Thursday, June 19, 2014

Being Single Does Not Mean Desperate

Full disclaimer.  I am a single woman looking for a man. But I do not want yours. There seems to be this prevailing notion that non-attached women, especially Black women--given the statistics on our potential to find mates—want any man that we can get.As an available woman, I can't tell you how many times and how many ways this scenario has unfolded in the lives of single sisters.  If I'm not defending myself, I'm defending other women because there is this myth that we ALL want a man so badly that we will stop at nothing to get him even if he’s with someone else. While I understand that there are some unscrupulous women in the world, uncoupled women do not hold the title for immoral behavior. There is enough bad behavior on the part of women attached or not to go around. But too often single women are singled out because our status.

I remember talking on the phone to a friend when she dropped a bomb that exploded in my ears. I was initially too stunned to reply to the seed of information planted by her mother.  For whatever reason, my friend’s mother said that I liked my friend’s husband. I had very little interaction with neither the mother nor the husband. And I can only remember being in the company of the both of them probably twice. So, I didn’t know why the mother would say something like that. When I was able to recover my tongue, I asked my friend how her mother came to that conclusion, and she said that her mother said it was the way I looked at him.The situation was so pathetic to me that I almost laughed. But I couldn’t because it was disturbing.  

My friend explained that she assured her mother that I didn’t want him because I knew his dirt. Not to mention that I was not the least bit attracted to him! She was married with a son, and I had neither husband nor children, so we didn’t hang out much. We had been friends as teens and had drifted apart and back together over the years, so it’s not like we were always around each other, but we could always pick up where we left off when we got reacquainted.The scenario didn’t sit well with me. My friend's mother accused me of liking her husband. If my friend wasn’t concerned, then why bring it up at all? This was her mother and her husband, and I was her friend? So, where did that leave me? We lost contact again shortly after that conversation, and I didn’t bother trying to reconnect. I just didn’t like the weirdness of it all.

 When I worked in the hospital my married co-worker always thought her husband was cheating, and would confront the women she thought he was seeing. One day my co-worker shared that she accused her husband and her cousin of having an affair. The cousin denied the accusation, but my co-worker thought her cousin was guilty because she had been acting distant since being confronted. So, I offered my perspective. I told her that if someone close to me believed I was having an affair with her husband, I would pull away, too.  There is a lack of trust there, so what else is a woman in that situation supposed to do?We had numerous conversations around cheating, and I was always trying to explain to her that not every single woman was so frantic for a man that she wanted a married one. I’ve heard women say that a piece of man is better than no man at all. Some women are single by choice; some are waiting for their good guy. Whatever the reason, not all women are running around trying to hook up with every Tom, Dick and Harry they meet. We may be alone, and yes, some of us maybe lonely, but not so lonely that we want someone else’s leftovers. We do have standards for the type of men we want. I live by the words if they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you. So, why chase a cheater?

I recently had a taste for Hibachi style food, so I stopped off at the restaurant on my way home. I took a book because as much as I like the food, I have seen the chef's show far too many times for it to continue to entertain me. Dining alone gives me time to just enjoy being with myself and exploring the world of literature without interruption.I was seated at the table with a couple. Because I entered into an already occupied space, I made eye contact and greeted them both before taking my seat. He acknowledged me with a nod of his head; she ignored me. I sat down and the waiter took my order. Shrimp comes with dinner, and I have a shell fish allergy, so I asked the couple, would they like my shrimp. She looked at me and hunched her shoulders. He said, Thanks, I'll take them." I went back to reading my book.As the chef spooned the food onto our plates, I heard him tell them the shrimp were from me. He said thank you; she said nothing.  But she didn’t refuse the food. Even though we were at opposite ends of the table, I felt like the third wheel on their bicycle of love. I have dined alone at a Hibachi restaurant before, but this was the first time I felt like my presence was an intrusion. It was annoying because she kept talking loud about things that let anyone within earshot know that they were a couple.

There are women who feel the need to piss on the fire hydrant and mark their territory. I see it all the time. Women out with their guys become extra touchy-touchy, feely-feely when unattached women come into the same space. It would be amusing to me if it weren’t so sad that we have to be so territorial.

I’m not a man thief. I’m single, but I ain’t desperate.

