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Black Feminist Response to Think Like a Man

Yes, brotha—come GET me!: A Black Feminist’s (Late) Response to Think Like a Man

Think Like a Man Promotional PosterI just finished watching Think Like a Man for the first time on Starz.  I resisted going to see the film when it was released 11 months ago, because I have problems with Steve Harvey capitalizing on black women’s pain—in the film and the book that inspired it, Act Like a Lady; Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think about Love, Relationships, Commitment, and Intimacy.  I have serious issues with bullshit patriarchal narratives that suggest black woman must “think like a man” in order to find happiness and fulfillment in heterosexual relationships.  Steve Harvey isn’t the only culprit, though.  Last October, D. L. Hughley ranted on NPR about black women being unnecessarily angry.  In response to that, I wrote, “I’m angry because black women continue to be treated like second-class citizens in the political arena, in the media, in some of our families, etc., even as we continue to carry most of these institutions on our backs.  I’m angry because when black women are kidnapped, raped, and murdered, they and their loved ones are the LEAST likely to receive proper justice. I’m angry because we need special shows like BET’sBlack Girls Rock!” just to let our daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts, friends, and cousins know that we’re intelligent and beautiful, because motherfuckers give people like D. L. Hughley the opportunity to tell us we’re not on a REGULAR basis.”

On top of all that, how many black men do you think would run out in droves to buy and/or watch Act Like a Gentleman; Think Like a Woman?  Probably not many, since the dominant discourse about black love suggests a black man only has to find a black woman that knows how to stay in her place.  To be fair, this ground has been covered significantly.  Tamara Winfrey Harris wrote, “The message reveals a patriarchal view of male/female relationships that positions women as objects of conquest rather than agents who make their own choices.”  Similarly, the Crunk Feminist Collective referred to the film as “the latest insult to Black women’s romantic lives.”  Black feminists had these adverse reactions, because we have been there and done that for decades.  In Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman, Michele Wallace writes, “The message of the Black [Power] movement was that I was being watched, on probation as a Black woman, that any signs of aggressiveness, intelligence, or independence would mean I’d be denied even the one role still left open to me as ‘my man’s woman,’ keeper of house, children, and incense burners.”  That was 1976, and we still seem to be struggling with this problem almost 40 years later.  Black women are tired of being told that something is wrong with us.  We are not all sitting around waiting for Steve Harvey and D. L. Hughley to tell us how to get and keep a man.  Believe it or not, some of us are happily single.  Believe it or not, some of us are lesbians.  Believe it or not, some of us are in fulfilling relationships with black men.  And we are tired of being ignored.

So, why did I find myself smiling numerous times while I was watching the film?  Probably for the same reason I smiled when Django said, “I’m back, baby!” to Broomhilda.  It felt a little good to see black men in film going through a bit of hell and a bit of high water getting to black women’s love (and even sex), however patriarchal that may be.  Coming to grips with this seems to be a recurring dilemma for young black feminists.  In When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down, Joan Morgan courageously asks, “Can you be a feminist and admit out loud that there are things you kinda dig about patriarchy?”  I remember reading that book for the first time almost 15 years ago, and it’s still comforting to be reminded that I’m not alone.  I’m a young black woman in America.  It ain’t often that I get to watch films on the big screen that feature a black man trying to come rescue my ass.  Yes, brotha—come GET me!

I think I feel this way, in part, because my black feminist foremothers taught me that the black superwoman myth often hurt us more than it helps.  In “Black Man, My Man Listen!,” Gail Stokes writes, “You are dependent, very dependent, upon my proddings, my ideas, my dreams, and at first I am glad that you need me so.  I eagerly and happily feed you from the plate of motivation knowing that it is difficult for you to help yourself.  But, then at times you cause my arms to grow weary as I work harder straining myself in order to build you up.”  Yes, brotha—come get ME!  In Ain’t I a Woman?: Black Women and Feminism, bell hooks writes, “Most black women have not had the opportunity to indulge in the parasitic dependence upon the male that is expected of females and encouraged in patriarchal society […] The social equality that characterized black sex role patterns in the work sphere under slavery did not create a situation that allowed black women to be passive.”  Yes, brotha—come get ME!

