By MaLaysia Mitchell* | Publisher
*This article has been edited and published by Intersected Project. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the views and/or work of the author’s employer and/or sponsors.
Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and with it comes renewed consideration for the ways that women are currently seeking love and fulfillment. Black women in particular are showing interest in a new trend to strike cupid’s bow: femininity coaching.
Femininity coaching has boomed with the promise of women finding their life-long partner, while toting hypergamy and the archaic mantra of “marrying rich.” As popularly seen on YouTube, gurus advise women to exhibit the heteronormative traits of traditional femininity in order to escape singleness and improve their financial standings.
This is appealing to Black women, a demographic that experiences the lowest rates of marriage and faces notable hardships from economic divides. Dating site research has also shown that Black women have extra bias against them, specifically from non-Black men, which can make it challenging to excel in the dating market.
Yet this current shift to femininity coaching is antithetical to contemporary responses to both racism and sexism. It garners the question: Does femininity coaching actually liberate women of color and improve our relationships?
History of Black Feminism
Black feminism was organized in response to the exclusion of Black women in the mainstream civil rights and feminist movements. It aimed to address the experienced intersectional oppression of racism and sexism, challenging exclusionary practices that dated back to slavery.
In the 1970s, Black feminism became more widely known with the proliferation of works from famous writers such as Toni Morris, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker, who brought the experiences of Black women to the national stage.
In 1973, the National Black Feminist Organization was formed in New York, NY. Although short lived, for three years the organization provided a space for a diversity of Black women to convene and contemplate their own liberation.
The Challenge with Modern Femininity
Modern day femininity is confronted by its legacy of patriarchal, white beauty standards, which have left little room for marginalized voices to influence how society imagines and perceives “female.”
Despite being deeply involved in women’s rights and feminist movements, Black women still receive the stereotype of exhibiting masculinity, whether through character or physical attributes.
Inspirational women like Michelle Obama and Serena Williams have been likened to men and even animals – further dehumanizing Black women in our collective conscience.
Historically, this perceived lack of femininity has been weaponized in varying forms of oppression, including state violence against women of color. Black women have had to concurrently prove their womanhood and advocate for women’s rights.
The common tactic used to combat this discrimination has been a mental shift to affirming Black women, normalizing our culture and modes of femininity.
Is Femininity Coaching the Answer?
Some of the most prolific coaches geared towards Black women encourage them to leave behind their assertiveness or any perceived masculine energy and take on the role of nurturer with softness, vulnerability, and submissiveness.
Both softness and vulnerability are powerful and subversive to the preconceived notions of a Black woman’s nature: that we are allegedly angry, loud, and difficult.
Others advertise that their goal is to make women more confident, giving them the ability to play to their strengths and achieve their dream lives. In many ways, this is in the interest of women and advances them in the social sphere.
On the other hand, there are apparent weaknesses. Many femininity coaches do not address – and some deny – the abuse that may come with toxic femininity and the history of exploitation of Black women, our efforts within society, and our resources. Blind submission can also lend itself to the continued neglect of Black women’s rights.
In addition, placing attributes into strict masculine or feminine boxes is exclusionary for those that operate outside of a heterosexual, cisgender framework. These boxes also narrow the range of the human experience, perpetuate rigid gender roles, and limit the scope of one’s capabilities.
For example, in a more liberated world, men would be able to experience the full spectrum of emotions, and women would be able to protect and provide for themselves if they chose.
Expanding Our Options
Both the feminist and femininity coaching movements present unique challenges, especially for Black women who face oppression on multiple counts. But there are several tangible ways to press into these tensions in order to improve life chances – and relational opportunities.
Center minoritized groups in conversations on gender. This can better inform how we collectively think about the social constructs of femininity and masculinity and may help reshape how we define these terms. Ableism also impacts these constructs, so both neurodivergent and disabled leaders remain necessary in shaping the discourse around women’s rights.
Include diverse voices in your human resources departments, leadership teams, and teaching staff. If gender competence is not yet a part of your training, implement it this quarter. Stay on top of trainings to prevent sexual and racial harrassment, too.
On a more personal level, get your friends together for a book study and choose one of these literary works on the Black female experience in the United States. The authors have grappled with being a woman in this country. Take the time to compare your own experiences:
- Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
- I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
- A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross
- Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks
Taking the time to thoughtfully address derogatory comments and insipid put-downs in school or the workplace can help challenge negative stereotypes afflicting Black women as well.
Finally, for those wanting to improve their love lives, further humanization of Black women can only help others to see their innate beauty, strength, and worth.