Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman: Voice and the Embodiment of a Costly Performance
Publication Year: 2009
The author, a noted sociologist, interviews 58 Black women about being strong and proud, to illustrate their “performance” of invulnerability. Beauboeuf-Lafontant explains how such behavior leads to serious symptoms for these women, many of whom suffer from eating disorders and depression.
Drawing on Black feminist scholarship, cultural studies, and women’s history, Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman traces the historical and social influences of normative Black femininity, looking at how notions of self-image and strength create a distraction from broader forces of discrimination and power.
Published by: Temple University Press
Download PDF (73.5 KB)
Introduction: A Half-Told Tale of Black Womanhood
Download PDF (176.3 KB)
The defining quality of Black womanhood is strength. As a reference to tireless, deeply caring, and seemingly invulnerable women, the claim of strength forwards a compelling story of perseverance. Critical figures in this narrative include prominent social activists of the last two centuries, such as ...
1. More Than “the Historical, the Monolithic Me”:Deconstructing Strong Black Womanhood
Download PDF (204.3 KB)
In the United States, differentiations on the basis of perceived race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and gender have had a particularly longstanding influence on the life chances of individuals and groups. Historical patterns of domination privilege whites over people of color, men over women, heterosexuals over persons ...
2. Living the Lies: Embodying “Good” Womanhood
Download PDF (207.7 KB)
Women are known by their bodies. Although viewed as metonymies for what is “essentially” female, women’s bodies are in actuality “achieved” through the ongoing development of culturally appropriate physical, behavioral, and attitudinal markers of racialized gender. The concept of embodiment ...
3. Keeping up Appearances: The Performance of Strength
Download PDF (263.3 KB)
Strength is a prescriptive discourse. As the preceding quotes collectively underscore, a strong Black woman should “muster through” all adversity “without scarring,” should “>em>always [try] to help other people,” and should present herself as a capable “twenty- four- hour woman” regardless of the demands and stresses ...
4. Lies Make Us Sick: Embodied Distress Among Strong Black Women
Download PDF (203.3 KB)
To naturalize patterns of social disenfranchisement, strength is deployed to tell lies about Black women. Higher-status race–gender groups utilize it in the hopes that it becomes not simply a performance, but an identity. The use of strength imposes a definition of who Black women are, or at least who they ...
5. Coming to Voice: Transcending Strength
Download PDF (189.0 KB)
Voice is the expression of the “deep down inside” that Black women learn to create as they “pick up” strength. It reflects those points of view that locate Black women in their actual circumstances rather than in a timeless narration of struggle and caregiving. When Black women actively listen to ...
Epilogue: Mules No More, Just “Levelly Human”: A Societal Challenge
Download PDF (86.7 KB)
Oppressed groups have long understood that systems of domination trade not only in material disparities but in lies. Whether named as myths, mystiques, sincere fictions, or controlling images, these falsehoods distort what is known, felt, desired, and accomplished in order to justify inequality. Taken ...
Download PDF (44.3 KB)
It takes a village to raise a child, and a community to nurture an idea into maturity. While the thoughts and arguments of this book are my own, they developed over many years within several networks of intellectual and moral support. I wish to express a debt of gratitude to the following: ...
Appendix: Table of Participants
Download PDF (100.1 KB)
Download PDF (97.2 KB)
Download PDF (115.5 KB)
Download PDF (84.0 KB)
Publication Year: 2009