Monday, June 22, 2009

Ain't I a Womanist: Part 1--One Brother Attempts to Ground with His Sisters

The discussion that ensued following my post on Saturday kind of got out of hand. And I apologize for that. Possibly I could have done a better job as moderator. But it did give me the opportunity to discuss something that has been on my mind for quite some time.

When I left home at age seventeen, an adult male family member advised me simply, “In any and all things, just be a man.” However, the extent of his advice stopped there; I was left to determine just what a man was.

Over the years that followed, I attempted to define manhood for myself. It was a hit or miss proposition; usually I took one step forward and two steps back. But I evolved and am continuing to evolve.

Perhaps the time of my greatest growth was my first year of graduate school and ironically, under the tutelage of a woman. I took a seminar entitled “Womanist Principles” from Professor Debra Walker King of the University of Florida, and as with any good teacher, she forced me to confront and evaluate many of my long-held beliefs and convictions. Later I served with her as a TA as well.

But I know what you are going to say. One seminar and a semester as a TA does not a womanist make. Even further, perhaps as a man, I cannot claim the label of womanist. I’ve already had that argument. But as a man, I can adopt and adapt womanist principals to guide me in the moral and ethical choices I must make. And I have endeavored to do that. However, in a recent incident I fell very short.

I was assigned to go on an out-of-town day trip with a female colleague for my job. Perhaps I should also add that this female colleague is subordinate to me.

Well, of course I volunteered to drive. And I was a perfect gentleman the whole day. Perhaps this was the source of the problem.

I opened doors for her. I pulled out chairs for her. I even purchased lunch for her. However, the nicer I was, the more I acquiesced, the testier she got. In fact, by the time we began the long drive home, she was hardly speaking to me. And then I did it. I asked about her children. She looked at me in horror and disgust and shut down completely. She still hasn’t spoken to me except when our jobs required us to speak. Needless to say, the whole incident puzzled me.

I took my conundrum to a few close friends with the hope that they would be able to show me where I went wrong. Well, you can pretty much guess what the fellows said. And most of the ladies I asked didn’t have a clue either. But finally my good friend, the one who rocks the fly afro puffs, clued me in.

The problem, she informed me, was that I allowed gender to enter into an arena in which it had no place. To put it more succinctly, instead of treating her like a competent and able colleague, I treated her like a delicate, helpless creature.

My friend continued:

“Would I have volunteered to drive had she been a man?” No.

“Would I have spent the day opening doors and pulling out chairs had she been a man?” No.

And the big one.

“Had she been a man of a certain age, would I have assumed she had children?” Perhaps, but probably no.

In my zeal to prove myself a gentleman, I only succeeded in exposing the last remnants of a learned sexism and patriarchal worldview.

But I think she was a bit too hard on me. Perhaps she was insulted by my behavior, but in another era, I would have been applauded for the same behavior. Even now I would be applauded and appreciated in some circles.

Had she just taken the time to just talk to me, politely tell me of my ineptitude, my shortcomings, I would have, I could have taken the time to repair. But now there is a seemingly irreparable breach between the two of us that I do not know how to mend.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it when I think that perhaps this could be a metaphor for African American male and female relationships overall. Both genders have varied expectations of the other, and without effective and affective dialogue, the misunderstandings will only escalate.

Sistas, I am trying, I really am. But if I and my other brothers who too are really trying are too succeed, we need your input.

Tomorrow: Ain't I a Womanist: Part II--Just What Is a Strong Black Woman?


SkeptikOne said...

Hey Max,
I'm one of the ones who applaud you for trying to understand and maneuver what is a very tricky slope.

Afro puffs was correct. Her information was on point.

The only thing that I would have added was that the young woman had a self esteem issue going...She is not yet confident in who she is as well as the job she does...

A confident woman who outwardly expresses that would have read your intentions, correctly...

In business gender should not enter the picture...but it has to come from both parties..

The catch 22 for women is that if you do come off confident and aggressive, then chances are you will be labeled a manhater...or "dyke."

Renee said...

What men need to understand is that certain behaviour belongs in certain relationships. If my boss had performed as you had it would make me uncomfortable and I would have felt devalued. In the working environment gender needs to be a neutral experience. If my partner had behaved as you had I would have been pleased, as long as there were occasions for me to respond in kind. Women don't want to be treated like a delicate flower we want to be treated like the equals that we are.

Lyn Marie said...

Here's the did everything right as a gentleman but perhaps as a boss, not so much but I understand the confusion. I am a very independent woman, perhaps to much at times. However there is nothing I love more than a true gentleman. I would have to agree, possibly your colleague feels a little insecure about her role or abilities. After all how I feel about my position in the world is based on what I know my skills to be. Pulling out a chair or opening a door for me does not less those skills.