This is why I couldn’t help but smile when, in Think Like a Man, Candace’s son Duke brought Michael to her so they could make up.  I smiled when Zeke told Mya that he was willing to start over and wait 90 days to have sex, since that’s what she wanted.  I even giggled a little when Cedric called Gail and told her he was coming home.  (Side note: I did roll my eyes a bit, too, because of course, a “talking to” from the good, happily married white dude, Bennett, just had to be the impetus for Cedric’s homecoming.)  To be honest, I was conflicted about all of that smiling when the movie ended.  That’s why I decided to write this black feminist response to Think Like a Man, to try and make sense of what I was thinking and feeling.  It’s important that we continue reconciling our thoughts and emotions regarding feminism and our sometimes challenging relationships with the black men we love.  How else are we going to progress the tradition our foremothers worked so hard to develop for us?  How else are we going to remember who we were, define who we are, and decide who we want to become?

Of course I’m not waving a white flag, surrendering my aggressiveness, intelligence, or independence.  I’m also not trying to use my aggressiveness, intelligence, or independence to manipulate the man I share my life (including two children) with.  Patricia Haden, Donna Middleton, and Patricia Robinson once told us, “All that ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘head of family’ shit is possible because we play the game—ego-tripping black men and ourselves.”  I’m far from suggesting that, but Steve Harvey seems to be suggesting, in many ways, that I—that we—do that and then some.  That’s where he gets it dead wrong.  Still, there was one last part near the end of Think Like a Man that made me smile.  I probably smiled my biggest smile when Lauren jumped on Dominic’s food truck demanding a second chance.  Yes, brotha—come GET me!  But you also need to realize that I’ll come get YOU, too.  And we both need to be okay with that.

UPDATE: Django says, “It’s me, baby!” to Broomhilda, not “I’m back, baby!”


CC3A3359Heidi R. Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Feminist & Gender Studies at Colorado College. Her teaching and research focus on feminist theory, gender and sexuality, Black Studies, Critical Media Studies, Critical Race Theory, Critical Whiteness Studies, social justice, and activism. Her essay “An Examination of the Kanye West’s Higher Education Trilogy” is featured in The Cultural Impact of Kanye West, and her article “Let Me Just Taste You: Li’l Wayne and Rap’s Politics of Cunnlingus” is forthcoming in the Journal of Popular Culture. She is currently in the process of completing articles that examine Rihanna’s “Pour It Up,” as well as FX’s The Shield. She has given talks at Kim Bevill’s Gender and the Brain Conference, the Frauenkreise Projekt in Berlin, the Educating Children of Color Summit, the Sankofa Lecture Series, the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement, the Gender and Media Spring Convocation at Ohio University, and the Conference for Pre-Tenure Women at Purdue University, where she earned a Ph.D. in American Studies (2011) and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies (2008). Heidi has also been a contributor to Mark Anthony Neal’s NewBlackManNPR’s “Here and Now,” KOAA news in Colorado Springs, and KRCC radio (the Southeastern Colorado NPR affiliate), and she was featured as a Racialicious Crush of the Week.” She and her husband, Antonio, live in Colorado Springs with their two children, AJ and Chase, and their cat Max. Learn more by following Heidi on Twitter at @therealphdmommy and by visiting her FemGeniuses website.

24 Comments

  1. Cathleen Bailey

    February 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I like how you talk about intelligence and independence. I not sure I agree with aggression, though (hostility, invasion, launching attacks)or name-calling. And then when Django saves Hildy for the second time and says simply, “It’s me baby.” Yeah, I feel you.

  2. Cathleen Bailey

    February 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I like how you talk about intelligence and independence. I not sure I agree with aggression, though (hostility, invasion, launching attacks)or name-calling. And then when Django saves Hildy for the second time and says simply, “It’s me baby.” Yeah, I feel you.

  3. Cathleen Bailey

    February 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I like how you talk about intelligence and independence. I not sure I agree with aggression, though (hostility, invasion, launching attacks)or name-calling. And then when Django saves Hildy for the second time and says simply, “It’s me baby.” Yeah, I feel you.

  4. Cathleen Bailey

    February 12, 2013 at 10:28 am

    I like how you talk about intelligence and independence. I not sure I agree with aggression, though (hostility, invasion, launching attacks)or name-calling. And then when Django saves Hildy for the second time and says simply, “It’s me baby.” Yeah, I feel you.

