From Super Woman to Woman (part 2)
4) Secret Identity – Superheroes who maintain a secret identity often wear a mask, covering the upper face, leaving the mouth and jaw exposed. This allows for both a believable disguise and recognizable facial expressions. A notable exception is Superman, who wears nothing on his face while fighting crime, but uses large glasses in his civilian life as Clark Kent. In most cases, the hero persona is an alter-ego of the human reality. Likewise, there are Black women who metaphorically wear the mask. Their true identity and nature is often hidden behind a need to portray a life of strength, self-reliance and infallibility.
African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote, “WE wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, – This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, And mouth with myriad subtleties. Why should the world be over-wise, In counting all our tears and sighs? Nay, let them only see us, while We wear the mask.”
In addition to the physical mask and costume used to hide the identity of the hero, is the masking of the hero’s true desires. Anyone who knows anything about superheroes is well aware that they are trapped within their own prison. In other words, they all get to a point when they no longer want to fulfill the role as hero. They’re tired of saving the day and coming to everyone’s rescue. Sometimes they get weary. Sometimes they want to ignore the injustice just to have a sense of normalcy. Strong Black women often admit that their strength is a trap that pulls them right back into a role that they desperately want to do away with.
5) Public Disdain – Heroes like Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men are often met with public skepticism and hostility. They defend a populace that misunderstands and despises them. Black women have not only been strong for themselves but for others as well. Unfortunately, their greatest strength (the need to be strong) has become their greatest weakness in the eyes of others. Therefore, they are often criticized by the world and rejected by their own men for the role they’ve been forced to play.
6) Failed Relationships – Most superheroes struggle in the area of romance. Every time they gain a love interest, something always goes terribly wrong. They’re often faced with the dilemma of choosing between two worlds: the world of heroism in order to fight injustice and the world of mortality in order to pursue love.
In the movie Dark Knight (2008), Batman was prepared to give up his role as protector of Gotham City in order to settle down with his love interest Rachel. Unfortunately, she was maliciously killed by the Joker. Spiderman was in love, and engaged to Mary Jane Watson, but had to end the relationship in order to fulfill his role as protector to the world. In Superman II (1980), Superman gave up his superpowers and became a mere mortal in order to marry Lois Lane. But once Superman realized the world was in danger, he ended the relationship and reacquired his powers for the sake of world peace.
Lastly, in Hancock (2008), Will Smith’s character lost his super powers and faced near death every time he made contact with his female counterpart Mary Embrey. In order to stay safe from harm, Hancock and Mary were forced to remain separate from one another. In fact, the further apart they were the more supernatural strength they each possessed.
In every case these heroes were forced to trade in their happiness, personal fulfillment and pursuit of a romantic relationship for what their powers designated them to be and do. The personal tragedy of most heroes is that they often live a very lonely and unfulfilled life. Their gift to the world has placed them in a prison of isolation.
Sadly, countless strong Black independent ‘superwomen’ have found themselves like most superheroes: alone and relationally unfulfilled. Unfortunately, while the strength of Black women has done much to contribute towards the advancement of the Black community, it has created a multitude of problems in the personal lives of Black women. As mentioned earlier in the chapter, the ‘superwoman’ persona has done more harm to Black women than good.
So, for all Black women who have fallen into this trap, it’s time to take the ‘S’ off of your chest and give up this false definition of strength.
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