Feminism, Race, and Sexist Dating Guides

by Latoya Peterson

One of the many issues I have with feminism is how my racial identification is treated as a problem, separate from the “real issues” that feminism seeks to deal with – despite the fact that the world perceives me as a “black woman” rather than a “woman.” (The “white” that goes before “woman” is silent.) My race is supposed to go unmentioned and unnoticed – until, there is some kind of “black culture” thing to tsk-tsk and blame on the inherent sexism in the black community.

So, it was with great trepidation that I clicked on a header post from Feministing. Titled “Dating Advice from Assholes: ‘Stop Treating Women Well,‘” Ann summarizes a Washington Post article about yet another crappy book about how to catch a man.

Titled “The Re-Education of the Female” (charming, right?) some bama basically regurgitates the same bullshit being spouted at women since time eternal – cook, clean, fuck, and STFU. The cover lets me know that my initial eye-roll was the right reaction.

Boooo!

Now, Ann’s post was cool, and I was about to click off to some other part of the internet, but for some reason, I decided to read the comments.

The first ten or so were cool, expressing general disgust at the ignorant sentiments. And then, we get to this one:

I echo the sentiments already expressed. I am disgusted by this.

I am also disheartened by the fact that this filth is targeted at black women. I have a feeling that black women generally (but not all, of course) would be more susceptible to these ideas. There seems to be an a fairly strong sentiment among many black women that they need to stand by “their” men, as though they are disgracing themselves and their heritage by dating outside of their race. I have several times seen reference to the shrinking number of black men due to incarceration and consequently a shrinking dating pool, the implication always seeming to be that women have little choice but to date in this pool. Furthermore, there is the specter of single motherhood looming over black women. I fear that the expectation that black women date black men and the fear of scarcity of good black men will cause the women who identify with these issues the most to buy into these horrid ideas for fear of ending up alone otherwise.

*sigh*

Paging the white savior – the Negro women need your guidance!

Comments like that one just make me weary when dealing in feminist circles because they embody the assumptions that take place around communities of color. The person making this comment appears to have a very small amount of knowledge about the black community and our struggles, which that person then creates a full scenario from small bits of knowledge, ending in the flawed conclusion. Oh, these poor weak minded black women with their silly notions of racial preferences in dating – especially in their situation!

And there are more where that came from:

This is the kind of literature that is marketed to the Black community? No wonder there is an growing trend of internalized racism and adoption of oppression especially with Black females. At one point they are told that their sexuality is not only taboo but also animalistic and dangerous and now they have moved into full-on exploitation and submission because men command it. [...]

And my favorite:

More fodder for the “thug life” culture!

Awesome!!!

*snark snark*

Thug life culture? There are black people on the cover and it suddenly equates to Thug Life? WTF?

Oh, and I can’t forget this gem:

[...] Let’s face it ladies, there is the “what is” and the “what should be” — and the former (patriarchy) is the norm … not “gender-equality”. In the black community, patriarchy is even more expected, acceptable, than in less patriarchial, more feminist-educated, communities. Few black women prescribe to dutch dating or reciprocating taking a guy out. And because there is so much racism, poverty, and lack of feminist education in poor and low income communities, one can expect lots of testosterone males and women who love them — including “thugs”. [...]

Around the time the first comment I quoted dropped, I sent an email around to some of my girls with this ridiculousness. M. Dot was motivated enough to go into the thread AND to write a blog post on it. But luckily, some other folks decided to call out the bullshit:

What bothers me is the unanswered (anywhere in the article) question of just why the Washington Post dedicated time and space to a signing in a basement in Cherry Hill, NJ.

There are plenty of good books by black men. Are any of them getting this kind of coverage?

So why focus on this book in order to conclude that, “Maybe feminism is dead. Or maybe women are just humoring Moore (and men everywhere), reading his book and others for a good laugh.”

I’m not saying this book isn’t ridiculous (because, yeah, clearly it is). But again, a black man writes an anti-feminist book and it gets negative press coverage.

Meanwhile, the author cites Greg Behrendt as another example of these “unvarnished ilk,” and if you click on the linked name, you get to a sympathetic article in which Behrendt is quotes as an expert on relationships.

So, yeah, stupid book and stupid author, but I question the effect of it being covered as it is in the Wash. Post, and I wonder what it says about this blog–which doesn’t generally cover the works of black authors–when it holds this one black man up as an example of antifeminism even as white feminists have spent a ridiculous amount of time insisting that black women aren’t doing enough to distance themselves from these very men and, in so doing, somehow qualify as “good feminists.”