  5. Evette Dionne

    February 15, 2013 at 7:01 am

    I love this piece. It’s succinct and merges academia and popular culture well without one dominating the other. I also agree with the premise. Black love is complex and often fits outside of theories. Again, excellent article Professor Lewis.

  6. Evette Dionne

    February 15, 2013 at 7:01 am

    I love this piece. It’s succinct and merges academia and popular culture well without one dominating the other. I also agree with the premise. Black love is complex and often fits outside of theories. Again, excellent article Professor Lewis.

  7. Evette Dionne

    February 15, 2013 at 7:01 am

    I love this piece. It’s succinct and merges academia and popular culture well without one dominating the other. I also agree with the premise. Black love is complex and often fits outside of theories. Again, excellent article Professor Lewis.

  8. Evette Dionne

    February 15, 2013 at 7:01 am

    I love this piece. It’s succinct and merges academia and popular culture well without one dominating the other. I also agree with the premise. Black love is complex and often fits outside of theories. Again, excellent article Professor Lewis.

  9. Loren

    February 16, 2013 at 9:16 am

    This article really caught my attention because I also refused to see this film in theaters. A friend of mine pressed constantly for me to see this movie but I was in no rush. I loved the part where you pointed out the reasons why you are angry. Many people looking from the outside just say, “Black women are angry” but they never thing about the reasons why we are angry. We are expected to just let it roll off our backs like water does a flower petal, but we are only human and can only take so much. Also, its a very good argument that you make when you turn the tables about men thinking like women. Of course, very few men would buy that book because society has decided that the woman must conform in order to be accepted, not the male. It becomes commonplace for a woman to chase the man she wants, but it is great to see the men in movies making adjustments and changing the way they approach the situation in order to get the woman. I understand that everyone is used to woman changing, but maybe societies outlook on life needs to change. I mean, its not like it could get worse than it already is, could it?

    I once heard the saying that behind every successful man is a strong woman. We have always been the backbone of society, women of all color. I believe we have always been the one that were more mature, respectfully waiting for our turn in society, but it angers me to see that when we finally demand the right to be acknowledged, we are slapped in the face with the title of being “angry”. Maybe we are just fed up, has society ever looked at it that way?

    I agree with this article and the standpoint that it takes. Women have always been doing the chasing and catering to the needs of the man, can we be the recipient of the chase and catering? Django was a perfect example of this point.

  10. Loren

    February 16, 2013 at 9:16 am

    This article really caught my attention because I also refused to see this film in theaters. A friend of mine pressed constantly for me to see this movie but I was in no rush. I loved the part where you pointed out the reasons why you are angry. Many people looking from the outside just say, “Black women are angry” but they never thing about the reasons why we are angry. We are expected to just let it roll off our backs like water does a flower petal, but we are only human and can only take so much. Also, its a very good argument that you make when you turn the tables about men thinking like women. Of course, very few men would buy that book because society has decided that the woman must conform in order to be accepted, not the male. It becomes commonplace for a woman to chase the man she wants, but it is great to see the men in movies making adjustments and changing the way they approach the situation in order to get the woman. I understand that everyone is used to woman changing, but maybe societies outlook on life needs to change. I mean, its not like it could get worse than it already is, could it?

    I once heard the saying that behind every successful man is a strong woman. We have always been the backbone of society, women of all color. I believe we have always been the one that were more mature, respectfully waiting for our turn in society, but it angers me to see that when we finally demand the right to be acknowledged, we are slapped in the face with the title of being “angry”. Maybe we are just fed up, has society ever looked at it that way?

    I agree with this article and the standpoint that it takes. Women have always been doing the chasing and catering to the needs of the man, can we be the recipient of the chase and catering? Django was a perfect example of this point.

  11. Loren

    February 16, 2013 at 9:16 am

    This article really caught my attention because I also refused to see this film in theaters. A friend of mine pressed constantly for me to see this movie but I was in no rush. I loved the part where you pointed out the reasons why you are angry. Many people looking from the outside just say, “Black women are angry” but they never thing about the reasons why we are angry. We are expected to just let it roll off our backs like water does a flower petal, but we are only human and can only take so much. Also, its a very good argument that you make when you turn the tables about men thinking like women. Of course, very few men would buy that book because society has decided that the woman must conform in order to be accepted, not the male. It becomes commonplace for a woman to chase the man she wants, but it is great to see the men in movies making adjustments and changing the way they approach the situation in order to get the woman. I understand that everyone is used to woman changing, but maybe societies outlook on life needs to change. I mean, its not like it could get worse than it already is, could it?