Monday, June 9, 2014

THOTs and Hoes and Thoughts of Maya Angelou


The word buzzes around in my mind like a mosquito. And my attempts to swat it away fail; the buzz grows louder and louder. But no matter how much I try, I can’t get away from the blood thirsty judgmental name callers. They just keep biting, drawing blood and inflicting pain. 

Since the beginning of time we’ve divided women into two categories: Good & Bad, and once one becomes the latter there is no returning to the former. THOTs are the bad girls of our time. The terminology is new, but the story is old—the Madonna and the Whore. And what’s especially depressing, is that too often women are pitted against each other making some of us our own worst oppressors.

As a middle school teacher of students in grades 5 through 8, I am familiar with the term THOT (that hoe over there) because it is frequently used by both male and female students. Any girl rumored to date, have sex with, or give oral sex, to too many boys or men is labeled a THOT. Some students say that a THOT can be a girl or a boy, but the majority of my students think that THOTs are female. There is no male equivalent among my students. While I’m disheartened about the cavalier attitude around the word THOT, I’m not mad at my students because they only mimic adult behavior. 

Students were preparing to view 12 Years a Slave so that they could learn something about the institution of slavery and its impact on American history and culture. The students were listening to slave narratives read by celebrities, and one of the women in the narrative talked about being married and having 10 children. One of the girls blurted out, “She a THOT.” So, when the narrative ended we had a conversation about the meaning of THOT and rather or not the woman in the narrative could actually be one. The student was not convinced because she didn’t understand why any women would have 10 children.

My students understand racism to some degree, but they are clueless when it comes to sexism.  We were working on a series of lessons about the value of girls and women in society.  The students in each class brainstormed a list of words that we use to describe females. Words like female, woman, girl, lady made the list as well as derogatory terms such as b!@#$, h@#, s#$%, and the infamous THOT. It made every list in every class, and I teach 12 classes. I was bothered that it made every list, but I was especially troubled that my 5th graders listed THOT as a word that we use to refer to females. What are we teaching our children? 

Later in the unit, in an effort to build empathy, I showed my students an excerpt from Freaky Friday and assigned them the task of writing from the point of view of the opposite sex. Some of the stories were hilarious, but some of the stories written by 8th grade girls made me pause. When the girls wrote from the experience of boys, they took on the characteristics of the boys, and their stories talked of hooking up with THOTs, going to the strip club and making it rain. After talking with the students about the assignment, I shared with them my dislike of the term THOT. We had an interesting discussion, and while they probably won’t stop use the word, they will think about it. I’ve been a teacher long enough to know that my rewards come later when my students have had some life experiences. When I run into students later in life, they constantly remind of something that they learned from my class.

I don’t like the use of derogatory terms to refer to anyone because I think they promote prejudice and misunderstanding, but THOT gets even deep under my skin. It’s such a nasty word. When I hear THOT, I hear thing; I hear subhuman. I hear justification to disrespect and disregard females for their actions, but an acceptance of the same behavior by males. My experiences both in the classroom and on social media force me to continue examining the impact of language on our psyche and how it affects our actions. Thoughts are things.

When Maya Angelo passed away, I read a FB post that said, “All of you THOTs posting Maya Angelou quotes, I’m going to need for you to sit down.” I replied that Maya Angelou would probably be okay with so-called THOTs quoting her work seeing as that she had worked as both a prostitute and a pimp. A man replied that, that would make Maya Angelou a THOT. Our posts went back and forth, and I inferred from his comments that Maya Angelou’s stint as a sex worker did not diminish her greatness in his eyesight, but that she was the exception to the rule. Songs and social media are full of references to THOTs. And the annoying buzz in my ear is that THOTs really are things.

As I read the words of Maya Angelou circulating all over social media, the fact that she used to be a prostitute and pimp made me hold her in higher regard because she didn’t allow her past to define, defer nor determine her future.  In an interview following the release of Gather Together in My Name in which she discusses the her work in the sex industry, Maya Angelou said she wrote the book because parents never admit their wrong doing to their children and this book was a way of giving children an opportunity to move beyond their mistakes. “You may encounter defeat, but you must never be defeated.” She went on to say that sometimes that defeat is necessary to know the person you can become.

