New York sidewalks and city buses are crowded, and if you’re lucky enough, you get to stand hip to hip with a woman on her phone, who is going off on her boyfriend/husband/lover about whatever ways he’s wronged her or whatever ways he’s messed up. No matter what the topic, one thing is painfully apparent–some women LOVE to dish it out. As proud women of color, we’ve learned to defend our own honor and when we can, we avidly state our dissatisfaction when we’re not comfortable with something. It’s a learned trait from our mothers, grandmothers or aunts who won’t let anyone disrespect them or treat them with any less regard than they actually deserve. We even do this within our relationships, vocal about what displeases us because in addition to offensiveness, it’s been instilled in us that honesty is key–particularly in terms of relationships. And in a way, it is. But if we as black women can openly share our opinions and disappointments with our men, how good are we at taking criticism back?
As a general policy, I like to be open and honest in all of my relationships. Because passive aggressiveness isn’t my forte, I try to verbalize concerns immediately, and if I have a problem communicating things vocally, I write people letters. Yeah, you read right. I’m just that anxious to get my point across. But, when the script is flipped, and it’s time for others to weigh in on me and my behaviors, I tend to get defensive or my feelings get hurt. That isn’t to say that I can’t take criticism, but like most women, my need to share my opinion doesn’t necessarily come from a place of anger or disrespect (unless intending to illicit a certain response), but a need to be heard, which is why it can be hurtful to hear a strong negative reaction from my partner. This is particularly true of relationships where the man’s opinions and emotions steer the relationship.
Moreover, offhand commentary can be heard as criticisms. Statements such as, “That dress looks tighter on you than it did before” or “You’re wearing a lot of makeup” can rouse anger because women assume that men, like us, lace our statements with underlining meanings. The two statements above could be heard as “You’re fat” and “You look like a clown” if you think too hard about it. Because men don’t usually communicate as effectively as women, women often search their statements for answers –finding criticism where there isn’t, and also, women tend to work in duality. When we share thoughts, more often than not, our words have multiple agendas, whereas men tend to be more literal. But, the matter of ‘if we can take it’ is still in need of an answer; and for me, that answer is yes. Women (women of color in particular) have a history of absorbing criticism; and historically, we weren’t always able to share our opinions/concerns. Men have gained the role of the insensitive partner and women have more recently earned the role of the nag because of this history. For the sake of relationships, however, women and men have to learn to be more receptive to our partner’s thoughts and opinions without feeling defensive or hurt, because ideally, whatever concerns are being addressed, it’s for the betterment of the relationship.
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