Can man be stronger, if a woman is there?
I would have to say yes.
Can woman make it without men being there?
She would have to be blessed.
For the first ten years of my life, I was raised in a matriarchy. I lived with my mother and her mother (or, intermittently, with my mother alone) until I was ten. I don’t think it’s possible not to have feminist leanings, being raised in households like these. There is no male energy and, by extension, no male “authority.” Women are paying for everything that is essential to life–and they’re doing it on far less income than a man would have to. When you’re disobedient, women are doing the chastising. When you’re obedient, women are doing the work of positive reinforcement. When you’re broken, women are mending you, to the best of their ability.
If you’re fortunate, they’re doing all this without pining for the men who have been long absent or the men they have yet to meet. If you’re fortunate, they’re doing this without bashing the whole of the male species.
But that’s only if you’re incredibly fortunate.
I don’t regret being raised by women. When my mother married during the summer before I began sixth grade, her husband moved in with us. Our apartment became something out of a Huxley novel. I suddenly had to wear a robe. The bathroom became a swamp. Unapologetic belching and farting and scratching were suddenly apart of the landscape. Someone other than my mom and my nana now had permission to scold me–and he did it in a voice two octaves lower than I was used to. Brave new world.
I didn’t like it.
By the time my actual father re-entered the picture, I was thirteen. He did not come to me as a parent. He came to me as a friend. I have never looked to him as an authority or a protector or a provider. And he’s never tried to assert himself as such.
These are the male-female dynamics as I’ve known them: women provide for themselves, and when men materialize, they get in where they fit in. They get in where women allow them to fit in.
I am fully aware of how skewed my perception is, but I wasn’t always. So when it came time to explore romantic relationships, I didn’t give much thought to equality of partnership. It didn’t occur to me that there were certain qualities I should look for in a potential husband. I simply looked for someone who would play the role I’d witnessed men playing. I looked for someone fun and artsy and Right For Me in that vague, stupid way that twenty-year-olds define Rightness. And, as a result, I got what I wanted: someone who wouldn’t put up a fuss about any decisions I made. Someone with whom I wouldn’t have to “sacrifice my freedom/assertiveness/control.”
But this plan I hatched did not account for the things I never knew about single women, things that, as a little girl, I didn’t yet need to know. Nana was a court stenographer who never married and took cruises at leisure. Mom was in medical billing and could not only afford basic cable but also the HBO/Cinemax package. If they were struggling financially, I wasn’t aware. I didn’t know that a matriarchy was not an ideal. It never occurred to me that life for a single mother was, in fact, hard.
When my mother married, all I knew was that her husband came to us. He was newly divorced and had been living with his mother until he passed the police academy. With the debts of his previous marriage and a young son who needed financial support, he was a calculated risk for Mom. They didn’t have comparable credit ratings. Mom had never been married and she was used to earning and budgeting for herself and me. She had no guarantee how things would shake out with my stepfather. They’d only dated six months. And yet she chose to drastically alter our dynamic in order to integrate him because of the possibility that a cooperative union with a stably-employed man would alleviate some of her plentiful stress.
This, I neither understood nor respected. By the time I was a teenager, I wholly resented my mother’s decision to marry. She had busted up the solid single-mama arrangement we had going and brought in a mean, moody, paranoid dude who kept insisting that she and I were “ganging up on him” every time we had a household disagreement. Eventually, he walked out of the house he’d stopped paying for and left us to deal with the foreclosure and eviction without him.
I digress. Suffice it say: I didn’t put much stock in the benefits of permanently adding men to a functional women-only environment.
Meanwhile, at age 21, a man drifted into my life—someone I fell for immediately, because he was artsy and handsome and thoughtful—who was also raised in a matriarchy. And we would spend years “seriously dating,” having labyrinthine conversations about Our Future and forging an impenetrable friendship.
But once again: there were things I didn’t know.
The effects of matriarchal rearing are different for boys than they are for girls. A girl may become doubly driven. She may leap into education and dive headfirst into a career. She could be preternaturally resourceful, considering a man to be a merry little bonus to an already healthy single life. And if she never marries, she may be perfectly fine with it.
In turn, a boy raised without male energy or presence learns how capable women are of caring not only for themselves, but also for him. It’s quite possible, then, that this boy could become the type of man who, consciously or unconsciously, finds himself deferring to the women in his life–expecting them to help him accomplish (and finance) his goals.
For the woman who’d rather be at the helm than to run the risk of her man crashing their ship, this kind of matriarchally-raised man might be a great type of life-partner. A relationship with him means being largely unopposed, when she proposes an idea or a solution. It’s what she’s used to–and it’s what he’s used to, as well.
For me, there came a time when I tired of being the driver, when I wanted someone else to do the heavy lifting of the relationship, when I didn’t want to have to ask where things were going and when they would get there, where I didn’t want to have to push or coddle or encourage or finance.
There came a time when I wanted everything that was absent from my romanticized matriarchy, everything from physical protection and financial provision to the unapologetic belch and the sloppy bathroom.
There’s something to be said for not having to be doubly driven, for taking a calculated risk on a man who isn’t looking to me for his directional cues, for learning that there are other things to be than a Strong Black Woman Who Don’t Need Nobody But Herself.