“Behind Every Great Man…”

“…is an empty glass of scotch.” N.F.

glass of whiskey on dark wooden background

Well, that’s my contribution to the growing list of “Behind every great man…” quote corrections. I’m not surprised this saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” was adopted as a slogan for the feminist movement because back in the 60’s, women were starting from scratch, from not being recognized at all for our work or contributions. But have we seriously not progressed to a better preposition yet?

Recently, James received a promotion at work. We work at the same location but in different offices. All day, people congratulated me on his promotion, and that was great! Both, and all, of our successes are wins for our family. I reveled in the praise for him and felt very proud of his accomplishments. I know my strengths and that I am a force in my own right at work, and I know people know that.

However…

(You knew that was coming.)

However, my boss, a female half a generation older, said to me, “Congratulations to James! And to you, too, because as they say:

Behind every great man, there is a great woman!

I cringed.

I’ve been working for this lady for over two years now, and she is the happiest, most optimistic boss I’ve ever had. I hesitated for a full second before mumbling,

“Uhhh…I…uhhh…yeah. Okay, thank you.”

I wanted to yell at her. I wanted to say that I am not “behind” him, wilting in his shadow. I wanted to scream and accuse her of subtly reinforcing the mentality that our society subconsciously upholds on women. But I didn’t because I knew she didn’t mean it as an insult but as the compliment it used to be. It would have been rude to meet her praise with my personal distaste for a word choice.

I am very proud of my husband, but I like to think we are a team and that we support each other hand-in-hand, side-by-side, either of us shuffling wherever we need to go for the overall benefit of our family. And even though James doesn’t think of me as “behind” him, I love artist Rachel Wolchin’s quote in The Fameless, best:

Rachel Wolchin

“Behind every great man…” quote by Rachel Wolchin

 

I am very happy that our society is finally recognizing many of the women who were just as, or even more, brilliant, generous, educated, skilled as their husbands, bosses, or male counterparts. (I’m looking at you, Hidden Figures.) And even though that phrase is still floating around, we are definitely recognizing that the best way for all of us to succeed as a society is to work together, giving honor and recognition where it is due.

“Behind every great man is a host of mistakes he has learned from.” N.F.

Related reading: Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller and the June 2017 OverDrive #BigLibraryRead selection The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

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Gated

Growing up, my momma would impress upon me the importance of being put-together when you leave the house.  “Never walk out the door with rollers in your hair because you never know who you might run into,” that kind of stuff.  For the most part, I listened.  As a teenager, I did leave the house for church in pink, fluffy houseshoes one Sunday, but that was a complete and utterly embarrassing mistake.  However, when I left the house for the neighborhood park this past Wednesday, my un-put-togetherness was intentional.  Four velcro rollers: two standing, two lying flat

I didn’t have rollers in my hair (that would have been just blatant disobedience), but I was definitely not looking my best.  I had had a long day at work and really just wanted some fresh air and for N to get some exercise.  This was our first time taking her to the park in our neighborhood (because she’s still a wobbler and can barely play on the “big kid” slides and ladders), and I honest-to-goodness was not thinking about who I would meet.  I didn’t bother brushing down the random puffs of hair that had lost the battle to frizziness.  I didn’t change N out of her food-soiled clothes from daycare, nor did I brush and re-bow her also unruly curly hair.  I just threw on running shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes, put baby in the stroller, and walked to the park with James (who was going for a real run), ready to enjoy a nice, relaxing half hour at the little park with baby girl.

 

childhoodI saw her and her two daughters as soon as we rounded the corner.

It was difficult to miss the absolute put-togtherness of this mother, especially at this small park full of mostly unaccompanied elementary school kids.

 

Her daughters had on matching white, light cotton shirts with small navy blue anchors all over them.  And I didn’t see a tag so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she made the shirts herself.  Their dark blonde hairs were practically immaculate for children at the park.  And all three of them looked very clean, well-fed, and happy…yes…quite put-together.  I decided at once that I would ignore her.

