Is it only empowerment when a White girl picks up a sword? (Revised and reposted from Tumblr)

Here’s something I wanted to talk about every time a movie comes out that shows us an “empowered” White girl and says how she’s some sort of role model for all women because she shows that women don’t have to be fragile or delicate.

As much as I loved Brave and despised Snow White and the Huntsman, people saying this sort of thing really, really irritates me.

Know why it irritates me? Because so many women don’t get to be seen as fragile, delicate, or vulnerable. Most of these women are women who look like me.

The Strong Black Woman is practically a trope, one that presents Black girls and women as being superhuman subhuman “rhino-hided she-beasts” (witchsistah) who can bear physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial burdens far greater than those “normal” or “real” women would put up with. Abuse? Rape? Poverty? Racism? Sexism? Trauma? No problem. The Strong Black Woman can take it and keep being her sassy, fabulous self like it didn’t mean nothing (Does that sound familiar, True Blood fandom?).

Black women don’t get to be princesses. We are never damsels. And we most certainly do not have people lining up to take care of us or help us even when we need it most. We’re not strong because we choose to be. We’re strong because we have to be. For us to acknowledge our own vulnerability, to confront our own pain and fear and grief, to allow ourselves to be finite and human, is apparently forbidden.

I say forbidden, and that’s exactly what I mean. See, if we complain about the bad shit that gets heaped on us (and often because we’re “so strong”), we’re whining and need to suck it up (see: Tara Thornton). Apparently, we are stronger than Atlas, since it seems that the world will fall to pieces if we stop holding it up for everybody to benefit but us.

21 thoughts on “Is it only empowerment when a White girl picks up a sword? (Revised and reposted from Tumblr)

  1. And that’s aside from, especially in Urban Fantasy, the idea that a white girl with no personality (but a tragic past) and a sword counts as a strong character

    This is one of the problems we have with these “rewritten/reimagined fairytales” or princess stories, changed now to be so much more “progressive” than originally written – but it’s only ever through one lens. They’re re-written to not show women as damsels – but it ignores the fact that treatment of women wasn’t the only thing wrong with them – including the scads of erasure. And the fact that, for WOC, being the delicate damsel was never a trope they had to break out of – quite the opposite. In many ways it’d be far more “progressive” by having a Black woman being rescued and whisked off to a tower with 101 servants – not because she needs to kick her little feet and scream helplessly, but because someone cares enough to rescue her and because she’s allowed to live in the lap of luxury and be doted on.

  2. I wonder if you’ve read Princeless? It’s a for-kids graphic novel that does the now more popular “princess breaks out of her own tower” trope, with a black Princess. And she doesn’t break out because no one will rescue her, she breaks out because she doesn’t want to be locked up.

    It’s one drop in the ocean, but it’s one of my favorite comics right now, and I’m always interested in what other people think.

    • I’ve got the Princeless series on my xComic app for my tablet and it’s a wonderful read that deals with patriarchy pretty darn well, not to mention pokling fun at women’s armour while also doing some shout outs to the armour of pop culture’s more famous fantasy heroines, such as Xena, Red Sonja, and Wonder Woman.

      I’ve got the first volume as well as the two annuals, and I’m eagerly awaiting what comes next.

  3. I keep on thinking about what Maya Angelou said at the end of her first autobiography which was that black women have to be strong to survive the world, and instead of being praised and celebrated, they’re denigrated and demonized for it.

    And I think about the Frog Princess, from Disney pictures, which ended, from what I read, with Tiana with her love as they work hard to run a restaurant in New Orleans as compared to her white counterparts, from Tangled, to Snow White, to Beauty & the Beast, who get to live in the lap of luxery.

    And you’re right, women of colour don’t often get the treatment that white women do in those stories, and the messages sent to white women in those stories are not universal. After all, there are different kinds of empowerment and different ways to be strong, but black women in particular should not be cut off from accessing all parts of being human and held up as only being strong.

    Like, I just finished reading Amaya Radjani’s Tainted, and the female protagonists in that novella are downright WORSHIPPED by the men, and they’re made to feel loved and cared for and dotted on. I can’t say I’m an expert on how all women of colour are ignored in the messages of white women made for white women about empowerment, but Once Upon A Time is such a story about how a latina is just trying to have her own happy ending, and her tale of empowerment in a very patriarchal society with an abusive mother and a powerless father. It’s a great metaphore for how white people can fuck up a person of colour’s life without ever really thinking about the consequences or effects of their actions on others.

    • As the father of a daughter, I’d love to see *all* the stories end with the prince and the princess (or the princess and the princess) working hard to keep a restaurant open.

  4. Andromeda was more or less the original princess tied to a rock about to be eaten by a sea monster (dragons didn’t have a monopoly in those days) until saved by a prince, Perseus, and she was Ethiopian. And I’ve never seen her depicted as anything other than lily white.

    Now, for all I know the rulers of Ethiopia might have been white at that time, but you’d think someone would have had a dark skinned Ethiopian woman. That’s always annoyed me, but it hadn’t clicked that it was anything more than the usual whitewashing.

  5. It sounds like it’s a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of scenario, IMHO, because on the one hand, there are the problems you mentioned with the Strong Black Woman, but the sad fact is that if all someone did was put their black characters in damsel in distress roles, well, that’s not right, because then you’re just reducing her to someone who needs to be rescued all the time.

    I guess the solution would be to have a bunch of black characters, some kick butt, and others like to be pampered, and sometimes they switch it up.

    • I guess the solution would be to have a bunch of black characters, some kick butt, and others like to be pampered, and sometimes they switch it up.

      And here we have the winner of the thread.

  6. oddly why when I read this it reminds me of the WOC in grandmothers day. While white women was fighting the right to work and vote. (they actually wanted money) My grandmother and her mother was working their butts off and still was treated as crap.

    Also this actually fits into Kill Bill, where as it was empowering for a white woman to fight other WOC of color (Chiaki Kuriyama Aka Gogo you will be missed). Now if it was Lucy Liu or Vivica A Fox fighting a bunch of white guys that are not KKK or Neo-Nazi, they wold be that crazy dragon lady and the crazy black baby-momma. think about that…

  7. It feels like most genre writers haven’t even figured out how to write straight white males in any way realistically, despite that most of the writers are straight white males!

    Apparently, characters tend to fall into “wish-fulfillment” or “archetype”, with basic issues of being human too difficult to tackle.

    So god knows how these same writers are going to write well about any other type of character!

    Btw, I read a lot about POC and LGBT issues not being dealt with well. But, you know, I can’t recall anyone with mental or physical handicap issues being a feature of genre fiction either. I read a lot of fantasy, and everyone in it tends to be mighty healthy.

  8. “Does that sound familiar, True Blood fandom?”

    It sounds like EVERY FREAKIN fandom!! In the Dr.Who fandom Martha Jones is the most hated companion. In The Vampire DIaries fandom Bonnie is very disliked and is even called selfish even though she is almost always there to help others! The Merlin fandom hates Angel Coulby (aka the Queen)’s guts. The Walking Dead fandom hates Michonne. But something I saw within the fandom that made me sick to my stomach was people saying that if any of the women on the show *POSSIBLE SPOILER* had to get raped it’s best that Michonne does * POSSIBLE SPOILER* because “she’s strong and able to handle it”.

  9. “In the Dr.Who fandom Martha Jones is the most hated companion”

    Not since Amy and Rory relegated the Doctor to a supporting role in his own show! You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who likes these companions now. Martha was simply a weak character, these two are straight annoying!

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