The Womanist Way of Loving the Self

Womanist as defined by Alice Walker:

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose, 1983: Harcourt, Brace & Howe.


1. From womanish. (Opp. Of “girlish,” i.e., frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.) A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “You acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown-up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge.  Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non sexually.  Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.  Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally, universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige, and black?”  :”Well, you know colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”  Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.”  Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.

3. Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon.  Loves the Spirit.  Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle.  Loves the Folk.  Loves herself.  Regardless.

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Several years ago, I resigned from a tenure-track job at my alma mater, Clark Atlanta University. It was a very difficult but important decision and I wasn’t sure how I would make it, especially financially. Needless to say, I survived, and in hindsight I truly believe that I made the right decision, for me.

Being true to yourself is never an easy task. Today, I am very grateful for the ones who were there for me and who cheered me on when I made the hard decisions. Their open mindedness, positivity, and sometimes their overwhelming support brightened my days and gave me hope. On the other hand, it was my critics and even my “haters” who lit a fire under me; and thus, they were the ones who have enabled me to know what it is to live my life, my way.

The truth is: I could not have made it to where I am today, be the woman I am today, without both groups of people in my life. Those who loved me and supported me taught me how to have compassion and patience with myself; and, those who questioned, criticized, and some who eventually left or abandoned me (including one wanna-be pimp) taught me how to love myself regardless of what others might think, say or do. Because of them, all of them, I am learning what it means to love myself the womanist way: regardless.

© 2017 annalise fonza, Ph.D.

Why I Didn’t Get Married

First of all, this blog is long overdue. I have been meaning to write on this topic for months, but I could never bring myself to do it with everything else that has been happening in my life for the last four to six months. But, from day one, when the words came to me, I felt that it was very important for me to blog about marriage. So, here it goes.

Frequently, I am asked about marriage. The closer that I get to being fifty years old, I guess, for some, it seems an appropriate question for a woman. And, for some, I suppose that it seems strange that a woman has managed to stay unmarried with no children in her adult life. I’ve been close to marriage once. It has been more than twenty five years since I was engaged to be married, but it was an engagement that lasted all of two months. The deceptive actions of my ex-fiance made the idea of marriage – with him – simply unimaginable. Now, when I look back, I don’t regret backing out of that engagement for a moment, but when it happened, when it was clear that our relationship would not lead to marriage, I was devastated. But, that was to be understood; I was in my early twenties and marriage was an idea that I had been taught to embrace from my childhood. To be more exact I would say that I was indoctrinated into embracing and believing in the idea of marriage.

Today, marriage is not a priority for me. In fact, there are times when it is not really an idea that appeals to me; at least not with so many relationships and marriages in the U.S. falling to pieces. One book captures this concern. In Is Marriage for White People: How the African American Decline Affects Everyone, professor of law at Stanford, Ralph Richard Banks queries:

White adults, men and women alike, are more than twice as likely to be single now as in 1970. More American women in their early thirties are single today than ever in our nation’s history. African Americans lead the marriage decline; other groups follow…Still, marriage has diminished more among African Americans than among any other Americans, including whites with whom I typically contrast African Americans for ease of exposition. Black women are only half as likely as white women to be married (11), and more than two times as likely as white women never to marry (12). As others marry, black women often remain alone (13).

I came to terms, years ago, with the idea of being alone, as in being not married. At first I was not married due to a failed relationship – or so it seemed. Later, I was not not married by choice. Why? Well, by my early thirties I came to understand that being alone does not mean being without male companionship or intimacy. I do not have trouble finding men to date. Shucks, “some of my best friends are men,” and I often enjoy the presence of a man for fun and relaxation. However, rarely have I found that many of those men would make good or worthwhile lifetime partners. Yes, every now and then I meet a man who is quite intriguing, but marriage is the last thing on my mind. Most of the time, I’m just trying to ascertain what is possible with that man. Ultimately, I want to know can we get along! Do we have what it takes to last as a couple? If we can’t get through the first month or two, or six, without too much trouble, then, duh, there is no going forward. I am simply not into the idea of getting married just for marriage’s sake.

