“We long to be loved and we long to be free.” - bell hooks
I met one of my personal commitments last month by reading a new book. I finally read Push by Sapphire. My limited knowledge of Sapphire’s work consisted of what I had learned in my feminist literary theory classes in college. She had been labeled a “black lesbian author” by my professors, much like Audre Lorde was. I bought the book after hearing the news that it was going to be made into the movie Precious. I don’t know what exactly made me pick it up off my bookshelf, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. I gobbled up the whole book in just a few hours on a Saturday night. I cried my way through most of it, and I’ve been trying to process how I feel about the book ever since. But there’s one thing I do know for sure: I cannot possibly now watch the movie Precious.
If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, here’s a Wikipedia summary.
Even just from reading the synopsis, you can tell that it’s not a story of triumph as it’s been marketed, unless they drastically changed the end of the book when Precious learns that she’s contracted HIV from her father. If the triumph is in her not giving up on life, I guess I see the branding aspect. But I got enough out of the book that I don’t need to watch the movie. I’m not sure I can even read the book again. These are some thoughts it brought to the surface for me.
I was blown away by the end of the book where Precious’ mother admits to allowing Precious’ father to sexually abuse her from the time Precious was three. A toddler. My first thought was that this woman could not possibly have any modicum of self-love if she’d stoop to using her daughter as a carrot to keep this sick man in her life. It’s as if Precious’ mother feared being alone so much that she would do anything to keep her man. I know the book is fiction . . . but it’s not, really. Women do so many things to harm ourselves because we have not yet learned how to love ourselves. It’s not our fault, though, as bell hooks points out in Communion: The Female Search for Love:
Femaleness in patriarchal culture marks us from the very beginning as unworthy or not as worthy, and it should come as no surprise that we learn to worry most as girls, as women, about whether we are worthy of love.
It’s hard to know how to love yourself when we’re always trying to figure out if we’re worthy of someone else’s love. As a pattern, this internalization harms women generation after generation, so that I cannot remember ever learning from my mother how to love myself. She, like many women, were taught that your self-worth comes from having a husband, a man in the house to take care of you and your household. Add on top of that a generation of women with absent fathers and we can end up even further down that road of trying to equate self-love with a romantic relationship. But that line of thinking never felt right to me. I wanted to be able to love who I was without anyone else’s approval. I had to learn how to do that not from my mother, but from books. Also, Oprah.
A consequence, then, to not having self-love is that women do not learn how to love each other. What Precious found when she went to the “alternative school” against her mother’s wishes, she found what she had been missing from her mother: sisterlove. She found sisters that were dealing with life issues just as horrible as hers. And they had a forum in which to talk openly about them. So many sisters are going through emotional turmoil and still show up in the world with a facade of strength. This facade that we often don’t take off even in front of our closest girlfriends. I know because I’ve done it. It saves face, but the pain of whatever is ailing us is then doubled. You’re hurting, but then you feel you have to hide your feelings. Double whammy. Which is why part of what I’m trying to do with this blog is to be open about what it really means to pursue a fulfilling life, including all the bumps in the road that come along.
But what if we had more sisterlove? What would it look like for me, for you to be more loving towards all the sisters in our lives – no matter whether we met in high school, college, online or on the street?