    I once heard the saying that behind every successful man is a strong woman. We have always been the backbone of society, women of all color. I believe we have always been the one that were more mature, respectfully waiting for our turn in society, but it angers me to see that when we finally demand the right to be acknowledged, we are slapped in the face with the title of being “angry”. Maybe we are just fed up, has society ever looked at it that way?

    I agree with this article and the standpoint that it takes. Women have always been doing the chasing and catering to the needs of the man, can we be the recipient of the chase and catering? Django was a perfect example of this point.

  12. Loren

    February 16, 2013 at 9:16 am

    This article really caught my attention because I also refused to see this film in theaters. A friend of mine pressed constantly for me to see this movie but I was in no rush. I loved the part where you pointed out the reasons why you are angry. Many people looking from the outside just say, “Black women are angry” but they never thing about the reasons why we are angry. We are expected to just let it roll off our backs like water does a flower petal, but we are only human and can only take so much. Also, its a very good argument that you make when you turn the tables about men thinking like women. Of course, very few men would buy that book because society has decided that the woman must conform in order to be accepted, not the male. It becomes commonplace for a woman to chase the man she wants, but it is great to see the men in movies making adjustments and changing the way they approach the situation in order to get the woman. I understand that everyone is used to woman changing, but maybe societies outlook on life needs to change. I mean, its not like it could get worse than it already is, could it?

    I once heard the saying that behind every successful man is a strong woman. We have always been the backbone of society, women of all color. I believe we have always been the one that were more mature, respectfully waiting for our turn in society, but it angers me to see that when we finally demand the right to be acknowledged, we are slapped in the face with the title of being “angry”. Maybe we are just fed up, has society ever looked at it that way?

    I agree with this article and the standpoint that it takes. Women have always been doing the chasing and catering to the needs of the man, can we be the recipient of the chase and catering? Django was a perfect example of this point.

  13. sharlimar

    February 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I like that you tell the truth. our feelings and thoughts are multi-dimensional. smiling and wanting parts of behaviors that are deemed patriarchal and or selling out is human and true for so many of us. thanks for keeping your story/my story authentic. this is theory in motion.

  14. sharlimar

    February 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I like that you tell the truth. our feelings and thoughts are multi-dimensional. smiling and wanting parts of behaviors that are deemed patriarchal and or selling out is human and true for so many of us. thanks for keeping your story/my story authentic. this is theory in motion.

  15. sharlimar

    February 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I like that you tell the truth. our feelings and thoughts are multi-dimensional. smiling and wanting parts of behaviors that are deemed patriarchal and or selling out is human and true for so many of us. thanks for keeping your story/my story authentic. this is theory in motion.

  16. sharlimar

    February 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I like that you tell the truth. our feelings and thoughts are multi-dimensional. smiling and wanting parts of behaviors that are deemed patriarchal and or selling out is human and true for so many of us. thanks for keeping your story/my story authentic. this is theory in motion.

  17. Ashleigh Atwell

    February 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I felt the same way when I watched this movie and Django. I felt a little conflicted for enjoying them so much but I found comfort in knowing that I can address my conflicts and contradictions and keep my critical eye.

  18. Ashleigh Atwell

    February 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I felt the same way when I watched this movie and Django. I felt a little conflicted for enjoying them so much but I found comfort in knowing that I can address my conflicts and contradictions and keep my critical eye.

  19. Ashleigh Atwell

    February 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I felt the same way when I watched this movie and Django. I felt a little conflicted for enjoying them so much but I found comfort in knowing that I can address my conflicts and contradictions and keep my critical eye.

  20. Ashleigh Atwell

    February 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    I felt the same way when I watched this movie and Django. I felt a little conflicted for enjoying them so much but I found comfort in knowing that I can address my conflicts and contradictions and keep my critical eye.