Today, my approach to marriage is similar to my approach to teaching and to my life as an academic in general. I expect college students to put their all into doing well in a course; and, likewise, I put my all into what I am teaching and writing. Furthermore, I believe that we are all students of life, and with that comes recognizing the lessons we learn about ourselves and love. I try to give my all when I feel love with a man, but, a man who shows me that he is not willing or capable of giving his all and of doing the necessary emotional work of relationship is not, as some might say, “marriage material.” In fact, such a man is not really “relationship material.” I enjoy being in an intimate relationship with a man; it is where I do some of my best work, so to speak. I enjoy talking and working things out, but rarely do I meet men who enjoy talking and working things out. On the flipside, I find that many men enjoy the fun of being in relationships, but they often avoid the not-so-fun part of being in relationship. And there is at least one good reason for that: when you open up yourself to someone of interest, you are making your whole self visible and thus seen. All the good parts are visible, but so are all of the not-so-good parts. Being seen wholly like this makes us all vulnerable and thus open to pain or hurt. Patriarchy and the social construction of masculinity teaches many men (from childhood) to avoid being so seen with such vulnerability. One of my favorite authors, feminist bell hooks, has explained, that boys, especially black boys, are often only seen in part, not wholly. For some, going through life not being seen as vulnerable, often expressed as cold, hard or angry, is a means to surviving traumatic and painful conditions. The downside is that refusing to be seen as vulnerable and making oneself invisible to avoid being seen as a way of life can also lead one down a very lonely and dark path. On the contrary, I have found that being vulnerable is the way to thrive in life and in love. Embracing our vulnerability (being willing to share our whole selves with another) is the lifeline to experiencing a good, healthy relationship. Of course, this kind of vulnerability, which leads to intimacy, doesn’t happen overnight, but gradually and with time and effort it has beautiful and rewarding consequences for those who are willing to make themselves visible to each other, scars and all, and in spite of the fact that they might get hurt. Unfortunately, the possibility of getting hurt goes with the territory of relationship.

So, before I close this blog I will say openly that I am not against getting married, nor do I think that it is something that is only for white people. However, I will say that until people – men and women no matter what color or class – are willing to be seen as vulnerable then marriage is not something to be embraced or taken seriously. That said, I will also say that instead of constantly finding paradigms to fit ourselves into, such as marriage, we must endeavor to find the wherewithal to construct healthy social or relationship paradigms that work for us in the here and now. And, whatever relationship paradigms we construct for ourselves, must be specific to who we are, what we need and want from ourselves, others, and life in general. Indeed, the relationship paradigms that we create must be a reflection of our own lived experiences; and that will include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In conclusion, if a person is not good at developing healthy relationships – ones that are based on respect, honesty, equity, and loving kindness –  then how is marriage imaginable? No marriage will survive if there is disrespect, dishonesty, inequity or animosity for the other, unless, I suppose, there is some kind of covert arrangement or transaction at work, or, unless the person is willing to live with such expressions. On the other hand, it is very important to recognize one’s own autonomy or worth and completeness apart from anybody else. Thus, what I have learned from life is that I, as a black woman, do not have to be married to be happy or fulfilled in life. Being happy or fulfilled is something that is up to me to cultivate, and so far I do not require or need marriage or children to find fulfillment or happiness in life. Yes, it is always great to share myself with a man that I care about, and I have known some very interesting men, but I can love a man wholly without being married and without bringing children into this world. There is nothing wrong with being alone and the happiness that I feel and know for myself is something I know and create from within, alone. And, right now, there is nothing more important than cultivating my own happiness for myself.

© 2015 annalise fonza, Ph.D.


Love, American Style: Valentine’s Day and the Commercialization of Happy

Every two or three months there is a “holiday.” These are special days that are nationalized or christened by the government whereby the public is encouraged to go out and spend money, en masse. Whether it be Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, Americans and those living in these 50 states and I suppose those in American territories, are encouraged to do something that almost always necessitates the spending of money (hence the “political economy” of U.S. holidays).

