There is sexism in the world and it comes in different flavors. In some demographics, sexism is bitter and more sour. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the discussion over sexism turns particularly flavorful when color is added. There is this notion, that I am not contesting, that women are part of the problem with sexism. It is vastly documented and supported by anecdotal evidence that a reason for why sexism survives time and change is that it works for some women. Some women have opposed important movements that sought to empower other women, such as the anti-suffragists or the all-too-good-ladies at the country club that tell mothers their daughters wont be allowed at the pool until they have shaved their armpits (this, is a true story that happened to someone in my family). An idea that has been floating around society is that black women are particularly inclined to promote sexist ideas. All that is bullshit.
I have been pondering upon a story I heard years ago that troubled the man who told me the story. He had been shocked at a black woman’s apparent acceptance and support towards an obviously sexist culture that dictated her marital relationship. The way he told the story truly made it sound like the woman kept choosing the sexist way. Recently, I remembered the story and found the key piece that was missing from the original interpretation. Now, I’ll tell you the story and the piece that was missing.
A man, a white man, was sent to Choco on a vaccination campaign. Choco is a region of Colombia predominantly black. Choco is also the most undeveloped region of the country. Residents of Choco live in mostly precarious conditions. There are hardly any public services and few economic opportunities. Life is difficult for everyone.
The white doctor from Bogota spent a few days in the region vaccinating kids and adults. During his trip he strongly experienced racism and sexism. First, he felt hostility against him from the locals because he was white and, likely, because he came from the interior of the country. He represented the white men that had turned a blind eye to slavery during colonialism and who had exploited and abandoned black communities after gaining independence. He represented a country that was more white and more developed than Choco. He tells of his travels that whenever they had a break from vaccination, they guys would join the locals for a daily futbol game. Despite being a good player, the locals never passed him the ball. They let him in the game, but they didn’t want to play with him.
Racism was not fun. But particularly troubling for the white male medical doctor, was experiencing sexism. In his trip he had unique conversation with a black woman that confronted him with the problem in a very different way. A way that confused him. He says that one day he was vaccinating kids at the house of a local family. During his time there he was chatting with the woman head of family and asking her about her daily chores and the family’s structure. The woman told him her husband would go out during the day to try his luck at finding the day’s sustenance: food, money, anything. That meant sometimes he would go fishing, sometimes he would go search for gold stones in the river, sometimes he would just roam around with his buddies looking for something to fix in exchange of some money. He was hunter. She, well, she was everything else. She would wake before the sun and make whatever food they had to give a bite of breakfast to her husband and kids . She would then take the kids to school and on the way back stop by the store to pick up anything she could afford to make lunch and dinner. She would then go find wood and water. Now she could start fire, cook, clean and prepare drinks and baths for the rest of the family. Then, she would go home, clean the house and make dinner. She would then begin working. She would wash and saw clothes of neighbors. Next, she would pick the kids up from school and help them with homework and send them to play. And then, she would wait. Wait for the husband to return to feed him and bathe him and give him a massage.
After hearing all this, the white man from the interior asked her if maybe that wasn’t too much on her. If maybe it was better for the couple to distribute the chores so that she would have time to go to school or go out with friends and relax. The black woman answered: “and why do I want a tired black man?”
The white man was not prepared for that answered. It took him by surprise: the black woman enabled sexism in her relationship because she was better off with sexism. But better off how? The black woman valued his husband’s strength and vitality to the point that she was willing to give up her own strength and vitality. It did not make any sense. In his eagerness to understand, the only interpretation he could give, was that this black woman at least, must have placed a lot of valued on her partner’s sexual drive. Ironically, the white man’s explanation for sexism was racist. Black communities are known for their libido, thus, it must be that sexism works because black women have no sexual use for a tired black man. Wrong.
I never liked this story, and I never liked this explanation. But I never went beyond the story to cure my dissatisfaction. Until recently. Today, I have a different interpretation.
What happens when humans (men, women, black, white, tall, short, old, young) get tired? We get sensitive and irascible. It is easier to become aggressive and violent when we are tired. Now you probably know where I am going. Women are biologically different than men. We tend to be smaller and we tend to have less muscular mass. We are just more physically vulnerable than men. If you happen to be a woman (black, white, old, young) and you happen to be interacting with a man, you really would prefer him to not be violent, because the chances of you out-forcing or out-running him are minimal. Now, if you are a woman, and you interact with a man, and you know that tired men are more likely to get violent, then, it is only sensible for you to prevent that man from being tired. It’s totally logical.
This problem of “not having use for a tired man” is not a problem of black women. White women get beat up too. Maybe they just don’t talk about it. Are they better off not talking about it? I don’t think so. Not in the long-run at least. Sexism is not working for women. They are just scared of stopping it, and rightly so.Before sexism stops, women must be empowered. They must be big enough, loud enough, and there must be enough of them. That’s why we need feminism. We all want to be rested.