When Does Empowering Become Off-Putting?

Facebook memory post (2021)

I recently shared a Facebook memory of photos I took at a Barristers Ball in 2018. This event was hosted annually by the local chapter of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) where I attended graduate school. The Facebook memory recalled the second time I attended the ball. I was pictured alone in a variety of poses, wearing a dazzling floor-length dress. I captioned the memory with the words, “Clearly I wasn’t applying myself at those BLSA events because I should’ve snagged a lawyer. #LessSelfies #MoreFlirting 😅” I didn’t give the caption, or the post as a whole, much thought until a male friend of mine commented, “Well, the way the caption is set up, it was all your fault.” I laughed the comment off as part our usual online banter. But it turns out, there may have been much truth in his words.

Facebook comment which pointed out contrast in captions

His comment pointed out the clear contrast between the caption when I first posted the pictures in 2018 and when I shared the memory 3 years later. The original caption was, “I’m known to walk alone, but I’m alone for a reason…😏” But my most recent reflection was that I should’ve focused more on making a romantic connection when I was in a room full of future attorneys. Naturally, I consider what I said about “snagging a lawyer” a joke. I attended Barristers to have a good time, which I did. I actually ended the night conversing with a gentleman I met there and going out to eat afterwards. So a connection was made although it wasn’t a lasting one. But my joke of a caption for the Facebook memory was more loaded than I expected it to be. In fact, the juxtaposition of it to the original caption made it completely ironic.

“I’m known to walk alone, but I’m alone for a reason” is recognizable as a line from Beyonce’s hit song “Upgrade U,” featuring Jay-Z. The song felt empowering in the sense that a woman is detailing her worth and value to a man of interest. Throughout the song, she expresses what she “brings to the table” and what he stands to gain if he made her a part of his life. So I found the song to be a suitable source of lines that exude confidence, thus befitting my need for a caption at the time. The “alone” line just made sense to me being that I was alone in every picture. There I stood at the ball, thinking that I’m sending a message of confidence. Confidence is sexy, right? But it never occurred to me that my choice of words to accompany the pictures was literally counteracting the potential of attraction. What I felt was empowering to me may have been off-putting. “I’m alone for a reason.” Whew, that won’t bring any boys to the yard.

With this new perspective to consider, I wondered what other ways in which I “empowered” myself could be interpreted differently. With the exception of one brown-liquor fueled rant, I’ve never been one to equate my accolades to attractiveness. Plenty of accomplished people are alone, so I never really let my accomplishments be a measure of my character or desirability. In fact, I remember having an exchange with another woman that I attended grad school with. She stated that when she received her Masters Degree, she would no longer date men who did not have a Masters Degree or more. She felt that he couldn’t “match” her or bring what she brought to the table. I thought that was absurd because, again, accomplishments don’t measure a man. In fact, without a Masters Degree, he could still be successful and bring more to the table than what we amassed in student loans to be “successful.” But I know that educational achievements are empowering. Making a certain amount of money is empowering, too. And having a glamorized career is empowering. Yet, these very things are being described as reasons that keep women, in particular, single. They are empowering to us because it grants us a level of independence and opportunity that wasn’t always available to women. And that is something to be proud of! But at what point can it become off-putting?

I used to think it was absurd to hear some men say, “What does she need me for?” when it is discovered that a woman has acquired certain things on her own. How dare she keep a roof over her head, clothes on her back, food on her table, running water, and dependable transportation until she met her husband? It baffled me. Of course, the mantra that “weak men are intimidated by strong women” took form to ensure strong women that we were not the problem. Over time and after a series of conversations with men and women, I’ve come to realize that maybe it’s not the fact that women can do these things for themselves. It’s a necessity in most cases. But the way in which we empower ourselves largely by these things could be what becomes off-putting. It’s not the “I own a home” that presents an issue, but more so the immediate attitude of “how can you top that?” Instead of getting to know someone, you’ve already issued a challenge; and probably before you could even determine if you have anything meaningful in common. If I afforded myself the opportunity to make enough money to drive a Benz, and I drive said Benz to a date, is that reason enough for a man to want to be there with me? It’s less about the car and more about why he should want to ride…with me.

I’m not saying don’t accomplish things, and I’m not saying don’t share those accomplishments. Be very proud of what you’ve done. But I’d challenge us to look at who we are besides the surface-level pitch we use to empower ourselves. I understand how necessary it is to uplift ourselves in a world that tries to bring you down at every turn. However, we may be setting ourselves up on a shelf that can’t be reached. I’m not saying lower yourself or your standards. I’m saying that by only portraying the parts of ourselves that keep us elevated, we may be excluding the parts that keep us grounded. And that part is worth the climb. Yes, I have a Masters Degree; but hearing about my journey from the Mississippi Delta to the Midwest to obtain that degree may be a better reason to invite me out to dinner. Our accomplishments should help build character. They are not our character. Many of us are leading with our accomplishments and not our character.

Original Barristers Ball photo post with caption (2018)

A picture is worth a thousand words, but I may have let an 11-word caption hang a “Closed” sign on an open door. Consider ways in which you may be doing the same thing in your life. Presently, it seems that we are in an all-out gender war. Men and women are comparing their pain on public platforms. As much as we claim to want a significant other, we’re making each other work harder with less commitment and even less staying power. And the rules seem to change every day. Against the backdrop of the trending “high value” conversations that have many of us re-examining our expectations, it seems like it would’ve been easier to try to land a lawyer in 2018 than to try to prove why I’m even worthy of one now. Hence, my caption at the time I shared the Facebook memory. But I’m so glad that my friend pointed out that glaring contradiction in my captions. Saying that “I’m alone for a reason” will probably keep me that way. Next time I go to a ball, hopefully with practicing attorneys this time, I’ll say, “You need a real woman in your life.” That should bring more boys to the yard. Or at least to the fence.

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