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In his bestselling book, and soon to be movie, Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, Steve Harvey offers women advice on “how to be a girl,” something he believes is a lost art. Many of his suggestions, including cooking for your man and not lifting heavy items, are typical of the reductive thinking permeating incessant modern discussions about black male-female relationships. Women are to be dependent, submissive, chaste yet sexually available, and focused on “womanly things” like nurturing, child-rearing and cooking. Above all, a good woman must “let a man be a man”–that is independent, a natural leader in all things, emotionally distant, sexually voracious and prone to stray. We are told, the fate of the race and black women’s happiness depends on both men and women acting out these roles. But treating traditional gender roles as gospel is more damaging to the black community than helpful. There is no one way to be a man or a woman.

This isn’t a treatise against men and women who like to kick it old school. Do you. But it is dangerous to hold up regressive ideas of femininity and masculinity as the way it should be. Too many of our ideas of gender roles are based on the sexist hierarchy entrenched in the majority white culture, long before black men were recognized as fully men and black women as women. Narrow views of gender do a disservice to both black men and women, curtailing their freedom to be their authentic selves and exacerbating already serious problems in the black community.

Harvey and many other advice-givers traffic in the notion that black men are simple and largely the same. Those claims make me angry every time I hear them. I am angry because that idea sells short every wonderful black man I know–my husband, my brother, my nephews, my father, my grandfathers–all good men, who are as complex and varied as any other human being. None can be summed up in with cartoonish descriptions of manhood.

When it comes to relationships, men are also varied in what they want and need, as are women.

There are old-school brothers who believe in ruling the roost and there are more modern types who prefer egalitarian relationships. I married a man that wants to be my partner not my leader. I have another married friend that believes in “husband as head.” We both have happy marriages that work for us. Which is the point, really. Women who wish to marry aren’t in search of just any man, but one that fits their unique needs. Advice that encourages women to bend themselves to fit men, with men defined as some monolithic group, is as useless as it is sexist.

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56 Comments

  1. Preach! I’m co-signing on this article. I always found it funny that people would actually take Steve Harvey as a serious relationship-advice giver. He most definitely isn’t someone young men and women should look up to as an example.

    That light skinned woman is beautiful! Can someone tell me if she is an actress or model? Does she have a fan page?
    PS: I’m not thirsty

    • Socially Maladjusted

      dave

      I’m not thirsty

      LMAO!

      Why not the b itch makes me thirsty.

      ha ha . . .

  2. E.M.S.

    If the old school gender roles work for someone else, great, but they don’t for me. I prefer working together as a team & being on the same level. That’s worked out pretty well so far :)

    I’m the type of woman that believe in complete equality. That includes paying for dates! We always alternate to take care of the bill and fill the gas tank.

  3. Tumaini

    Great article! I find it so frustrating how some macho notion of maleness is always used as the reference point for prescriptions as to how women should act.

  4. Leelee

    @Mamareese

    REAL MEN can do things that can harm or displace their families unintentionally. You can make a choice with the best of intentions and it can still go horribly wrong. This doesn’t make them less of a man or bad people because they make an unwise choice. That’s why,I believe, other opinions are needed. Group think can be toxic, just ask the staff of the Challenger. This is my main problem with gender roles. I have a right to decide which direction my life goes. So when there are big decisions that could forever change my life I have a right to be a part of them.

  5. Miss September

    IMO it can be a balance in a relationship . I agree with the article that traditional gender
    roles does not always work . Every relationship is different and a lot of it is trial and error . Also , ladies I wouldn’t take advice from any of these so called gurus . I think
    the best advice is to follow your heart . That should determine if the relationship is
    for you or not ……

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