I’m an eighteen year-old female who has neither been in a romantic relationship nor had her first kiss. I used to feel very embarrassed and insecure about this. In fact, I whined about this a lot this past summer to whoever would listen. I was supposed to have had a boyfriend by now. What was wrong with me?
Because of all of this complaining about being alone and “undesirable”, I shouldn’t have been so surprised when I received two of Steve Harvey’s books for Christmas: Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man and Straight Talk, No Chaser. Both of which have subtitles that claim to offer insight into “the world of men” and relationships. Well, at least someone had been listening and was trying to help me out with my perceived crisis.
I’m only going to address Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, because that’s the only one that I’ve read so far. What a warped book it was. Before I continue, I want to be fair to the gift-giver and include that they hadn’t read the book before gifting it to me. The book is in no way a reflection of their own personal beliefs.
From the beginning, I was turned off from this book because of its outdated ideas of masculinity and manhood: “This is the very core of manhood – to be the provider…The more he can provide for his woman and his kids, the bigger and more alive he feels.” (Harvey p. 25). Is a male not a man if he is gay or if he decides not to have children? In addition, my skin crawled when he describes women as possessions: “Once he says he cares about you, you are a prized possession to him, he will do anything to protect that prized possession.” (Harvey p. 31). Women are not trophies or objects – no human being should be considered that way.
And lastly, his sweeping generalizations about men, women, and gay men bothered me: “…a gay guy – someone you can go shopping with, who doesn’t want anything from you but gossip and details about what the old man bought you…” (Harvey p. 38). Very quickly, I got the overwhelming feeling that Harvey believed in traditional stereotypes: included in those, that men should take care of women and that women should let them. As an independent woman who supports equality within relationships, Harvey’s support for traditional gender roles and dependence made me sick.
Despite all of this, I kept reading and was hopeful when I saw the title of Chapter 13: Strong, Independent – and Lonely – Women. Now was the time for Harvey to redeem himself. I was excited to read something that related directly to me. In short, Harvey claims that successful women who can provide and protect themselves are impossible for men to connect with because those women make it impossible for a man to prove his “manhood” – which is apparently the ultimate goal.
“We don’t mind it if you have yourself totally together…But if the man who is pursuing your affection is never allowed by you to exhibit his ability to provide or protect, then how can he possibly see himself professing his love to a woman who has not allowed him to feel like a man.” (Harvey 182).
Harvey offers a way for said independent and strong women to allow the men they’re interested in to feel like a man: “Just be a lady.” (p. 187). He then goes on to list examples of how a woman can “be a lady”: “don’t try to fix the sink, the car, the toilet, or anything else”, “don’t take out the garbage, paint, or mow the lawn”, “don’t do any of the heavy lifting”, “don’t be afraid to make a meal or two”, “don’t wear a T-shirt to bed every night”. In short, he advises self-proclaimed independent women to feign weakness and fragility, to play a sort of game to boost the man’s ego.
All of this reminded me of a foot-race between a small child and a parent in which the parent purposely runs slower to make the child feel like a faster runner. It all seems so dishonest to me. Sure, in the long run it boosts the ego of both the man and the child, but it doesn’t exactly improve their actual respective abilities. As a result, it’s immediately out of the question for me to downplay my abilities to perform a certain task solely to help boost a man’s ego. Harvey expresses that at some point women will have to choose to be “the big ol’ strong, lonely woman” or to “back down and just be a lady.” (p. 189). If these were truly my only two options, I’d choose to be “the big ol’ strong, lonely woman”. I don’t desire male companionship that much.
In the end, Harvey is obviously not the official pundit for relationships. But why was this book so popular (four stars on Amazon and #1 New York Times Bestseller)? It seems that heterosexual black women are Harvey’s main audience. Why us? Well, black women are portrayed, overall, in such a poor light in the media as a whole. Because of this, it’s common for us black women to internalize this and to begin to feel undesirable or unwanted. In addition, for the black women in higher education, there are few black men to choose from already. In addition, there’s reason to believe that many non-black men are exclusive towards black women. Perhaps they have been brainwashed by the media into accepting the negative stereotypes of black women as truth. So you have a lot of single black women, like myself, who are questioning whether or not we’ll be alone forever. And Harvey capitalized on that with writing these types of books. And he failed.
The larger issue seems to be that being a single woman is perceived as “bad”. That’s extremely problematic. A woman’s value should not be tied to her romantic relationship with a man or offspring. A man’s isn’t. It’s okay to be single and even enjoyable. So if it happens, great. If not, that’s also great.
“Now I realize that everything I was looking for was much closer than I thought. Whether it’s with someone, or alone, those glimpses when you love and accept yourself totally, the world around you changes. In the end, happiness is a choice, isn’t it?” – Paula Schargorodsky
Further reading: Black, Female, and Single