Women Have a Right to Love, Not Hate

Recently, I read an article published on Medium written by Anthony J. Williams. The title of his article, on the subject of women, was (smallcase intentional): women have a right to hate men. Indeed, there were many parts of this article that resonated with me. I thought that Williams did an awesome job of unpacking patriarchy and how harmful it is to us all, including men. And, I thought that Williams’s definitions of entitlement and male privilege were accurate and right on. However, in the end, I could not agree with Mr. Williams’s conclusion: that the hatred of men, also called misandry, is justifiable.

Yes, we, women, can walk around with hatred for the men who have hurt us, but where will that get us? What good is it to hold that hate in our minds and bodies? Feeling entitled to hate is a very patriarchal and primitive way of thinking. The idea that one has a right to hate anyone (as far as humans are concerned) has been articulated in the Bible through the concept or philosophy that most of us know as “an eye for an eye.” And, look around: hatred has been the dominant way of being as far as societies and governance are concerned. And yet, as dominant and even popular as this idea is today, the assertion that we are entitled to hate and thus revenge has rarely brought relief to those who have been wronged by others. Hatred is not a corrective measure; it is a feeling that often generates even more pain, suffering, destruction and even death. So, while it may not be all that popular to say this (because there are many people who think of the Bible as an authoritative source), it is nonetheless crystal clear to me that the idea that one is entitled to hate, which can be supported with early human and primitive knee-jerk philosophies, is maladaptive human behavior. Such a consciousness or mentality does not take us forward, rather, it takes up backwards (in time and in thought). No one who walks around with hate in her heart can heal. It is a heavy, heavy burden; and, as a way of thinking and being, it can and will have debilitating consequences for anyone who embraces it. 

My grandmother had every reason to harbor hate in her heart. She was rejected by society because of racism, and she was rejected by members of her husband’s family because she divorced him, my grandfather, who beat her. In the 1950s, it was very rare for a black woman to divorce a black man for domestic abuse, but she did it anyhow. And her relatives by marriage, her children’s own flesh and blood hated her for it. She could have easily returned their hate by claiming “an eye for an eye,” and she could have displayed a hateful disposition to those who despised her for standing up for herself. She could have also hated the many whites who despised and hated her simply for being a black woman. People hated her for escaping her abuser, and people hated her because of the color of her skin. 

This grandmother was my only living grandparent, and though we did not spend as much time together that I would have liked, the thing that I remember most about her was the love that she always displayed for herself and for her children, especially for her son, who is my father. In my mid-twenties, I became very aware that they loved each other very much. Now that I am in my late forties, I have come to realize that the love that she had for him laid the foundation for the love that he has for me and my siblings, and his love informs the how and the why I am able to love others, especially the men that I choose to love intimately.

I was a young adult before I really had an opportunity to spend time one-on-one with my grandmother. I remember driving out of town to spend the weekend with her; it was a lovely drive. My grandmother was a great cook and on that trip we sat down at the table together and talked alot, and then we finished our conversations in her living room, while she sat rocking in her favorite chair (which is something that my father does to this day). I also remember that she didn’t wear her dentures very often at home. That always amazed me, because it looked like she had them in nevertheless. But I digress. Not everything I learned from my grandmother was learned because of our personal visits. I learned a lot from my grandmother from my father, who despite our disagreements, has always given me his unconditional love. 

Because of my grandmother’s teachings, which came through my Dad, I learned that it wasn’t useful to hold on to pain and hate. I didn’t realize it then, when she was right there in front of me, but years later, I understood that pain and hate have their place. These emotions are a part of the human experience. Of course we all feel pain in life; it is normal. Likewise, I think it is normal that we acknowledge and express our emotions, wisely (and sometimes in a support group or with the help of someone who is trained in the management of human emotions). But, the good news is that bad emotions do not last forever, nor do they need to consume us, catapulting us into a downward, depressive spiral and perhaps into hatefulness or rage. Yes, it is important to be resolute and just in life, but, it is equally important to let go of the need to or the desire to dominate and hate those who have harmed or hated us. The longer we hold on to feelings of hate, the wounds deepen and the scars do not come because the hate keeps festering and in turn that hate prevents us from actually healing. And, in some cases, it is a sign that we have not truly let go of the person or persons who have harmed us (i.e., we still want or need something from them).