I think at times we as woman may be just as confused or give to many definition about what it is to be a man. Those definitions depend on our relationship with our father or other men early in our lives. As a child that grew up without her father, my interpretation of a man has grown as I have grown.

That fact that you think about it shows your awareness and your willingness to evolve. I'd say you're doin' alright!

Max Reddick said...

I agree. We are on the same page for the most part But @Renee, I see now what mistakes I made, and you are right. She may have felt devalued or even that I was coming on to her. But my point is, if she should have also shown me the courtesy of letting me know. I was only conducting myself as I have been taught, that is to be polite and courteous. But instead she curled up her nose and acted like a spoiled recalcitrant child. Just a little dialougue would have smoothed the whole thing over.

And @ Lyn Marie

How do you know what person to be in the company of whom? Granted, the situation may dictate conduct, but what about all those other times?

And thanks to all for stopping by and commenting!

Cunning_Linguist said...

I agree with Skeptik. A woman comfortable in her own skin as a woman, does not take offense so easily. It's the learning curve we all have to go through in our younger years. I feel very sad for young women today because they have to be too many things all at once. Be strong! Have your own career! Go jogging AND have cramps. I know, it sounds silly but....... why havn't we just told them in pre-teen years that it's more than ok to just "be good people".

*drops the mic and walks off*

Lyn Marie said...

@ Max
I think it always better to err on the side of good manners. If the worse things someone can say about you is that you held the door open and pulled out a chair, I'd say you're alright!

I do agree when you're younger you have a tendency to be quick to offend. Maybe age may be a good indicator to behavior. Or perhaps you're in trouble either way!

Max Reddick said...

@ cunning

Nice exit.

@ Lyn Marie

Good advice.

Anonymous said...

I am so in agreement with Cunning. I think if we are just respectful of each other as people then we wouldn't have to be so cautious all the damn time. Some women no matter what will find fault and be offended about anything a man does or says. He could be a polite person trying to be helpful and a woman could interpret that as a guy thinking she is weak and incompetant. I know there are men out there who will always feel women are not equals in the job market,but you can pick those guys out easy when you have had someone who treats you with respect and as an equal colleague.


Nice Blog by the way.. I saved you in my links.

Max Reddick said...

Thanks for the input and especially the compliment Lanae! And please come back soon!

Charles J said...


As a young black male, I applaud you acknowlegdging your own sexism and wanting to know where you went wrong. I just want to highlight that even in your acknowledging your sexism you slipped again in it when you said

"But I think she was a bit too hard on me. Perhaps she was insulted by my behavior, but in another era, I would have been applauded for the same behavior. Even now I would be applauded and appreciated in some circles."

It's not up a woman to school you just as it is not up to a black person to school every white person about blackness. It is up to us to learn about how we show up in the world on our own as you are doing right now.


I just found your blog tonight and I love it. Keep up the good work and self reflection.

Max Reddick said...

Thank you for the compliment and please return.

But my point is there are some things I just don't know and can't know because of my subject position. I didn't know and cannot know how insulting my behavior was. I was behaving as I knew to behave. You say it is up to me to learn, but how do I learn if there is no one to teach me. All that is learned, must be taught.

Both men and women are operating from two different subject positions. I cannot possibly know what it is like to be a man and likewise for a woman. Therefore we must dialogue with each other to discover how we might better get along.

Charles J said...

" didn't know and cannot know how insulting my behavior was. I was behaving as I knew to behave. You say it is up to me to learn, but how do I learn if there is no one to teach me. All that is learned, must be taught."

I feel you when you say you don't know what you don't know, but that is a privelege we have as men. We really don't know that many of are actions a sexist until we get called on it, but again I repeat we have multiple ways of finding out how we show up in the world as sexist, putting this question on your blog is one way, researching male privelege and reading up on sexism is another way.

Max Reddick said...

To be ignorant of the other is always the privilege and prerogative of the dominant class. However, if members of the subordinate class wish to get ahead, they must take the time to learn not only their own culture but the culture of the dominant class as well. That has always been the norm. I'm not saying it is fair, but that's the way it is.

So, I guess in essence, you are correct to believe that even though I imagine myself to be "a new" man, every know and then I fall back on male privilege and prerogative whether consciously or unconsciously. But I'm still learning. And the first thing I learned is that I have a lot to unlearn.

But I'll do you one better. You sound like an intelligent young black man who has something to say. If you will write me a good solid post of no more than 750 words concerning young black males and their relationship to women, I'll run it and give you full credit for it.

Let me know if you wish to do so. Contact me by email at


Charles J said...

Wow Max, thanks for the opportunity. You will be getting my 750 words shortly.

Max Reddick said...

Looking forward to it!

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