Just when I thought the buzzing was lessening, I saw the story of the pastor who was speaking to his congregation about cheating men, and when he talked about the other woman, he said, these “hoes ain’t loyal. ”I listened to the entire sermon as not to be sucked into a sensationalized news story. I know how things can be taken out of context. But this was not the case. He made some other derogatory statements as well. But worse than the pastor’s words, was the positive response that his comment received from the congregation. People were standing up, raising their hands, and clapping. And most of the congregation was African-American women being bamboozled and hoodwinked by the words of a charismatic preacher who was once again blaming women for the downfall of men. Though it was clear that he meant that the other woman was not loyal, I was wondering why “these hoes ain’t loyal” didn’t apply to the cheating men who were obviously lying to their wives?

 I have a male friend, and we had a heated disagreement about good girls and bad girls. He had a friend who was in a serious relationship, but the friend had a side chick because she did things sexually that he didn’t want his girlfriend to do. I disagreed with the friend, but my friend said he understood because there are things that a man doesn’t want his woman or wife to do. I was livid and called out his hyprocrasy! And my friend had the audacity to ask why I was so pissed off. So, I asked him how does a man explain his logic to his wife or girlfriend when he gets caught, and more importantly, if there is something so nasty and disgusting that the man won’t do it with his girl or his wife, what does that say about him as a man?

I get it. It’s the way we’ve been socialized, and change takes time, but I can’t continue to accept how easily we throw girls and women away because of their perceived sexual indiscretions and yet we encourage the same behavior in our boys and young men. THOT easily slips off the tongue with little if, any regard for how one comes to be a THOT. Does it matter if the girl or woman was sexually abused? How many partners does it take to make a THOT? And if the guy knows that she’s a THOT, what does that make him? And once one becomes a THOT, is one always a THOT? Is there no way back to respectability? I’ve been teaching more than 20 years and I have yet to hear a girl tell me she wants to grow up and be a whore. So, how did we get here? And why are we so quick to classify females as THOTs? Bad girls can be good, and good girls can be bad. So, where are the shades of grey that fill in the colors of our humanity?

Defining females as THOTs not only feeds the rampant sexism but also misogyny. It’s hard for us to own up to sexism, so we’re really not accepting of the fact that in most parts of the word, women are neither liked nor respected. It is a discomforting, but universal truth. And as difficult as it is, the world is changing slowly. When we returned from seeing 12 Years a Slave, the young lady who called the woman a THOT, said to me, “Now I understand why the woman ain’t no THOT.” My 8th graders and I talked about THOTs in a way that my students never considered. Do I expect that one conversation will change the world? No, but it’s a small step in the right direction because my students are the future.

After the multiple references to THOTs on Face book, I read this statement: “Real men don’t talk about their sexual conquests or call a woman out of her name. My father once told me, ‘No matter if a woman is a sinner or a saint when you lay with her you become her equal. So, not matter what you feel about them, it’s also a reflection of yourself.’” Anonymous. 

Little things are big. So, I’ll take progress in small doses. A student with a better understanding of how the world works, a man who doesn’t place the blame of sex on the woman, and a man who teaches his son how to be empathetic because he too lives in the world of women--little things that lead to big changes because we have to start somewhere. When I read, Charles M. Blow’s column, “Yes, All Men,” I wanted to jump up and swat all the THOT callers with a rolled up copy of his column--after I read it aloud to them first though. Charles Blow said that during the drive back to college a couple of weeks ago, his son said, “I believe it’s important for everyone to be a feminist.” His son believed that the word was not fair to women, and we all—women and men—need to combat oppression. Blow was proud of his son’s position, and went on to add that “fighting female objectification and discrimination and violence against women isn’t simply the sound of women; it must all be the pursuit of men. Only when mean learn to recognize misogyny will we be able to rid the world of it.”

Words have power; thoughts are things that manifest into action. So, let’s stop the dehumanization of girls and women. THOTs are things.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Massage All Over Me--What I'd Do for a Good Pair of Hands

Confession: I am a massage slut, a whore. I'll do anything to have a pair of strong firm hands rubbing all over my body. Well . . . not anything. I do pay for my massages, and they are done in reputable places. Not those quasi wink-wink massage parlors of Hollywood movies or listed on Craig’s list. 

I  love--and I do mean love--a good massage. My love affair/addiction began the year I was recovering from my first surgery for fibroids. I had surgery in December and in January I treated myself to a massage for my birthday. It was the best birthday present I ever gave myself, and when time and money present themselves, trust and believe I'm on the table continuing the gift of giving to myself.