Ignoring her mostly worked, and I perceived, anyway, that she was not impressed by my awesome minimalist running shoes.  We danced around each other as we chased our children and stayed vigilant in protecting them from the bigger kids.  Eventually N found herself climbing up the slide as Mrs. Perfect’s youngest daughter was sliding down.  Great…conversation starter.

 

 

Me, “How cute.  What’s her name?”

Mrs. Perfect, with a polite smile and nod, “Thank you.  Daisy.  And that’s Petunia.  I just had to have two flowers.”

Me, “Nice.  I really like Daisy.  That’s a pretty name.”

[These aren’t the girls’ real names, by the way.]

Me, “How old is Daisy?”

P, “She’s 18 months.”7

Me, “Oh really?  N is 18 months also.  When is her birthday?”

P, “October 25th.”

Me, genuinely surprised, “Oh wow, same day.”

P (is that shy surprise or mild aversion?), “Oh, a birthday buddy.  How nice.”

 

Our eyes locked for a split second and we both instantly realized that this wasn’t going to work out.  She smiled.  I smiled.  We moved on, separated our girls on the slide, and went back to the busyness of protecting them.

A few moments later, our little girls were on a collision course, but because we’re both good mothers, we sacrificed our need to avoid awkward conversation in order to protect them.  After I grabbed and redirected N, I foolishly tried another attempt at getting to know this family that we already had some things in common with.

Me, “Do you bring your daughters here often?”

Perfect, “We haven’t, but we’d like to.  I like to bring them here to ride their bikes on the courts because it’s just too hilly where we live.”

Me, “Oh sure, of course.  The whole area is very hilly.”

P nodded.

Me, “We live just a few blocks over and we can’t really ride our bikes, either.”

P, “Oh we live that way, too, in Oceanview.”  <pause for effect and drama>

“It’s the GATED community,” she added with a very, very slight smirk (that I could have imagined) and an even slighter (but real) nod towards me.

Me, “Yes.  I know Oceanview,” I mumbled and took that as my cue to leave.

 

I spent the rest of the time playing with my daughter until my husband returned from his run.  Not sure when Mrs. Perfect reappeared, but I found myself saying goodbye to her and her daughters as we fastened N in her stroller.  We shook hands and she said they were leaving too because the older kids were starting to get out of control (and they were).  She said she hoped we ran into each other again, but does she really hope that?

 

Security Gates

I have a few issues here that caused me to blog about this.  One, why did Mrs. Perfect mention that her community is gated?  Was she judging my all black workout attire and messy hair and sending me a message that there was no way we could be friends?  If she really knew anything about the area we live in, she’d know that the houses outside that gate are just as nice as the ones inside that gate.  Did she mention that tidbit because the gate is a cool feature?  Or was she sending me a clear sign of my inability to gain access to her friendship?  The off-handed way she said it leads me to believe that on some subconscious level, she had judged me and deemed me unworthy.

But there is so much that she doesn’t know about me, and that’s my second issue here.  Why didn’t I tell her?  Part of me was screaming all of our bragging rights out loud and impressing her with all of the cool stuff that we have and do.  Part of me wanted to show her that I WAS worthy, and that we COULD be friends.  I might look a hot mess right now, but I clean up well enough if you give me a chance.  I wanted to rub that smirk off her face and tell her that we have friends that live in the REAL gated community further up the hill (the gated community where the homes are $900,000 and above), and that her precious little Oceanview is just another middle class subdivision, just like all of the other subdivisions around it.  (You don’t know how badly I wished we lived in 900+ville just so I could reply with something snarky.)  I wanted to make sure she knew that we didn’t live in the apartments but in an actual house.  I wanted to beat her judgment of me and prove myself with words.

 

But I didn’t do it.  I didn’t say anything.  I just decided, instead, that even if I could show her that I’m not that different, even if I could surpass her first impression of me, the gate would still…and probably always…be there.

Gentle Brown and Barely Black

“Why does everything have to be about race?”

