In the infamous words of Ri-Ri "we all want love, we all want the same thing". The need for support is not a sign of weakness but a recognition of the limitations of basic human inadequacy & the realisation of the strength of dependence. The notion that to be "strong" insinuates eternal independence & invulnerability is unrealistic & what's driving rising single-parenthood, divorce rates and infidelity in black culture. It's time we took steps to actively shift the emphasis of the SBW as a power house, and instead choose to highlight her power source: network of friends; a loving & mutually dependent partner; her spiritual faith, etc.
"Women are never stronger than when they arm themselves with their weaknesses" Madame Marie du Deffand