So the question for me is: how do women face their enemies? How do we women find the strength to trust and perhaps love men again when we have many or even every reason to hate them? Well, as I have just expressed here, I think black women, especially elder black women, have a lot to teach us when it comes to the subject of men (and hate). In fact, I’d say that they have much more to teach us than men have to teach us about how to respond to the harmfulness and the hatefulness of men via patriarchy. I don’t have time to hate men or even a few of the men who have done horrible things to me. I also do not have time to hate men for all the horrible things they have done to women, historically. It is too costly to hold misandry in my heart and mind. Of course when someone has done something to take away your power and autonomy in life, it is normal to feel hate and to want to make them suffer or to make them pay for what they have done. In response to pain or violence caused by a man, especially when it comes to verbal, physical or even sexual abuse, I would say that hate is a very natural human response. However, another thing that the elder women (and a few elder men) in my life, including my grandmother and elder cousins, have taught me is that going with my first response is not always the best or most expedient thing to do. Sometimes it is best to go with the second or third feeling or thought.

By no means am I saying that one shouldn’t feel angry or hateful emotions; it is always important to feel (and name) our emotions. On the other hand, I am saying that it is not productive to feel entitled to anger or hate, because the sense of entitlement or a right to harbor these emotions can and often does lead to destruction. This is what I learned from the elder women in my life who were despised, abused, mistreated, and hated in their lifetimes: even though they could have justified their hateful and rageful feelings, they did not let those feelings own or consume them. They managed the emotions that they felt; and, they redirected their emotions in a way that enabled and empowered them to live their lives on their own terms, as much as possible. Although they read the same Bible that I have read, they usually did not return an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth. Had they listened to the Bible’s 2000+ year old (patriarchal) advice they may have acted on the hate they felt for men and for whites, yet they probably would not have been justified for doing so (as women and blacks are often not perceived as “justified” for acting on their emotions). It was the love and the wisdom of black women (and a few black men) who knew what hate could do to the human psyche that helped me to sort this out. Although I was raised to revere Christianity or the ideas promoting the presence of the supernatural, it was not religion, faith, the Bible, or even an alleged god that taught me how to manage my feelings. Rather, it was black women (and a few black men) who taught me how to get through pain and adversity. By their example, I learned the value of standing up for myself by living life on my terms, regardless of what others might have to say (negatively) about it.  

Without a doubt, we may succumb to hate, we may cower and feel like nothing because of the hatefulness of others. But, in the end, I also know that hate has never sustained anything good in the human being and not for any civilization. It is only love that has changed us (and the world) for the better. As a result, I cannot agree with Anthony J. Williams, who claims that women have a right to hate men. When it comes to men, and what women have endured at the hands of men, my position is that women must be much more concerned about feeling entitled to love than they are to hate. Hatefulness has permeated the patriarchal world that we live in. We see hate expressed every day, especially these days, through the rhetoric of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump and his staff. Every day they do something to remind us that they are  entitled to hate and hatefulness. On the contrary, I have no desire to behave like Donald Trump, his staff, and definitely I will not behave like his fans and followers, which includes the people who voted him into office. Even when wronged, I would rather not claim a right to hate because I know it will destroy me inside. I’d rather respond to the the hatefulness of men towards me and other women in the way that my grandmother responded to the hate she experienced in her life: with the resolve to stand up for myself and for women, and with the commitment to call attention to the destructiveness of patriarchy to the extent that it causes others to divorce themselves from patriarchal and hateful ways. My grandmother had six children to raise and when she divorced her husband, she did not have the luxury of feeling entitled to hate. She did what she had to do to distance herself from her haters, and she went on and she lived her life with as much joy and love as she could muster. She refused to let the hate and alienation she felt in life possess or consume her thoughts, her time, and her children, and thus, she taught them how to love themselves and their children. And love is one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give to her children.

Similarly, when it comes to men, and what they have done to me or to women, I do not feel that I have the right to hate them. I do not feel that I have the right to hate anybody because it is not worth it to hate anyone or anything that is just going to hate you back. If women are entitled to any emotion, I would say that women have a right to choose love, and we have a right to choose to be loved as we want and need to be loved. This is, of course, just my opinion, but I am totally convinced that one of the best ways of doing justice, according to Martin Luther King, Jr., is finding and embracing the strength to love yourself, regardless, when hate is all around you.

 © 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

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After the Election of 2016: Disappointed, But Not Discouraged!

We live in a world and in a country that has been deeply compromised by violence, inequity and injustice. And, there are many reasons for that – not just one. I cannot and will not think that I have arrived, or that I am better than others just because I can pay my bills, and enjoy a fairly decent “good life” because of my accomplishments or because I am not white. I am not a good person merely because of the things that I have accumulated in life or due to the fact that I am black. Black is not synonymous with being good or better than white. It is not the binary opposite of white. I do not need white people or whiteness to be or know blackness. I am good because I believe that goodness is an essential part of being and becoming human. And, I happen to be both black and woman, yet neither one of these identities gives me the right or the privilege of saying that I am good. I am good because good is who I am.