I was timid that first time because I didn't know what to expect.  I was in a room with a strange man who was going to be putting his hands all over my body. I got over my first time jitters though, and it worked out well. I felt incredibly relaxed when he was done. And I was addicted!

 My first massage therapist was a He, but I don’t discriminate. I have been worked on by Hes and Shes. I guess that makes be bi therapist friendly. Hell, I might be tri as in try what ever because I can have a gorilla working on me as long as those hands know that they’re doing. After a good massage, I want a cigarette and I don’t even smoke!

I have a therapist that I see every month, and he’s wonderful.  Sometimes that's not enough and I confess that I occasionally turn my body over to someone else. I can't help myself. But I always return to my main guy because he knows my body well. I've been with him since he first started. He finds all the knots and the kinks, and when he's done, they're gone. I may be a little sore the next day, but massage does my body good.

I’ve had people question why and how I can spend money on massages. Most of the time It’s women, and I point out to them that they probably spend as much on their hair as I do on massage. My hair is short and natural, so a trip to the barber show a few times a month and I’m good to go. If I mention going for a massage to a man, he always offers, but I laugh and turn him down. I realize some people don't quite understand massage as therapy because they see massage as a prelude to sex.

I know people who either don't get massages or women who only want to be massaged by another woman.
I have a friend who also gets regular massages, and her boyfriend did not understand why she needed another man touching her. She tried explaining, but to no avail. Whenever we would go together and she would leave her phone, he would blow up her phone until she called him back after her massage. Talk about messing up a mood!

 To each its own. Massage may not be for everybody, but is definitely for me. I consider my monthly massages as part of my health and well being, and when I can get there more than once a month, that's a bonus.  I was in a workshop once with Lisa Nichols, and she asked when should we give to others as she poured water into the glass. Some people said at the halfway point, others said when the glass is full. She kept pouring until the water flowed over the top and spilled onto the table. She said we give our best when we give from over overflow because all of our needs have been met.

That’s a mighty tall order for Black women because we are socialized to believe that we should put everyone’s needs above our own forgetting that we can better take care of others when we are well.
Massage allows me to replenish and take care of myself so that I can meet all of my other responsibilities.

When I’m on the table, I can temporarily escape the sometimes harsh realities of life. I'm not worried about my job. I'm not a caretaker. I don't have a To-Do List that's as long as an NBA player is tall. I can take the weight off right along with my clothes and leave everything on the hook. There is no pressure. No pretense. Just the opportunity to be naked in my humanity. What a wonderful place to be!

Don't take my word for it, click on the cat
and see for yourself. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Speaking Truth to Power: Why Anita Hill’s Voice Still Matters by Stephanie J. Gates

