The Non-Traditional Black Woman in America
Around the world and in the United States, women are recognized as homemakers. Traditionally they are considered responsible for cleaning up their houses, cooking for their husbands and children, and helping the latter with their school work. They must ensure that their husbands and children have clothes that are washed. Taking care of the elders in the house, such as the husband’s parents, is another traditional duty of the female. Husbands or males are traditionally considered the breadwinners for the family. Although countless people have already spoken against inequality with regards to sex – the fact remains that women are considered the weaker sex. The male is considered physically stronger, which is why he can work outside the home for long hours. If a woman does the same, it may be that people would sexually harass or abuse her and she would not be able to defend herself. Besides, it is the woman who gives birth to her babies. She produces milk for them, too. This is yet another reason why she must be available for her children at home while her husband works away from home. After all, she develops a stronger bond with her children.
But, in the African American culture, the woman is expected to perform duties that are traditionally assigned the male, apart from her duties of the conventional woman. Hill (2002) explains non-traditional gender roles in the African American culture thus:
Most Black scholars have contended that, at least historically, African Americans were not
expected or even allowed to conform to the gender norms of White Americans… Slavery
forced Black women to devote most of their energies to work rather than to family life… and
essentially deprived Black men of their roles as breadwinners, protectors, and heads of the
family. Afrocentric scholars have agreed that gender role distinctions among Blacks have
been negated to some extent, but explained it as originating from the African cultural heritage,
where the low status of women was elevated by their economic roles and the existence of
female centered kin networks… Indeed, the strongest argument of Black divergence from
rigid gender roles is found in analysis of the roles of African American women, whom
scholars have argued are taught to be strong and independent… to prepare for careers rather
than to rely on marriage for economic security,… and are often given priority when parents
decide which child to send to college (Hill).
There is not as much competition facing women in the workplaces of America as there is for men. Most people working in the richest business districts of the United States, such as Wall Street, are males. Apparently, the African American woman does not expect very high wages, which is the reason why she is encouraged to become financially independent. The white woman of America also does not expect wages that men are paid. Hence, much of the competition in the workplace is faced by men. It is for this reason that Hill writes about African American males lagging behind in motivation as compared to African American females. White men have traditionally held the best positions in corporate America. It may be inferred from Hill’s analysis that African American males have been disappointed for such a long time that even their families do not encourage them to move ahead in life as the African American females are urged.
According to Moses (1982), African American women are prepared to adopt “non-traditional gender roles more often than white women” because they have been socialized to stay flexible and aim for high achievement (p. 8). Because they are the ones that give birth to their children, they are the principle bearers of their race. Hence, black women in America tend to encourage their children to get and stay ahead of white children so that their race is not looked down upon in a country that is predominantly white. Although white uneducated women may or may not encourage their children to study hard in order to get good jobs, Moses writes that black uneducated women in America encourage their children to do so. Because racism had been an awkward part of America since the beginning, the black woman of America, regardless of her own experiences in life, has consistently prodded her children to raise her family’s standard of living (Moses).
The white woman of America has not been encouraged to adopt professional occupations as the black woman. The latter had worked as a slave for the white mistress. But, even after slavery had been abolished in America, it was the black woman who was more willing than the white woman to assume non-traditional gender roles outside the home. She took up professional roles, became a community leader, and joined politics not only “to fill a void” and help her family meet its need for daily bread, but also because she had experienced suffering in her life and was therefore more prepared than the white woman to work for humanitarian causes (Moses, p. 8). There is abundant literature depicting the black woman as a dominant and powerful matriarch, and nearly not enough about the white woman of America. The black man is not depicted as a powerful force in the family chiefly because he gets to compete with the dominant white male outside the home. The black woman does not have to consider such competition, which is why she remains stronger than the man even in the home. To put it another way, her experiences in life do not undermine her self-esteem as much as the black male’s work outside the home undermines his. What is more, racism had almost prohibited high wages to black males, which is the reason why the black woman had to assume a powerful role in the family. She worked two jobs, after all – that of the traditional housekeeper and an earner of wages outside the home (Moses). She had to be more respected than the male in her home.
It is not as though the black woman in America has genetic orientation to assume two jobs at the same time. Rather, her family experiences teach her to be “resigned and equipped” to handle the responsibilities (Moses, p. 9). For many white women of America, taking up a job while taking care of children might be a choice. For innumerable black women of the United States, on the other hand, it has been a given. Moses writes that black women have also chosen work outside of the home in their “quest for dignity (Moses, p. 9).” When Africans were looked down upon in America, the black women believed that they must attempt to reverse the suffering caused by racism (Moses). After all, in their minds, the children they have borne would have been looked down upon if they did not choose to help their race however they could.
Hill, S. A. (2002). Teaching and Doing Gender in African American Families. Sex Roles: A
Journal of Research.
Moses, Y. T. (1982). Socialization and Non-Traditional Gender Roles: The Black Woman.
Paper presented at the meetings of the American Anthropological Association
(Washington, DC, 1982). Retrieved Dec 2, 2008, from http://eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/2e/97/76.pdf.