 

Some humans, however, do not believe that they are good. They believe that to be human is to live in depravity or in what many have identified as “sinfulness,” or “wickedness.” For many to be human is to be cursed, damned and without redemption that can be obtained or gained on one’s own terms. For many, only a god – something or someone outside of themselves – can bring them true goodness or liberation. Indeed, I used to think this way because of the religious indoctrination of my childhood and youth, but I have spent the last decade or so trying to undo that destructive, self-sabotaging, anti-human way of thinking and being. I suspect that I will continue to unlearn those teachings and any others like them until the day that I die, which is fine with me. This is what it means to me to become human: to evolve, grow, and change.

 

The reality is that we live in a world that is very complicated and very monied. For most of us, if we lost the ability to pay our bills, or if we experienced a life-changing event like a terrible car accident (and I saw a couple today out on the road), or if we were given the terrible news of an unwanted diagnosis, our whole reality would change instantly. Being aware of that common problem – of the fragility and temporality of life – should bring us together, not divide us.

 

After the 2016 Presidential election, I was disappointed. I was disappointed in the people and in the systems that have made it possible for Donald Trump to be in the highest leadership position in the United States. I was also very disappointed in so many women, predominantly white women, who voted for a man who is unabashedly patriarchal, abusive and sexist. Apparently, Trump’s obscene behaviors did not matter to them. Their votes for him condone his contempt and offensive treatment of women, including many white women. Yet, because of the world in which we live, I can understand why this many white women would vote for a man like Trump. I can understand what it means to participate in one’s own oppression, because I too have done it; many black people have done it. And, these white women are not totally to blame for Donald Trump’s election; we live in a world of systems that teaches peoples to deny and oppress themselves and their truths, rewards them for doing it, and then sits back as if it were innocent when those very people are isolated, hurt or destroyed.

 

I have difficulty imagining Donald Trump as “The President” because of his many hateful behaviors and opinions, which he himself made vocal during the presidential campaign of 2016. President-Elect Trump has judgments for many people, he calls them many derogatory and awful names, and he bases his opinions on inaccurate and incomplete information, especially when it comes to black and brown peoples. He dehumanizes and demonizes brown immigrants, but he does not do the same for white immigrants, which would implicate his many wives and their children. Was Hillary Clinton much better when it came to her behaviors during the campaign? For me, yes she was, because I believe that at the end of the day she is conscientious and that at the least she has the ability to show regret and remorse. I also believe that she is pro-human, which is more than I can say for Donald Trump. I have not understood any U.S. President as perfect or as a redemptive figure, and that includes President Barack Obama, but I do believe that when the lights are off and the cameras have stopped rolling, the person who is President of the United States should not be anti-human. I don’t believe that Donald Trump is good for the country because his behaviors and his opinions demonstrate that he is arrogant, uninformed and so very, very anti-human. And, unfortunately, what this election revealed to many is that there are many Americans who think and act just like him, which is very, very disappointing.

 

On the other hand, I am not discouraged. Yes, it is going to be rough, and yes, many people will suffer under this new administration, but it will not be without a struggle, and it will certainly not be the first time that the American people and immigrants have suffered under a governmental regime that is working against them. With the exception of those who were stolen from Africa and other countries across the Atlantic and put on plantations, and the First Peoples of this land who were forced from their ancestral lands and placed on another form of plantations – called reservations – this country of immigrants has always been at odds with the idea of immigration. And, since the arrival of this country’s first European immigrants at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, many of these immigrants and their descendants have apparently been engaged in a vicious cycle of inclusion and exclusion, competing for social space (as in Ernest Burgess and Robert Park). It’s a damn shame that it is like this, but this is the truth: over time a good majority of the American people have become hateful and resentful of “others” who are not like them.

