I am a feminist. I’m kind of late to this designation, at least in my eyes. I’m less than five years south of 50, and I’ve only recently recognized the utility of feminism. The necessity. In fact, I firmly believe that as Nigerian author and feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, has written: “we should all be feminists.”
Way more often than I think we’d be willing to admit, however, women often fail to provide the support and nurture we want and require from each other. We fail to adhere to what seems to me to be a basic feminist principle, which is that women support each other on the basis of our shared oppression and struggle. But we don’t always do that. It’s not that we try to throw each other under the bus – not always. But in general, I’ve begun to believe that we harbor in our hearts so many of the lies that society has told us about ourselves that it’s nearly impossible for us to show up for each other when the time comes. We allow our belief in patriarchal notions about women (that we’re weaker, easily led astray, up to no good, after somebody else’s man or job or status, only defined and affirmed by the accomplishments of the men we are with, in need of a good screw in order for us to sit down and calm down, etc) to color our interactions with each other. As a result, our hearts and minds are really quite closed to the trouble, conflict and disappointment we all encounter. As a result, we can’t show up for each other because we erroneously believe that, somehow, “she deserved it.”
Did you know that black women suffer from depression many more times than women in any other racial group? There are multiple reason for the statistics – fewer black women have health insurance, many are misinformed about the realities of depression, and the stigma of mental illness in the black community carries too much shame and ridicule. And I’d like to suggest a fourth reason that we may suffer from depression: because in our heart of hearts, many of us believe that indeed, we “deserve” whatever “it” is that is causing us trauma in our lives. Whatever the oppressive forces that cause us to feel out of control, and that challenge even our faith. And as a result of that belief – that we deserve the hardships – perhaps we don’t feel that we deserve solution.
I think, however, that black women loving and caring about black women can go a long way in addressing some of the hurt and pain we experience, and carry, in our lives. We have to believe that are worth standing up for, and that belief must begin on an individual level. We have to shake off the sneaking suspicion that we are not good enough – because of what society, family, community may say and reflect back at us. We have to dig deep and do the work to undo the internalized oppression that would have us live beneath ourselves, defeated, just surviving, afraid. We should all be feminists because feminism reimagines women as victorious, capable, equal, strong. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we are. We have to believe it, though, and work to actualize that reimagining. We can help each other to embrace the vision of how amazing and worthy we all are by affirming ourselves, and each other.
Natalie Bullock Brown is an award-winning and Emmy-nominated producer and consultant, and is chair of and an assistant professor in the Department of Film & Interactive Media at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina. For more than a decade, Natalie served as a co-host of Black Issues Forum, a public affairs program on UNC-TV, North Carolina’s statewide public television network. Natalie was associate producer on Ken Burns’ 10-part series, Jazz, and recently produced a multi-part DVD series documenting the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Conference of Freedom Summer (2014) , and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) 50th Anniversary Commemorative Conference (2010). Natalie is in the development phase of a documentary about black women and beauty. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film Production from Howard University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Northwestern University. She tweets at @nataliebb2.