Once Again, Women – Especially Black Women – Are to Blame

How many readers remember the Moynihan Report, the shorthand title for The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” written by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965?  Supposedly, the rationale for the report was to draw attention to the need for social policies and programs that would address the many problems faced by Black families, especially single-parent, female-headed Black families, in the United States.  Regardless of the intent, the Moynihan Report soon became one of the most frequently cited sources to support the argument that the problems facing Black, single-parent, female-headed families – e.g., disproportionately high rates of poverty, crime, illness, substance abuse, “illegitimate” births – were not the products of racism, but were actually caused by Black women themselves: by their strength, their independence, their emasculation of Black men. In subsequent years, the “myth of the Black matriarchy” was refuted by sound empirical research, but such myths, it seems, die hard, and it appears that this one has been resurrected recently, albeit in somewhat different form.


I am referring to the substantial media coverage recently of “the successful, but lonely Black single woman.” As one recent Washington Post article put it, there is now a large group of young Black women who seem to “have it all” – good jobs, high incomes, nice homes and cars and clothes – but they’re lonely; they don’t have a man or the prospect of marrying anytime soon. It turns out, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center, that young, successful White women are experiencing the same relationship troubles.  Among Americans aged 30-44 years old, women are more likely than men to have a college degree.  They are also less likely to have lost their jobs in the recent economic recession; men held about 3 out of every 4 jobs that were lost. These changes are producing a “role reversal,” according to the Pew report, that is “profoundly affecting the marriage pool.” While the Pew report, which analyzes recent Census data, shows that the education and income gap by gender is greater for Blacks than for Whites, the focus of many media stories it seems to me is a new twist on the notion of the Black matriarchy.

Creative Commons License photo credit: craigfinlay

In a recent ABC News Nightline segment, for example, it was reported that the number of never-married Black women is about double the number of never-married White women. The segment mentions various reasons for this difference, including the smaller number of “marriageable” Black men due to higher mortality, incarceration, and unemployment rates. But the segment focuses primarily on Black women. Several young, successful Black women were interviewed about their intimate relationships and what they desire in men they date. The women come across as strong and independent – and as wanting too much. “Relationship guru” Steve Harvey is also interviewed and he makes it fairly clear that these women have unrealistic expectations. He is shown advising the women to adjust their goals by, for instance, dating older Black men.


The Washington Post article I mentioned previously is even more explicit. It features Helena Andrews, author of Bitch is the New Black, a collection of satirical essays about young, successful Black women in Washington, DC.  Andrews and her friends, according to the article, pride themselves on being “mean girls,” especially when it comes to meeting and dating men. But their “bitchiness” is just a mask; in their public presentations of self they convey a “don’t mess with me” attitude, but beneath this veneer is a well of loneliness and, it appears, it’s all their own fault. What do they expect?  Instead of exploring with men – men of all races – why perhaps strong, independent women might be threatening to their masculinity and why this is their problem not the women’s problem, the implication of these and other similar stories is what man would want a woman like this? According to the Pew Research Center study, women’s educational and occupational successes in recent years mean that men benefit more from the economic gains of marriage than women do; in 1965, when the Moynihan Report was issued, the reverse was true.  So why aren’t we applauding young, successful Black women for their achievements instead of blaming them for lower marriage rates? Why are we ignoring the fact that young, successful White women are also reporting difficulties finding compatible marriage partners? And why aren’t we analyzing why men cannot let go of norms of hegemonic masculinity and why they find successful, strong, and independent women intimidating?  Sexism and racism are alive and well.


  1. No1KState

    Let’s not forget that way that white women are still the standards of beauty; white men the same. Except, of course, in terms of hypersexuality and brute, animal strength.

    No one suggests that this role reversal was at play for black women in 1965 or now? What about the racism behind the incarceration, mortality, and unemployment rates? Not to mention the need black women have had to be strong and independent. I couldn’t agree more with your analysis of the need for men to let go of hegemonic masculinity. For what it’s worth, I read in a book on family counceling that black men do more housework than white men.

    Just saying.

    This also demonstrates the racism in denying people of color the right to be “imperfect.” So for white women, the problem is the economy and that also, maybe, that white men don’t wanna marry when they can’t provide for their families. But for black women? We’re too strong, and black men irresponsible. A hundred years ago, black men would be lynched allegedly for looking at a white woman the wrong way. Meanwhile, white men, morally superior to everyone else (except to justify keeping white women in the home), were seduced by preteen black girls.