 

Nevertheless, in the wake of such a disappointing election, we owe it to ourselves and to the people around us, even those in far away countries, to believe in the good and the power of our humanity. History has shown us, time and time again, that we can and we will fight for ourselves, our dignity and for the right to be free. Indeed, that fight and that freedom never comes without a price; it is a price that every freedom fighter has and will reckon with sooner or later. And just like those who went before me and for those whom I have known in my lifetime, I am more than willing to pay the price for freedom because 1) I believe in the goodness of humanity; 2) I believe in the power of the people to resist; and 3) I refuse to become like human beings who have decided that they are better than the rest of us.
© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

 

On the Spelling of My Name and the Seeds of Change

I have been spelling my name in lowercase letters for at least a decade; come to think about it, it has probably been closer to two decades than it is to one. All these years, embracing the spelling of my name has been my signature, my trademark. Looking back, I was first inspired to modify the spelling and thus the visualization of my name on papers and publications to lowercase letters because of bell hooks. Her critical thoughts and writings on feminism, love, men, power and many other issues had such a profound impact upon me that I decided to put my newly recognized consciousness out in public – and as a passive but powerful way of identifying with feminism as a way of thinking and being. At the time, I must admit, I really did not realize the power of what I was doing.

Recently, I was “advised” by someone associated with an academic organization that I needed to use the uppercase A and the uppercase F if I anticipated my name being publicized or in print. This directive, made by a white woman (who I knew formerly and casually) did not sit well with me. And that it came via email didn’t help matters either. Initially, I thought, was this advice or a threat? I wondered why she felt the need to tell me what to do with my own name. And, I wondered what was coming next. Maybe, I imagined, she would feel familiar or superior enough to me to tell me what to wear or where to sit. Since she knew of me from academic circles, it baffled me that she needed or wanted to tell me what to do with my own name; as if somehow she thought that I did not know. Of course, I responded to her just as boldly and confidently as she came to me, but I also thought that perhaps it is time for a blog on the spelling of my name, just in case others were having similar thoughts or urges.

First, the spelling of my name is mine, all mine. I don’t expect others to use lowercase letters to spell my name. But, every chance that I get to control the look (and feel) of my name, I use lowercase letters. One of the first public experiences that I had with this was in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had just given a lecture at what is now the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and a local newspaper reporter asked me how to spell my name. In addition to getting the spelling correct, I also asked if the “A” and the “F” could be written in lowercase. Much to my surprise, and at least for that particular local journalist, using lowercase letters was not a problem, and so he published it as I requested. Seeing my name published in the local newspaper the next day in lowercase letters was very important and very powerful. It was an affirmation of my own identity, and it was a declaration, one that let other people know – in a very public or political way – that the spelling of my name was and is ultimately up to me.

Aside from the”bell hooksian” influence on the spelling of my name, there are a few reasons that I have continued to spell my name in lowercase letters. The first is that spelling my name in lowercase letter is a visual reminder to me of all the seemingly insignificant things that I did in life to get to where I am today. By no means do I think that I have done all that I can do, but I have accomplished a lot. I have also had the awesome privilege of traveling alone in and out of this country and taking charge of my own future or destiny. Sometimes, when I look back at those little things, including the places where I lived or worked, I am blown away. I have been through many ups, downs, stops and starts, and, of course, I did not get there all alone, but seeing my name in smallcase letters always brings me to a deeper appreciation  of my life’s journey and of the power that I have because of that journey.

Another reason that I spell my name in lowercase letters is related to the connection between the personal and the political. The more that I spelled my name in lowercase letters in print, the more that I was asked about the spelling of my name. Who knew that such a small thing could have such an impact! Consequently, the (re)spelling of my name brought me to the realization that even the smallest change to the social order of things or the status quo is always noticed. Indeed, I know how to construct a grammatically correct sentence. I know that breaking the rules with the spelling my name in all lowercase letters will be seen by many as incorrect, improper, and perhaps, need I say, DISOBEDIENT! And that is it precisely. Spelling my name in lowercase letters is a type of stand or attitude; it is a personal manifesto that speaks to popular thinking about women and identity. Spelling my name the way that I want to spell it is simply a way of accepting and loving myself. But, it is also my way of letting people know that I am not a follower, although I am totally capable of collaborating with others on various projects and programs. I don’t always need to be out front and in charge, but I have always been a leader. I have always been womanish in attitude and expression, or, as Alice Walker says about womanism; a womanist is “serious and in charge!” Others may disagree with me or reject the spelling that I give my name, and they may make it “proper” for personal or institutional purposes, but at the end of the day, I am in charge of my life, my actions, my body, and, of course, I am in charge of saying or determining who I am. How I spell my name is up to me, alone. Yes, it may seem like such a small or unnecessary thing to say, but control over my name, the power to name myself and thus to know myself is a powerful freedom, and I take that freedom very seriously, just as other black women, like Audre Lorde, have done without shame and without apology.