That’s what my husband asked me jokingly just now after I asked him why the names of the pantyhose I put in our online cart are so…pc.  I mean, for real, “Barely Black”?  How can I not think about race, especially when the only two pairs that will look good on me are that pair and “Gentle Brown”?  Why can’t I buy a pair of plain brown stockings?  How about coffee brown or maybe even chocolate brown?  Why do they have to come with attitude adjusters?  And why can’t I buy a pair of just black stockings?  Why do they have to be baaarely black or jet?

At least “jet” didn’t come with a subtle behavior suggestion like Sweet Jet or Non-Rebel Jet.

I can’t help how my mind discerns things sometimes.  When I see a shade like Gentle Brown, I think of a docile Indian, Hispanic, or Native American woman, trying her best to not display the joyfulness or outspokenness that her people are known for.  When I see Barely Black, images from my junior year African-Americans in Film class fill my head and I think about the actors and actresses that were successful because they were either barely Black or pretended to be barely Black.  (“Can’t make the White folks uncomfortable, now.”)

And how much Black crosses the line from Barely to Middle-of-the-Road to Full On?  In my dating days, Black men would often accuse me of not acting Black.  But I am Black so however I do act is acting Black.

Maybe I deserve a pair of Barely Black pantyhose….

set of sexy legs isolated on white background

And let me just point out that most of the other shade choices are seemingly non-racist: white, nude, natural, classic navy, Café Au Lait, soft taupe.  No, there are no adjectives to describe the white person that will choose those stockings.  It’s just natural – just another shade.

Nude is a lie, by the way.  It’s not nude at all but, instead, this unflattering yellowish-whitish color.  I made the mistake of buying nude stockings once as a teenager…real eye-opener.  Only people who have a one-sided view of the world will label a product that could be for everyone in a manner that discriminates against the minority.  Of course, Yellowish-Whitish doesn’t have the same ring to is as Nude.

Nude pantyhose will never be nude on me.  This company’s Natural will never be my natural.  Are they expecting me to feel bad about that?  Are they thinking that by calling me Gentle Brown, I will be more at ease with a pair of white “natural” pantyhose?  Or are they afraid that their majority customers will get angry if they had to wear a pair of Full On Black pantyhose?

Or do they just really suck at creativity and naming conventions?

I think I will start my own line of pantyhose and have shades like Angry Black, Loud Brown, and Rose Glasses White.  People might be offended, but at least they would know exactly what shade they would be getting.

 

PS.  I realize that this post might come off as an angry rant, but I’m actually quite amused this time.  🙂  Perceived racism and all, I still bought the dang stockings.

The Kind of Woman I Is

A couple of years ago, I had the literary pleasure of reading Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.  This very well-written novel is set in America before the Civil War and tells the story of three black women who  accompany their white masters annually to a luxurious resort in Ohio.  One year, a new girl arrives and she is a bit of a wild child.  Her fierce red hair is not braided down or otherwise tamed like “normal” black women, and the others find themselves often gossiping about her.  One day, someone asks her if she even knows how to braid, and her response was something like this (imagine hand on hip and a pointing finger),

“Of course I know how to braid!  What kind of woman you think I is?”

As crazy as it might sound, this really struck home with me.  There are a lot of things I know how to do now because I thought I was expected, as a black woman from the South, to know how to do.  I taught myself (with much advice and encouragement from my husband) how to cook as an adult because Southern women are supposedly good cooks.  In my 20’s, I joined a choir, did vocal warm ups, and practiced singing daily because all black women can sing, right?  A few years ago, I ditched the chemicals and became re-acquainted with my natural hair for several reasons, but one of the top five was that I did not want to be that black woman who doesn’t know how to do her own hair.

Woman washing and cleaning. Household series.

But does it really matter?  In the 21st century?  Does it still say what kind of woman you are based on what you can do?

This could go for any woman, regardless of race or ethnicity.  Does it matter now if you can sew or not?  Does it matter these days if you run an orderly household?