[...] This book is symptomatic of patriarchy, nothing more nothing less. It isn’t any more or less pathological or dysfunctional than the dominant white mainstream narratives we see on TV and in the movies.
It may be more crass and upfront, but its message appears to be the same. “Shut up, make me a sandwich and don’t get fat”. [...]
Posted by M. Dot

“There seems to be an a fairly strong sentiment among many black women that they need to stand by ‘their’ men…”

Tammy Wynette, Phyllis Schlafly and Laura “The Surrendered Wife” Doyle are black? Well, damn, Allegra, I never knew.

Posted by Violet

“There seems to be an a fairly strong sentiment among many black women that they need to stand by ‘their’ men…”

Can someone tell me how strong this sentiment is? And where? And from who? And did somehow Black women invent this? I keep having people who are not Black and female like I am tell me that this is apparently the law of my community. I would like to know how I have missed it. Or even better yet, the historical reasons why people who do feel that way might actually do so.

In general I would really like to know why so many so-called feminists, can eagerly ignore Black women’s criticisms of mainstream white feminism, or completely ignore women of color feminism in general, but can go out of their way to ponder this sort of bullshit when presented by the mainstream media?

Never mind. I have a migraine from this foolishness already.

Jezebel, which discussed the same topic, had a much more nauanced take on the entire subject – multiracial mocking ensued. When a comment was posted that could be interpreted a couple different ways, the commenters there did something shocking – discussed the concept of racist statements like adults:

briardahl at 01:45 PM on 08/28/08

*

@BeckySharper: I didn’t say it was racist, Becky; I said:

- I dislike the casualness of the mental leap from one example of a man to the whole of black men in particular (and not, say, men who write books, men from Washington, or men who wear pleated pants)
- I think if you want to suggest that this guy’s mentality is common among black men and specific to black men, you should argue that point directly and seriously, and not just loosely suggest it’s the case
- I dislike the built-in assumption there that black women’s dating options are necessarily limited to black men

There is some light back and forth in the comments about racist assumptions and statements, and in the end, everyone was clear that (1) the comment in question could be interpreted in a few ways (instead of some of the blatantly racist comments on Feministing) and (2) that one book, from one author, cannot stand in for the black community as a whole.

Simple right?

And yet, for some reason, that logic can sometimes escape people who have to work with different communities. They lose sight of the fact that many problems, at their core, are the same – just different communities add their own twist to the mix. The line of thinking becomes “this issue is strange and unique to this community,” not “this community has a unique manifestation of the same issue.”

Now, funnily enough, I was researching an article on the messages presented to men and women in the context of dating guides about a year ago.

I came across a lot of books – spanning across communities – that had me wondering how the hell this stuff got published.

Now, there were books marketed toward black readers:

Books geared toward white readers:

And books that made me think “If blacks have to take credit for the ignorant musings of Dante Moore, what is the explanation for this shit?”:

I mean seriously.

And before I forget…

And will someone please explain Mystery?

This is all you, white folks… I see your black pathology and raise you a Pick Up Artist.

(This video is Mystery describing his method. Dating is just like a video game, y’all. Input = output.)

All joking aside, crappy dating guides are not specific to any one community.
Neither are sexist dating guides.
Neither are dating guides that encourage women to know their place.
And all the racist assumptions that tend to crop up in these conversations just serve to distract from the real purpose of these discussions – debunking the sexism and laughing at the fresh serving of ignorance.

Yeah You – N.E.R.D (from the Seeing Sounds album)

[A couple asides on this post.
(1) Most of these guides were more amusing than anything else. The Sexy Bitch one was particularly enjoyable.
(2) I've read well over 100 dating guides - thank goodness for booksfree.com & libraries - and one of the best ones I've ever read came from a place I never saw coming. It's called The Player's Handbook, by Heidi Fleiss. It's 123 illustrated pages that somehow, make more sense and encourage more women to have self-esteem than most of the other books I read by "dating experts" with more credentials. Go figure.

(3) I stayed specifically with the discussion of black communities and white communities with dating books because books geared toward folks outside of the black/white binary tend to be fetish guides. (Think: "How to date a white man," "Sex secrets from the middle east," "Dating Asian Women.")

Sample text :

Asians are very different from Occidentals! And there are different types of Asians based on where they were born and raised. Each Asian group will have their own cultural traits and perspective on life. However, after reading this book, you will find that most Asians can actually be quite predictable.

Yeah, I left that alone for my own sanity. Maybe for another article... - LDP]

(Cross Posted to Feministe)