  21. Felise

    February 17, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Thank you for this article! Your thoughts and references to other Black feminist thinkers, spoke to some of my own conflicts and contradiction in regards to feminism. I have read Harvey’s Act Like a Lady; Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think about Love, Relationships, Commitment, and Intimacy as well as Straight Talk, No Chaser: How to Find, Keep, and Understand a Man. I’d like to say I read in order to be an objective critic. But that would be a lie. Unfortunately, I read them honestly thinking I would learn how to find and keep a man. Of course, it didn’t work and in retrospect both books would have been better paper weights than instructional guides for love. However, I am less interested in Harvey’s need to publicly stroke his own ego and more interested in my willingness to feed into it. Why did I pick up either book in the first place? I think the answer can be found within this article. A part of me must subscribe to the “patriarchal view of male/female relationships that positions women as objects of conquest rather than agents who make their own choices.” How does one go about unsubscribing to these thoughts? By fighting the urge to smile when the damsel in distress (particular a Black damsel) is saved by her man? By boycotting these types of films all together? I’m not sure. I do know that I will be paying more attention to the messages I am subscribing to both in film and literature.

  22. Felise

    February 17, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Thank you for this article! Your thoughts and references to other Black feminist thinkers, spoke to some of my own conflicts and contradiction in regards to feminism. I have read Harvey’s Act Like a Lady; Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think about Love, Relationships, Commitment, and Intimacy as well as Straight Talk, No Chaser: How to Find, Keep, and Understand a Man. I’d like to say I read in order to be an objective critic. But that would be a lie. Unfortunately, I read them honestly thinking I would learn how to find and keep a man. Of course, it didn’t work and in retrospect both books would have been better paper weights than instructional guides for love. However, I am less interested in Harvey’s need to publicly stroke his own ego and more interested in my willingness to feed into it. Why did I pick up either book in the first place? I think the answer can be found within this article. A part of me must subscribe to the “patriarchal view of male/female relationships that positions women as objects of conquest rather than agents who make their own choices.” How does one go about unsubscribing to these thoughts? By fighting the urge to smile when the damsel in distress (particular a Black damsel) is saved by her man? By boycotting these types of films all together? I’m not sure. I do know that I will be paying more attention to the messages I am subscribing to both in film and literature.

  23. Felise

    February 17, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Thank you for this article! Your thoughts and references to other Black feminist thinkers, spoke to some of my own conflicts and contradiction in regards to feminism. I have read Harvey’s Act Like a Lady; Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think about Love, Relationships, Commitment, and Intimacy as well as Straight Talk, No Chaser: How to Find, Keep, and Understand a Man. I’d like to say I read in order to be an objective critic. But that would be a lie. Unfortunately, I read them honestly thinking I would learn how to find and keep a man. Of course, it didn’t work and in retrospect both books would have been better paper weights than instructional guides for love. However, I am less interested in Harvey’s need to publicly stroke his own ego and more interested in my willingness to feed into it. Why did I pick up either book in the first place? I think the answer can be found within this article. A part of me must subscribe to the “patriarchal view of male/female relationships that positions women as objects of conquest rather than agents who make their own choices.” How does one go about unsubscribing to these thoughts? By fighting the urge to smile when the damsel in distress (particular a Black damsel) is saved by her man? By boycotting these types of films all together? I’m not sure. I do know that I will be paying more attention to the messages I am subscribing to both in film and literature.

  24. Felise

    February 17, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Thank you for this article! Your thoughts and references to other Black feminist thinkers, spoke to some of my own conflicts and contradiction in regards to feminism. I have read Harvey’s Act Like a Lady; Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think about Love, Relationships, Commitment, and Intimacy as well as Straight Talk, No Chaser: How to Find, Keep, and Understand a Man. I’d like to say I read in order to be an objective critic. But that would be a lie. Unfortunately, I read them honestly thinking I would learn how to find and keep a man. Of course, it didn’t work and in retrospect both books would have been better paper weights than instructional guides for love. However, I am less interested in Harvey’s need to publicly stroke his own ego and more interested in my willingness to feed into it. Why did I pick up either book in the first place? I think the answer can be found within this article. A part of me must subscribe to the “patriarchal view of male/female relationships that positions women as objects of conquest rather than agents who make their own choices.” How does one go about unsubscribing to these thoughts? By fighting the urge to smile when the damsel in distress (particular a Black damsel) is saved by her man? By boycotting these types of films all together? I’m not sure. I do know that I will be paying more attention to the messages I am subscribing to both in film and literature.