Many standards, and dare I say stereotypes, for woman have fortunately gone by the wayside, but many times I wonder if the desire to be that woman is still in us.  All women don’t want to be Bree Van de Kamp, but do all women have something that they deem a necessary skill they must accomplish as a personal sign of womanhood success?

I think it’s funny that Mawu (the wild child in Wench) found it so appalling to be accused of not knowing how to do hair, like that was the absolute simplest task and, duh, everyone knows how to do that.  I think the equivalent today would be if someone asked me if I knew how to…no, it’s the same.  I think if someone asked me today if I knew how to braid, I would respond the same way (even though I just learned).

Well, almost the same way.  I would definitely keep the hand on hip and pointed finger, but instead say, “What kind of woman do you think I am?”  🙂Urban Ethnic Girl With Attitude

Crazy Women Drivers!

Ladies, I’m so very sorry.  wallpaper-car

I honestly don’t know what came over me.  I have no answer for what I did, and I can’t explain it, but I definitely, and quite accidentally, fed the misconception of women being horrible drivers.   Normally, I’m a great driver.  When I worked at a private daycare long ago, I picked up the after-school kids and brought them back to the center, and in order to do that, I had to take safe driving lessons and be certified to drive the van.  Ever since then, I have been an overly alert driver and super cognizant of my surroundings.

So I really can’t explain the other day.

Baby girl and I had just left a kid’s birthday party and were headed home when I decided to stop for gas.   The area we were in was not completely foreign to me, but it was under construction.  The gas station was tucked within the shopping plaza and kind of back to the left.  As I approached it, I saw the ONEWAY signs pointing in to the gas station area.  No problem.  I followed the signs, pulled up to a pump, and got my gas.  When it was time to leave, I couldn’t see any ONEWAY signs showing me how to get out of the gas station.  Just chain-linked fences  surrounded the station keeping the large construction beast machines at bay. I waited for another car to exit so I could follow, but none did.  (Maybe they were waiting for me?)  So I drove towards the fence to the left and followed it back towards the entrance.  It actually led to a brand new roundabout.  When I got to the roundabout, I could see a small street to my immediate right that led back out to the main road, and I could see the shopping plaza, full of ONEWAYS, none of which pointed out.  Hmmm…I took the small street.

As I was driving my huge, white, SUV down the little two lane road, things started to feel weird like when you’re not sure which way a shirt goes, but you put it on anyway and find out later that it WAS on backwards.  I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a STOP sign.  Wait.  I can see the STOP sign.   That was my first clue, but, for unknown reasons, I kept driving.  As I continued slowly along, I glanced in my right side mirror and saw an arrow on the ground behind me pointing straight back.  Oh no.  This can’t be.  Next, the inevitable: a car came down the little street towards me.  The driver gave me a non-smile, put his left index finger up and made circles.  It had been confirmed.  I, the ever-careful, super-safe carrier of children, was driving the wrong way down a one-way street.  At that point, I couldn’t go back.  The street was smallish and it curved, and my car was too big to make that trip backwards so I continued on.  I got to the main road, my destination, just as the light turned. and four lanes of traffic headed in my direction.  Everyone could see me right in the midst of my dumbness.  I sat there, waiting for a break in the traffic so I could make a hard right onto the street when a small car pulled into the turn lane…and sat there.  The little car with its little driver just sat there, and soon another and another and another car was in line, waiting to turn down the ONEWAY street that I was blocking.  I looked at the driver and he didn’t even frown.  He didn’t yell at me.  He didn’t flick me off or lay on his horn.  He just sat there giving me the saddest, most pitiful look while shaking his head:  Crazy women drivers.  I could hear it in his eyes and in the way his head tilted as he slowly shook it back and forth.  It would have been better if he was angry, but the pity was almost too much to bear.  The light never changed to release me from his condemning gaze.  Instead, all four lanes of traffic stopped so I could turn and flee from my humility.  It didn’t even matter that the lane I turned into was an expressway on ramp headed in the wrong direction.  ::sigh::  At least it wasn’t an expressway exit ramp.

Ladies, I’m so sorry.