    Can you suggest any books in particular that debunk the myth of Black matriarchy? I’ve found the notion suspect, but didn’t know it had been debunked.

  2. AfroAmerican26

    I honestly really don’t know where to start on this topic. Several people can voice their view on each side of this debate. However, several people have not dealt with this topic personally nor known anyone who has been effected by this topic directly. In american for several centuries the role of men and women have been diverse along the changing times of history. No1KState commented on the early view of male and female roles in american society from the start of slavery. Yes, the methods and lifestyle that were force on the people who went through slavery has developed into the trickle down theory. Based on oral tradition and other misinformation these views have lead to several people’s current view on the status of men and women in american. These bias views go beyond race and sex, some of the stereotypes “Dead beat babydaddy” have also created negative views in current history.

    After growing up in the South, I could notice how several people would cling to certain stereotypes and reinvent others to suit their own personal bias views. White America is based on two aspects in the South toward white men and women. In the South white men fall into two categories. The first is consider the head of the house. These men work 10 hour shifts and then retire home where their dinner is cook and their wives tend to all the matters of the house hold while he attends to money and auto matters in the family. Some of these men do marriage outside of their race and some stick to the racial norm. However, some of these husband can fall into abusive relationships given the power of control over their wives. The second is the divorced or traveling white male, these males have left the idea of marriage and settlement alone. They refuse to be tied down or they are more focused on business and money matters. Several of these men consider marriage bad for business.

    The white women in the South are stuck between being the norm or starting a road toward independence. These women can either perform the housewife duties and also get the positive or negative pratices that come along with the household lifestyle or they can choose to break the norm and gain their female freedom from the norm. Those that stick with the norm are only allowed to pursue things that are consider normal for white women in the South. However, the white women that choose to break southern social norms embrace the freedoms of love, money, and breaking of taboos in the South.

    The next group is a diverse topic. African american men and women in the South have several different views on marriage, dating, and family. African American men fall into two categories like their white male counterparts. The first group of black men can be made up of head of household and family men. These black men that work as the head of the household are also considered the bread winner of the house. These black men can be good or bad based on their teachings of authority over their household. Some take the nurturing approach to authority while other rule with an iron fist. Those that take the nurturing approach are not only concerned with the money and auto matters of the family but they also govern child rearing and are a part of their family’s life. These black men are sometimes the pastors, coaching little league sports teams and are pillars of the community. The black men that rule with an iron fist can be good or bad. Simply put, they can be a respectful authority or an abusive controling force.
    The second group of black men can be the traveling man or the freelancer. The traveling black man of the South looks to break southern social norms. These men can either want to journey the world alone or with family. Once again their individual views effect their judgements on family, money, dating, and race. These men break southern taboos by the marriage of other races and dating to break racial taboos. However, the freelancer, as the name implies, feels in control of all aspects of their lives. These black men can be good or bad pending on their own views about the world. The good freelancer is concern about issues like money, family, fatherhood, developing personal skills and breaking southern taboos. On the other hand, the bad freelancer tries to fall into every southern stereotype possible. The bad freelancers are only concerned with money, power, and respect. These men marvel at nothing including family, love, and fatherhood. They find their calling in the streets of the South. However, these men can be moral or unmoral given their own personality. Some of these black men pride themselves in displaying Southern norms and stereotypes, especially toward black women.

    The last group is the subject matter of this topic. There are three types of african american black women in the South. The first type is the Mother. The black “Mother” is the backbone of the family through generations. The black “Mother” can be the actual mother to the grandmother or female head of the family. She gives advice on Southern taboos and norms to the members of her family. These women have performed dual roles within the family and also have some male authorities with matters in money, family, and marriage.
    The second group is the “companions”, these african american women are good wives, mothers, teachers, and pillars of the community. These black women work to break southern taboos dealing with black women. They marvel at the freedom to date other races and marry men from different racial backgrounds. However, some of these black women do this because of the bad black males that are freelancers. These women are somtimes torn between breaking southern norms or dealing with an abusive black male with no future. Several of these women do have bias views and use them as a guideline for dating when it comes to race and marriage.

