Though I don’t talk much about relationships on this site, intimacy is as political as anything else. Relationships, families, and co-habitation are mediated by a stunning marriage of patriarchy and consumerism. So much of the partnering that I see seems to work like business ventures: dating is like making an investment and getting the right woman/man is like selecting a good stock option. Heterosexual women are considered accomplished when they find a benevolent patriarch (i.e., Steve Harvey) who will protect and provide for them even if the women are as dumb as hell (which, for patriarchy to work, is usually most desired).
Our language often reveals just how difficult it is for us to re-script these kinds of relationships. Here’s an example. An acquaintance (we never spent any time together so I can’t call him much else) once called me, in a very round-about way, his “prototype”, emboldened by Raheem DeVaughn’s cover of Outkast’s problematic song (a man celebrates that he has fallen in love AGAIN and is grateful that he has now found his “prototype” because if things end, he can presumedly be better at falling in love… AGAIN.) I’ve never been impressed by this masculinist discourse. I’d be silly to think a man has called me, and only me, his “prototype”— that’s a line, not a life choice. Unfortunately, too many women might see a compliment in this foolishness. In a patriarchal system, men’s definition of and giving of “love” holds the most value, even if that really only means consumption, power, and objectification. Many might be confused by my offense here, so let me cut straight to the point: a WOMAN is not a prototype so, when in doubt, avoid any discourse that calls her a thing on-the-way-to-the-next thing.
I did tread lightly here: I didn’t even respond to this “compliment” at first, I then stated on the next day that I didn’t get the intention of these words, and then, finally, I asked, casually so, for the brotha’s intention. No in-depth answer was forthcoming. When I then later pressed for a real explanation while indicating that I was offended, the brotha still wouldn’t budge, talked about guitar solos instead, insisted that he meant something else without any discussion of that something else, and just got rude and accused me of not listening (and, yes, I responded back to that). There was no apology and no reclamation of a sexist offense. While it might seem like I am focusing on a rather trivial conversation, the larger issues of patriarchy and consumption are all tied into this seemingly small interaction. This exchange is exactly what bell hooks talks about in The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (there are many interesting discussions about this book amongst men; I like the way the blogger and activist, Alex Knight, describes patriarchy as terrorizing his life and emotional maturity). When men choose patriarchal power this way (and hooks calls emotional withdrawal/withholding, etc all forms of patriarchal power/male control), there is a real danger for both men and women: men give up the ability to really love, feel, or communicate when they only take their place as patriarchs; women embrace violence by allowing male domination and power to script their daily lives.
Because the song does not re-invent the definition of prototype, it’s a problem to use this language in reference to women. Let’s look:
|Definition of Prototype
|From the OED: c.1600, from Fr. prototype, from M.L. prototypon, from Gk. prototypon “a first or primitive form,” properly neut. sing. of prototypos “original, primitive,” from protos “first” (see proto-) + typos “impression” (see type).
|popular definition: an original type, form, or instance serving as a basis or standard for later stages.
With this “prototype” labeling, a lot is revealed: women are types and there is one model to be molded, not that much different from people I know who have one specific kind of car that they like. The very definition assumes a manufactured object where new replicas/women will be created, distributed, sold. It’s almost like watching the next women come down a factory assembly line and checking their parts to see which ones came out right. If this all seems like a harsh indictment, I should add that this same man would do things like run down the list of: 1) birthdays or birthmonths for his ex-girlfriends, including his “baby momma” who bears the same sign as him, with almost identical birthdate (thus making them, fairly recently, the perfect match); 2) the various attributes of these women’s personalities as well as their other, um, attributes, and; 3) the various gifts he gave these women (with lists of what they liked to eat). When MY BIRTHDAY came around, this man didn’t even remember and accused me of not telling him the date. I didn’t care so much about the missed birthday, except for the fact that I had actually told him the date— it was the precursor to his aforementioned 3-point discussion. As you can see, he was more interested in the memories of his pre-“prototypes” and zodiac matches. When women are mere prototypes, as this case shows, they are things and so, as objects only, they are not worthy of real care, remembering, priority, or value. I could tell more stories like this but, more importantly, this brotha would insist that he does not run game as a playa-playin’-on and that he works wholeheartedly at anti-patriarchy. Choosing to name and relate to women as “prototypes” after previous conquests (and thinking single women just want your “seed”) is a virtual blueprint for misogyny, not a meaningful way to live, love, and raise a family. I don’t want to suggest that heterosexual men are the only ones who treat women like commodities because heterosexual women try to manufacture men too (loving a man based solely on what he can do/perform vs. allowing him to be fully human); men just have patriarchy on their sides and, therefore, are encouraged and seemingly rewarded when they promote this system. My point is that framing relationships outside of and beyond the patriarchy and hyper-consumption in which we live is a feat most of us are not achieving, with the various men making covers of this song a striking example. There is a tragedy here, one that hooks continually warns us of: without the relinquish of patriarchy, even when men are tryna do right for they women, like these musicians perhaps, they still only turn women into things/objects/prototypes.
Now some people tend to think that I go off the deep end with my politics and, well, I don’t care. The fact of the matter is that we are in a system and no one’s language and actions are innocent. I am not suggesting that all is lost, only that there is real talk AND work to do. At the end of the day, loving/being with someone beyond patriarchal violence and consumerist logic is amongst the most revolutionary and human things we can do. Of all things, love—black love— needs to be radical.