Dimensions of Black Womanhood: The Rebel

photo caption: @jazzthenoise
photo caption: @jazzthenoise

By: Denni Cravins

reb·el

noun: rebel; plural noun: rebels

a person who resists authority, control, or convention.

nonconformist, dissenter, dissident, iconoclast, maverick

Being a rebel—for any reason or cause—is not easy. It’s easier to just “go with the flow” on everything. To not challenge. To not ask questions.

For me, fortunately and unfortunately, taking the “easy road” isn’t an option. Even when I try to sit quietly through seeing/hearing a micro or macro injustice, my true self—my intuition, spirit, the voice in my head—shouts at me and says “Rise up!”

It’s not always a big revolution or a “march” for justice. Often, it’s just offering a different point of view.

Walt Whitman said it best, “Re-examine all that you’ve been told and dismiss what insults your soul.”

I’m with Walt! We’re all born into the cancers of sexism, homophobia, classism, racism/white supremacy and more. But, by making yourself aware of your blind spots and unconscious biases, you can stop the stupid. Similarly, I can’t change the world singlehandedly, but I can inspire those around me to reconsider some of the harmful beliefs that they naïvely promote or silently advance.

For me, being a rebel is pretty simple. I have the audacity to believe that my voice (and every voice) is just as valuable as anyone else’s. Bold enough to advocate for what I feel is right. Courageous enough to push against the limited places and spaces that certain people/systems tell me/others we can occupy. Sufficiently daring to challenge the unspoken and spoken rules that foster division and inequity.

Growing up, I undoubtedly caused my parents great frustration. Being part of a public, religious, political family in the Deep South taught me that appearances were everything. And, as the middle child/only girl, who didn’t just take any answer and go away, I wasn’t always spoken to with words of affirmation or kindness. I saw a lot of pretense—not just at home—but in everyday life.

And, it wasn’t easy to reconcile who I was (or was becoming) with who I was supposed to be according to the (damn) “rules.”

Like any good Southern girl, I was taught overtly and covertly that external beauty was of the utmost importance. Being smart was expected too, as long as it didn’t interfere with being attractive to boys. Being good-looking, being chosen, getting married, and having kids—in that order—was presented as every girl’s ultimate dream.

Although I come from what I endearingly refer to as a long line of “crazy women,” who are far from timid or submissive, they bought into (intentionally or not) patriarchal norms and sexism. I often heard phrases like “What are people going to think if…,” “that I would be so pretty IF I would just do something with myself,” and “Women can’t do what a man can do.” As my feminist views became more apparent, I was told that no man would ever love me because I wanted to “be the man.”

But as fate would have it, boys (and men, before they should have been looking at me) were drawn to me. And, I was boy crazy, so this seemed like a good thing at the time.

Where I grew up, I was “in the middle”—not the prettiest or ugliest. It wasn’t until I encountered several uncomfortable moments where people commented on my body or looks that I realized that to some people I was something “special” in that category.

Similarly, when girls lashed out against me or said I was “stuck up” despite my kindness, I got so good at playing myself down that my self-esteem was non-existent for most of my life.

I rallied against being labeled the “pretty girl.” Although it seemed to have its perks, I didn’t want the limitations. For example, when you hear, “Looks aren’t everything,” it’s usually with the suggestion that pretty is all one could possibly have to offer. I’ve even heard silly comments like beautiful women are more likely to cheat, be crazy or be evil.

As time has gone on, my defiance against sexist constructs has extended to purposefully choosing not to get married and/or have kids thus far. Like with most things, I’ll do that my way, if and when I choose.

Recently, I was on a date and he said, “You’re super cute. I always tell you how beautiful you are.” I agreed with him and then said, “But, you don’t like the things about me that I like about myself—you know, the things that really matter.”

To my detriment, I can’t contain non-conformity to one aspect of my life. It is in me. Not long ago, I had a discussion with a colleague and said I felt penalized for sharing my opinions at work. After complimenting my great ideas and intellect, she said, “That’s a choice, but I know you value who you are. I appreciate that, but not everyone does.” I ended that conversation with a shaky voice, but not before I expressed that no amount of promotion could ever replace how I feel about myself.

Remember when I said being a rebel is not easy? It comes at a high price. It brings Saturday nights alone because you’d rather not spend time with someone you don’t like half as much as you like yourself. It brings heartbreaking rejections in different dimensions of life.

The human need to be loved, wanted and understood is extremely strong, and it’s real.

Fortunately, I’ve also met several special people—across the gender spectrum—who truly get/got me. Some are my best friends. A few are acquaintances with at least one shared passion and mutual admiration. Others are friends who’ve told me that my willingness to be different gives them courage to do something that is out of the ordinary for them—whether it be to travel, get fit or to embrace being single after a marriage that slaughtered his/her soul. And, a couple are former lovers, perhaps even soul mates, who showed me that I am wholly lovable.

Whether for a season, reason or lifetime, they are my lifesavers. They (or our shared memories) remind me that being authentic is worth it, even though it’s not easy.

Conformity is rewarded in most dimensions of life. But, the reward is that everyone likes you but yourself. Who do you want to like you?

Denni Cravins is a communications consultant who currently resides in Northern Virginia.  

Her life’s work is to destroy sexism and racism. When she’s not fighting those powers, she cherishes time with her friends, family and dogs and participates in community service. She also travels as often as possible and is determined to leave no stone unturned.

 

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