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By: Kirsten West Savali, Your Black World
During my childhood in the Deep South — surrounded by antebellum homes, plantations and the residual psychological, physiological and emotional damage of slavery — being called a “woman” was almost considered an insult. “Woman” implied something basic, crude, unfinished — a woman was nothing if she wasn’t a “lady.”
A “lady” understood the pivotal role she played in the lives of her family and community. She was educated with a clear understanding of Black history in America. She was a civic activist who pushed for societal reform without ever sacrificing her femininity; and she never, ever, ever, engaged in casual sexual experiences — not merely because she was painfully aware of the stereo-typical depictions of Black women as whores and Jezebels, but because she also understood that her body was her temple, not to be sullied by the random hands of those who didn’t respect it’s intrinsic value.
After years of soaking in the works of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston, then broadening my scope to Gloria Steinem and Carol Hanisch, I came to the startling realization that “ladyship” was a manipulative creation of men who wanted to define womanhood on their terms, contextualizing the sacred-feminine into a subservient box labeled “My Property.” As a “lady” who had fiercely wrestled with the unapologetic stranglehold of ethnic oppression side-by-side with African-American men from Jena, Louisiana to Los Angeles, California, this was a lightening-rod moment in my evolution as a feminist. I began to slowly inch away from “race” issues, segueing into more aggressive language in my denouncement of patriarchy as opposed to the racialized institution of America at-large.