The video clip of Pastor John Gray saluting his wife for being down enough to willfully endure 8 years of excruciating matrimony (which he compared to childbirth) so he could work through his own mess and be reborn— has gone viral. Now, I definitely have some thoughts on the original clip and how Pastor Gray recollects those 8 years as being all about him, seemingly without regard to the journey of his wife... but I'll hold my tongue on that for a moment because what I find more interesting than the framing of his commentary on what a woman should be willing to endure for a man (or any relationship), is the dialogue happening in the comments between Black women on this topic.
Comments from women seemed to fall into one of two categories which are summed up in the video below which features the original clip of Pastor Gray and reflections by self proclaimed self love ambassador, Derrick Jaxn.
Either women believed that being able to endure pain at all cost is what validates our worth as women, or that ain't no way we should be out here letting a man break us down to build himself up— and that anyone/thing that causes us that much pain should kick rocks! This is literally a modern day "ride or die" debate! And while we are all entitled to our own opinion and to determine what we will and will not endure in a relationship, since this isn't a novel topic, I questioned, what does the research say about this?
Enter Dr. Natalie Watson-Singleton into the conversation. Dr. Watson-Singleton is an assistant professor of psychology at Spelman College. Her research examines Black women’s health and her work guides the development of culturally relevant mindfulness practices for Black women. I like to think of her as our very own Black Girl Wellness Master (BGWM)! In an article published in The Journal of Black Psychology, our BGWM discussed the "Strong Black Woman Schema." Interestingly enough, her research found that most of the studies on this topic were just as binary as the debates about Pastor Gray.
There was research that suggests being a "strong Black woman" is killing us (both mentally and physically), and there was research that suggests that the "strong Black woman" attitude contributes to our identify in a positive way by pushing us to overcome life's unfair yet inevitable challenges and increasing our sense of self worth. Dr. Watson-Singleton's research was the first of it's kind to examine how Black women simultaneously experience both the good and the bad of strong Black womanhood.
Through interviews with Black women across varying ages and varying socioeconomic statuses, she uncovered 3 conflicting messages Black women often hold, (1) be psychologically durable yet do not engage in behaviors that preserve psychological durability, (2) be equal yet be oppressed, and (3) be feminine yet reject traditional feminine norms.
I don't know about ya'll, but ALL of this resonates with me. Black women are expected to endure but not ask for help, because that would make us weak! We must be as smart as or smarter than our White peers but we must also struggle because, "the struggle" is what gives us credibility and validates us as strong Black women. After all, how can we be strong if we never go through anything? And lastly, we should be able to adopt both feminine and masculine gender roles at the same damn time because everyone knows that a strong Black woman "don't need no man for nothing!"
As you are reading this, not only do I hope you see how nearly impossible it is to embody all of these things simultaneously, but I hope you see how ridiculous the expectation is! Perhaps what's actually killing us is the constant internal conflict that isn't being discussed? You see, this is not a binary conversation. Our lives aren't actually lived in black and white. We all live full, bold, colorful lives and nuance matters. The outcome isn't necessarily the point here, it's the how and the why that we need to be talking about.
So instead of asking, "how could she stay with him??" I'm hoping we can shift the dialogue to a conversation about how and why we endure hardships and how we get and give support. How do we work through these internal conflicts and make decisions that leave us feeling whole, and fulfilled, and valued, and supported, and loved? That is the question!
*Loving this topic? Continue the conversation in The Executive Suite and gain access to a mindfulness masterclass with Dr. Natalie Watson-Singleton.