There were three of us in the theater—me and two other White women watching Anita: Speaking Truth to Power, the documentary chronicling the story of Anita Hill’s testimony of sexual harassment against then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. A young woman in my 20s, I remember being transfixed along with the rest of the nation in front of the TV.
My support of Anita Hill never wavered, and I defended her against those who thought she must have had some ulterior motive for waiting for so long to speak her truth. Though I didn’t have a verbal reference point for sexual harassment before the hearings, I knew that it existed because I had both experienced it and witnessed it at the hospital where I worked.  Harassment and abuse of Black women occurred with such regularity that it almost seemed normal.
During my last year of high school, I started working part-time in the billing department. One day I came to work really sick. My throat felt like inflamed golf balls had found their way inside, and I had a mouth full of canker sores. My sister-in-law, who was also my supervisor, sent me to see the Asian doctor. He was quiet and meek, not loud and impatient like some of the others. She thought he was trustworthy. After he looked down my throat and in my mouth, and pressed on my glands, he instructed me to remove my gown. I thought it was odd, but I complied. He was the doctor; I was the patient. While examining my breasts, “Bite?” he asked as he noticed the scar on my breast. “No, a burn,” I replied. He nodded and wrote me a prescription. I got dressed and returned to work, but I never said anything to anyone about the exam. I silenced myself, and I didn’t know why.
 Located in a blighted area on the west side of Chicago, most of the patients received public assistance. So, race, class and gender were the perfect combination for rampant unwanted sexual attention. When I changed departments and worked as an outpatient clerk, I was responsible for filling out requisitions for lab work, x-rays, ultra sounds etc. per the doctor’s request. There was this weird sexual dynamic in place that Black women were play things for the men in the hospital. We didn’t have rights or feelings as employees or patients that mattered most of the time.
 One evening I was working alone when I felt a hand on my hip and hot breath on my neck. My heart raced. I turned quickly and looked into the face of the orthopedic surgeon who saw patients in between surgeries and rounds on Fridays. Until that day, our interactions had been professional yet friendly. When I asked him what was he doing, and why were his hands on me, he turned red, and said, “I can’t afford to touch you!” I couldn’t believe my ears. This man had just insinuated that I was a whore. I was livid!
I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was going to do something. I was going to report him, but I didn’t know how to go about it. So, I confided in a couple of my co-workers--Black women who I trusted women--who advised me not to report the incident. They said I was a clerk and he was a doctor and that I was just making trouble for myself. I refused to be silent. I was going to speak my truth even if it meant I was the only person who heard my voice.
 I witnessed the mistreatment that the patients received from the doctors. I know how the female employees were often times treated, and I couldn’t let it go. I had to take a stand, and I accepted that whatever happened as a result of me reporting him, I was going to be okay. So, I wrote a letter to the medical director--a woman—that evening before I left, and then I followed up with a phone call Monday morning. She assured me that she would take care of it, and she did. He was hostile after that and he would tell the patients that I liked to write letters. I didn't care what he said so long as he knew that I had a right to voice my concerns about his unethical behavior.
There were patients who described troubling sexual scenarios with the one of the obstetric-gynecologists.  One woman laughed as she told me that the doctor stuck his hands in his pants and moved his finger around like a penis and said, “You see what you do to me.”  There was another woman who came into the office crying after seeing the same doctor. She had come in with a discharge from her breast and when she shared her concern with the physician, he told her to tell her boyfriend to stop sucking so hard on it. I never heard any of the women complain to the hospital administration. They just accepted it. It’s hard to speak truth to power when your truth has been horribly skewed by myths and stereotypes.
If I didn’t have value myself, no one else was going to either. We had a patient who liked to talk about what he wanted to suck and lick. He did this every time he came into the office. My department was all women of color and we all complained, but the patient was never reprimanded. We were told he was a patient; just ignore him. Sometimes he would sit in the waiting area making such obscene gestures that I would just close the door. But one day, a new administrator, a White woman, was walking down the hall and when she passed the patient he said, “I ain’t prejudiced; I eat White p@##$, too!” He was banned from the premises after that.
All of these incidents came rushing back to me as I sat in the theater in disbelief at the ridiculous questions the Senate Committee was throwing at Anita Hill as if to trip her up and catch her in a lie--that or they got some perverse pleasure out of having her give details of the nasty things that were said.
Reliving the testimony from an adult perspective, I was even more convinced that Clarence Thomas had lied. The saddest thing about the entire episode is that Anita Hill’s testimony was a mere bump in the road of Clarence Thomas journey to the Supreme Court. A woman in the movie said, “It wasn’t about truth; it was about winning.” And it was clear that her testimony was never about truth. They didn’t want to know if it was true because then they would be forced to deal with the fall out of unchecked sexual harassment. It was easier to just throw Anita Hill under the bus.
From my understanding of race and gender in this country, I knew that the all-White senate had no point of reference for Anita Hill's predicament especially when most of them probably had little if any regard for the safety of Black women. There was no consideration given to Anita Hill's plight as a Black woman. It played right into the sexual stereotype of the Black woman's wonton sexual appetite. If we can't be raped, surely we cannot be harassed.
When Clarence Tomas hit them with the race card, it was over. He called the hearing a “circus and a national disgrace” a “high tech lynching for uppity Negroes” who would be hung by the   U. S. Senate rather than from a tree for daring to speak up for themselves. It was brilliant!  Even though there were other women that could have backed up Hill’s testimony with lurid stories of their own, they were never called. The Senate Committee didn’t want to look like a bunch of racists after Thomas’ remarks because we know racism only happens to Black men, and sexual assault only happens to White women. There was no place in the conversation to discuss the bruised and battered bodies of Black women.
Today, I hear the term sexual harassment being flippantly tossed around almost as if it were a joke. I don’t even know where we are in a struggle against abuse and harassment because we seem to have lost our way. But I know the fight must continue. I left the theater thankful for Anita Hill’s bravery on that October day back in 1991. She reminded me that even in the most adverse circumstances how important it is to continue to speak our truth to power. Sexual harassment and abuse of Black women and girls is fact, not fiction.