Of course, every now and then, there is nothing wrong with spending money or offering a kind gesture to acknowledge someone you know and care about. However, Americans tend to take these special days to the extreme. Valentine’s Day, for example, is packaged and marketed for lovers and the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” roll freely from the lips of perfect strangers. Notions of being “happy,” “loving,” “in love,” or headed “towards love” are promoted quite indiscriminately. Nevermind the fact that we live in one of the most violent if not THE most violent nation on the PLANET, especially when it comes to gun violence. What nerve we have to promote the idea of love with a special day called Valentine’s Day, which is named for a Greco-Roman festival that made sport of violence against women!

Those who know me personally and via social media know how I feel about love. The experience and the feeling of love are topics that I often feature and discuss. To love (whether social or individual) is one of the most revolutionary things one can do in a violent or loveless society. And, it is something that we ALL can do. Love, however, is not limited to the expression of positive acceptance or approval, sometimes we love self and others by setting clear boundaries, detaching, or by resisting the abuse of power or position. I have learned from life and from black feminist bell hooks that to love is to do justice; it is to be and act in a manner that is equitable and fair. And I assume that most mature adults know from experience that achieving or articulating fairness, equity, or even justice is not always comfortable or pleasant, especially in personal relationships – because it is there that we learn about ourselves most acutely. There is a cost and sometimes a sacrifice associated with love, and, there is a responsibility that goes along with love and loving, which I suppose is why so many suck at maintaining healthy, loving relationships.

Truth be told, many are not very good at being honest and thus taking responsibility for one’s actions in a relationship is minimal; dishonest people avoid love because it requires a certain degree of accountability to self and to others. Love, American style encourages those who consume more than they give and those who live beyond their means along with many veneers. Love, American style appeals to those who are afraid to be vulnerable and present because, most likely, they are afraid of getting hurt, which is inevitable. Ironically, such people who don’t want the responsibility of love, or the ones who are very afraid of getting hurt tend to be the biggest consumers of special days like Valentine’s Day even when they know that most American marriages end in divorce; and these same folks seek after “the institution of marriage” as if it were not failing exponentially. Love makes the world go ’round, not marriage. And, if you don’t genuinely love yourself before you come to the idea or the question of marriage (by being true to yourself and your feelings), if you are not emotionally able or willing to be loving, vulnerable, equitable, and if you have never truly committed or invested yourself emotionally in another person in or out of marriage, then call it what it is, but don’t call it love. If you are not successful in pre-marital relationships, don’t look to be successful in marriage. It is hypocritical of men (or women) who say they want marriage – that they are “looking” for a wife (or a husband) – when they are not remotely interested or active in establishing committed relationships (i.e., when from day one they say, via words or actions, that they are not looking for anything serious…that they are just “going with the flow”).

In addition, don’t call it love if all you’ve really got to give are “happy” days and quick commercialized, capitalistic arrangements of time and events where, for instance, “happy” is bartered, bought and sold with dinner to the highest bidder, or with the one or ones who cause you, the buyer or financier of all that stuff to feel good, for the time being. In my book, love, American style is where happiness is tied primarily to personal, material and economic success and thus commodified. As far as I’m concerned, you can have all the money in the world; you can own the tallest building, or the biggest mansion, or the most luxurious car; you can be as good looking as Denzel Washington and have everything to achieve the “good life,” and still that would not mean to me that you are good at loving yourself and others. Love, American style, thrives on material-oriented and vapid social interactions that exploit the desire for the accumulation of things, possessions or attention/approval from others; and, the powers that be will market any and everything that is important to us as human beings for profit, because they know that many people will do almost anything to feel loved or happy. In contrast, the practice and the art of loving do not work like that, and the expression of love needs no special day to be apparent or tangible. Love is a feeling and an action, and if you feel love then acknowledge it, act upon it, today and everyday. The hyper-commercialization of love or a day for love will not bring us any closer to the ones we consider special or the ones that we care about. Rather, articulating love and being loving are things that we courageously do on a day-to-day basis to affirm and sustain our humanity and that of those around us, even if it costs us nearly everything to do so.

© 2014 annalise fonza, Ph.D.