Most people don’t break the rules. We live in a society where conformity is the name of the game. People keep the peace; on the job and beyond, they often engage in groupthink and peacemaking. Even with all that women and men have been through, especially black women, by and large, people don’t “rock the boat.” Spelling my name in lowercase letters is a passive yet strong way of saying that I am not afraid to break the rules. I am not afraid to walk down a new path if necessary. When I look at people who cling to the rules without a willingness to question them or perhaps change them, I see followers. This is both sad and disappointing situation because a great many of the rules, laws and practices that govern us actually need to be changed or broken. Many of the rules that dictate our living and our being, at the least, need to be challenged, or at least questioned. When people express a desire to control how I spell my name, it lets me know that they are probably not willing to make a change, not even in the small matters of their own lives. And, if they are not willing to start with changing self, I doubt very seriously if they will be willing to challenge the order of things when it comes to bigger matters, such as sexism, such as racism, such as heterosexism. When people do not model change or plant the seeds of change when it comes to their own affairs, it is doubtful that they will do it for others.

I should not have to say this, but one of the things that the world  desperately needs is people who really are willing to be the agents of change. The world needs bold, brave change agents, not the so-called change agents or change makers who merely appropriate the rhetoric or talk of change during election season in order to get votes. Today, many are appropriating the word “change-agent” or “change-maker,” but there is little doubt in my mind that many of those very same people would also be the first ones to tell me or others to “go along to get along” if they could. If they could get away with it, I believe they would tell me and others – the ones they may attempt to control –  to know and stay “in our “place.” Yet, the place they want others to stay in is often the place that makes them comfortable or secure in life. And, what they tell others to do is often a reflection of their own self-esteem or self-image: stuck.

By contrast, I don’t require others to spell my name in lowercase letters, but I don’t let others tell me what to do or how to spell my name so that they will feel better about themselves or what it says about their day to day choices. Fortunately, we live in a country that allegedly values “the freedom of speech.” And, that freedom applies to the spelling of one’s name. I feel free to model that freedom to name myself in my personal and in my public life, which are very interconnected. In the (re)spelling of my name I also model what it means to be in control and accountable for who I am.

Last month I watched the politicians and pundits claim to be the agents or makers of change. Yet, I don’t see how they are much different from who or what has gone before them. To be an agent of change you’ve got to be willing to change yourself. If you are not willing to change, if you don’t know the power of changing things on your own, how in the world can you expect or require change from anybody else? And, if you are quick to tell others where to go, what to do and what to do when they get there, then I doubt that you will allow yourself to get out of place for a worthy cause (and perhaps not even for an unworthy cause). These days, there’s a whole lot of talk about change, but that talk is often just what it is: talk.

Oh how I wish that more people would be willing to break the rules and get out of the places that people and society have constructed for them to be. I long to see people who lead and from a place inside of them that is authentic and thus political (or socially responsible). Donald Trump, for example, is the antithesis of authenticity and accountability. He uses the rhetoric of change yet promotes the ideas and nostalgia of a troubled American past. What former greatness does he want to revive or replicate? Yes, there were times in my past that I was pretty good, but the person that I have become today is much better, stronger and confident. There is actually no part of my past to which I would like to return. Indeed, I look back and I learn, but life is moving forward, not backward. My being who I am today is based on my ability to grow and  learn from my past mistakes and successes; yearning for something that I once did, for the person I once was, or for the life I once experienced would indicate to me that there is some preoccupation or unfinished business that I have with regard to my past. Perhaps, in some weird, twisted kind-of-way those who want to go back and revive the past, like Trump and his followers, really are preoccupied by something that is back there. Clearly, for better or for worse, they have some preoccupation or attachment to the persons, places or things of the past that they remember. Maybe they want to fix something that was broken in the past; or, perhaps they want to repair some damage that was done in the past, or maybe they have regrets. As far as I am concerned, I cannot fix the past; no one can. But, what I do with the present and what happens in the future depends on my ability to interpret the past accurately and then to plant the seeds of change that will bring forth powerful and better futures.

To the would-be and rising change agents out there, I must say that you cannot bring forth better futures if you keep looking back, longing for what was once there. To feel the power of change, to be a powerful agent of change, you have to be willing to break  the rules, to cross lines and usually that means you will be in the minority and perhaps alone. Don’t be fooled by those who merely talk about change, because to be a  true change-agent or a change-maker you’ve got to be willing to be in a new place, not the old. Indeed, it is not easy being in a new place, or being in the minority. But please know that today, more than ever, if we are going to create powerful and better futures, we desperately need those who are bold enough and brave enough to spell their own names.

© 2016 annalise fonza, Ph.D.