Recently, my romantic interested accused me of throwing my Ph.D. in his face. Most Black women with Ph.D.’s will know exactly how egregious an accusation that is, especially since we are hypersensitive and overly vigilant about making sure never to “throw our degrees” in the face of less-accomplished potential boos or family members.
During a casual phone convo about our respective college experiences, Dude who is a high school math teacher and has a couple of advanced degrees in math fields remarked to me that he found most humanities/ social science majors, including English and Political Science—my undergrad majors—“illegitimate.” Now given that all of my degrees are in humanities fields, I was majorly incensed.
And although I’m
tired of used to –and normally unphased by– these inanely conceived verbal jousting matches that dudes engage highly educated women in in order to see if we are really as smart as our degrees seem to indicate, this time I was pissed.
It’s college administrators and other knuckleheads who think like him that make my job so hard in the first place. Thinking like this explains, partially anyway, why my students can’t write for shit and why my salary is a comically paltry percentage of the amount of student loans I owe.
When I questioned his logic, he got defensive. When I further exposed the flaws in his arguments (skills courtesy of my humanities education), he explained that he would not “back down,” or “give in” even though he could admit that his opinion “wasn’t well thought out,” because he knew that this is what I was used to men doing…”backing down to stroke my ego.” Projection, anyone?
What I’m actually used to men doing is attacking me once they start intellectual fights they can’t finish. I’m used to men putting me in the friend zone because they find my smarts intriguing but not sexy. I’m used to men straight up belittling and insulting me—calling me stupid, unattractive, or using “feminist” like an expletive—in order to get the upper hand when they feel intellectually outmatched.
Yep. So I went off. Reiterated the illogic of his arguments. Told him my feelings were hurt. Explained that it is important to me that folks who are close to me value what I do, as it is a part of who I am.
His reply: “well, I think it’s cool that you’re a teacher. And people should teach subjects they are passionate about.” Subjects that he doesn’t respect, mind you. “I don’t just teach; I also conduct research and write books and articles” I told him, trying to get him to understand that his remark was patronizing at best.
What did I say “just” for?
To that came his snarky reply, “I don’t just teach either, and just because I don’t have three little letters behind my name, doesn’t make what I do any less valuable.”
I’ll spare you the sordid details; let’s just say it’s was already a thin line and he crossed it.
But the situation reminded me of all the ways that patriarchy conspires against our ability to build loving connections with men.
- Patriarchy makes men competitive. It makes them see women with more education as competition rather than as folks who would make good partners.
- Patriarchy conditions men to use emotional extortion and passive aggressive behaviors –saying hurtful things and then claiming them as innocuous opinions; shutting down after deliberately saying something provocative and offensive and then accusing the woman of picking fights or being emotional; demanding your silence in the face of offensive behaviors in exchange for love and affection–as a way to gain control over women who intimidate them.
- Patriarchy makes straight men feel justified in domesticating smart women. In the case of Black men, with whom I’m most familiar, they largely measure success by their ability to create traditional families. By contrast, many accomplished straight Black women have become that way largely by jettisoning their investment in traditional gender roles. I get it at an historical level. The Civil Rights Movement for Black men was as much about manhood as about race. Black men wanted to be able to perform the traditional roles that they’d seen white men performing for their families. And they built concepts of masculinity around such outcomes. Black men want women who are impressed and content if they stay, provide, and lead. For Black women, there were different outcomes, courtesy of Civil Rights and Black feminism. These sisters imagine men who champion their careers and are willing to actively co-parent– men who partner, support, and communicate.
- Male privilege allows Black men not to interrogate these relational preferences, but rather to see them as natural and innate. Hence, they never have to explain why it feels emotionally safer and more comfortable to them to date, conquer, and domesticate a high-achieving sister. Black women have not had such luxuries. Many of us have had to relinquish our supposed natural desires for a traditional hetero-patriarchal set-up and entertain/embrace other possibilities for partnership. But if dudes can’t or won’t get on board with that, then largely we are shit out of luck. And the reality is that most Black men don’t have to get on board with it; with 70% of highly educated Black women having never been married, our choice not to submit to traditional expectations will not cost Black men anything in the way of finding a partner.
And perhaps it was that realization, that Dude could just pick up and move on to the next one, in a way that my lack of options has not thus far seemed to allow, that made me stay when I knew—and when many of you told me months ago—to go. But perpetual romantic droughts can make one’s principles—“You’re the best thing I never had; there’s a good in goodbye (I never have the Beyonce “sucks to be u” moment, y’all!!! Will I never be vindicated?); etc, etc” seem like the most unconsoling of consolation prizes.