    The last group of black women that the topic blames also fall into a group. They are known as “Angry Black Women” these black women are like a double edged sword. Their anger can either be a force of justice or a force to be feared. However, the subject matter of this topic blames them. I can only offer two sides to this matter. Yes, there are angry black women and some are to blame, but sole blame cannot be places on black women concerning one social factor. The “Angry Black Women” that work as a force of justice, battles social norms with extreme hate. These angry black women feel that its their turn to stop getting the leftovers and gain their place at the table. These black women are angry at the world for the force feed stereotypes of black women. They marry whoever whenever they want. They play dual roles as mother and father in the black families. They have started down the road of female freedom for many different reasons. Some of the reasons can be because personal life, family, and sexual life. Sometimes black men force these women to take the road less traveled. These black women are not to blame for wanting much deserved justice for their lives and personal choices. The other side of the blade is unfortunately as sharp. The other “Angry Black Woman” is bitter and wants to make others pay for her mistakes in life. She uses her ability to make others suffer because she has chosen to fit every southern and worldwide stereotype of black women. These women are the ones that are the actual mean girls because they are so lonely in their hearts. These women are worse then the bad freelance black man, these women simply want to watch the world burn. These type of women whether black, white, or other only have themselves to blame. But the blame of lower marriage rates is a shared mistake by men and women of all races.

    • No1KState

      I guess you took the title at face value, but Claire is being sarcastic. You’d have to read the entire article, but Claire pretty much points out how marriage rates among white women are falling and no one’s “blaming” them for being “angry.”

  3. Claire Renzetti Author

    No1KState is correct AfroAmerican26: I was being sarcastic and I was not trying to blame Black women for anything. I apologize if I gave that impression. No1KState, you asked about books refuting the notion of the Black Matriarchy. There are a couple of classics on this, one of which is Joyce Ladner’s book, Tomorrow’s Tomorrow (1971). Two more recently published books that provide an excellent analysis of racism, sexism, and heterosexism are Johnnetta Cole’s and Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s book, Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities, and Patricia Hill Collins’ book, Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Hope you find these helpful!

  4. Claire Renzetti Author

    If you are interested in this topic, check out an article in today’s New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/24/fashion/24marriage.html?ref=style). Some items to take note of: 1) As you can see from the URL, this article is in the Style section of the newspaper; 2) There is no analysis of either race or class, although the accompanying photo shows a white, middle-class family; 3) Notice how at least twice the author points out that women are their “own worst enemies” because they cannot let go of the “power” they wield in the home.

  5. No1KState

    Thanks, Claire. I’m a fan of Patricia Hills Collins.

    I just read the article and so, can respond thoughtfully to your notes.
    1 – Style? Yeah, seems a little insulting.
    2 – The author does mention that

    among men in their 50s, having a wife who earns more money is associated with poorer health. Among the highest earning couples in her study, a husband who earns less than his wife is 60 percent less likely to be in good health compared with men who earn more than their wives.

    I guess on first look, the average reader might assume that the stress of not being the bread winner is what’s causing the health problems. But, taking from my personal experience, a little of that is the other way around. The husband become sick and can’t earn as much as before.
    3 – Well . . . you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. No woman would want her husband to come home from work and start telling her all the things she did wrong. So, I thought that observation was fair.

    I think at it’s best, this is what feminism is about. No one defines his/herself by what they do, and individuals and couples are free to make decisions not based on anyone’s ego.

    But . . . if I were the woman whose out-of-work husband suggested she get an MBA to make more money, I would’ve clocked him upside the head! Outside of that feeling, the husband illustrates men’s different way of experiencing the world. If what makes you feel good is providing for your family regardless of your job, getting an MBA makes sense. If you’re looking for a job you can be happy in, it doesn’t matter. As obnoxious as his comment, I think the situations illustrates some of the “freedom” women have taken for granted when the husband is the primary breadwinner – the freedom to get a job you love. Sure, you might get an MBA if that will allow you to accomplish more of what you want; otherwise, what’s the point? Right?

    That’s not to suggest that women who are primary breadwinners not take pay and pay increases into consideration; just that with the husband as the primary breadwinner, wives haven’t necessarily had to.

    Well . . . that’s probably more true of white women than women of color. Betty Friedan wasn’t talking to women of color in THE FEMINIST MYSTIQUE. Black women, at least, didn’t have much of a choice about work; and, it was black domestics that made it possible for white women to work outside the home.


  1. Tweets that mention Once Again, Women – Especially Black Women – Are to Blame :: racismreview.com -- Topsy.com

Leave a Reply