This past Christmas we were surrounded by my parents, aunts and uncles. It was lovely to be able to reconnect with everyone. But after a few days, when the conversation transitioned from catching up to sounding off, I found myself irritated.
After speaking about how much we all love Shonda Rhimes’ shows and her unprecedented career, someone in the room said, “But she’s not married and doesn’t have any kids.”
Loud and wrong. I couldn’t get the truth out fast enough.
“She actually has three kids. And she doesn’t want to be married because she said having a man in her house would distract from her work.”
There were grunts of a deep acknowledgment from one corner of the room, a shrug of acquiescence from another and then the conversation fizzled.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve shaken my head thinking about that conversation in the days since it happened. Because it fits perfectly in the larger framework of what women, for centuries, have been told about the value of their lives.
Essentially, no matter what you accomplish, no matter your talent or your gifts, it don’t mean sh*t until you have been chosen by a man, made a wife.
This is the reason people found such fault with the sermon Ciara posted from Pastor John Gray. In case you missed it, you can watch below.
“When am I going to be found Jesus…I been in here worshipping you… but I’m still single. Here’s what the scripture says, ‘He that finds a wife, finds a good thing.’ Didn’t say he that finds a girl that he’s attracted to, who he then begins to date, who he then calls his girlfriend, who he then buys a ring, proposes and makes his fiance, who he then marries later, who becomes his wife. You’re not a wife when I marry you. You’re a wife when I find you. You become my wife when I marry you. But a wife is not a presence of a ring, it’s a presence of your character. Too many women want to be married but you walking in the spirit of girlfriend. Ask the Lord to deliver you from that spirit. Carry yourself like you’re already taken. I promise you when you carry yourself like a wife, a husband will find you.”
People are posting this clip all over social media as if it’s new and different and profound. I will agree, this particular interpretation of scripture, that we should be “wives” before we’re married is new. But using the pulpit as a way to place worth on a woman’s life through the context of marriage is ancient.
The thought that the only way you can show that you love and value yourself is to behave like a woman who has been “chosen” by a man seems like backward theology to me. Can we just behave like human beings who love ourselves? Are women who are married the only ones capable of doing so? Is it enough to know that since we exist in this world and have been created by God that we’re worthy? Are wives the only women who possess the character that shows they won’t settle for less? Do women who never want to marry lack something in the way of virtue?
I know Gray wasn’t speaking literally here. He’s talking about self-worth. But is “wife” the only language we have for describing a woman who loves herself? His words represent another example of the ways in which society sets a line of delineation between women who are married, the ones who have been chosen by men, and the women who are not. Words mean things and the definition for “wife” is not “woman who possesses self-worth and self love.” I would argue that it’s not even a synonym for “taken” but that’s another story.
Not to mention since women are supposed to be “wives” when we’re found, can we make the same assumption about men? Are we supposed to be out here finding husbands? Should men be ready for that type of responsibility and commitment on our first meeting? Try suggesting something like that on a first date and see what happens. Furthermore, what is a husband spirit? In the discussion about this sermon clip, I saw qualities of husband defined as men that are able to provide, protect, be present in their children’s lives. But I want to take it a step further. Since men are traditionally the ones who are doing the selecting, what are the ways in which they show that they love and value themselves since it’s not couched in the context of being chosen by someone else?
Again, there’s a discrepancy in accountability, even in personal examination and development, when it comes to the messages Black women hear in church. I can’t recall a time when I’ve heard that men need to love themselves in order to find the right woman. Men are taught to love themselves because it’s just a better way to live life. I’d argue this discrepancy is the reason so many Black men struggle and grapple with expressing their own emotions while we, Black women, are warned every week about what we need to be doing, not for the sake of being a better human being but for the sake of catching a husband. The church is not supposed to be of the world but in there, we find the same pressure society puts on us. Except in church, there’s scriptural fluffing that has so many women, married and single alike, lost in the sauce.
Too many of us are looking at marriage like a life’s purpose and then find ourselves disgusted and distraught when it doesn’t fulfill us completely in the way we thought it would.
Naturally, there were other women who took issue with the clip from the sermon. And they let their thoughts be known all over social media. So much so that Ciara eventually issued a statement.
“Married or not, I needed to love myself.”
Agreed, wholeheartedly. Being chosen by a man isn’t leveling up. Loving yourself wholly, by yourself is.