The Connection Between Protecting and Dominating Women

Within the comments section of my post “Black Women x The Streets x Harassment” , which Latoya has up on Racialicious, Gregory Butler explained the connection between being protected and being dominated in a straight forward and profound way. He writes,

It took me years to reach the point where I could defy the social pressure to ?Be a Real Man? ? and it was not an easy process to learn how to treat women like human beings rather than objects.

That?s a sad commentary on how masculinity and manhood are defined in our society ? but yet and still that is very very real.

And for the men of our race, devalued as we are in all other areas of life, it?s easy to cling to being a ?Real Man? and all the abusive sexist bullshit that goes along with that.

Incidentally, that whole ?protecting? women by walking on the outside when you walk down the street, holding doors ect is part of that same sexist idea about ?being a Real Man? ? so I wouldn?t be so quick to embrace that form of patriarchal masculinity either.

Just read the discussion thread on this article and you?ll see men defending that man walks on the outside custom basically because that position makes it easier for them to fight other men

Of course, when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man

Again, I apologize for misunderstanding your post ? but I stand by my opposition to chivalry, which is NOT the opposite of sexism, but merely a more polite form.

This hit home.

I once had an ex who said that if a dude said something to me on the street that he wouldn’t fight him.

I thought this was absurd.

I also come from a place where people get socked or even shot at for stepping on the wrong persons sneakers or giving the wrong person a mean mug or looking at the wrong persons lady friend.

Violence was always ready to pop off in East Oakland, California.

Lets hear this again,

when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man her at all”

This issue of ownership is what my ex was talking about at the time.

The basic assumption that he was challenging was that I was not a piece of property to be defended or fought over. This seemed like it made sense on one level, but on another level it was absurd, because it went against much of which I was socialized to accept.

However knowing what I know now, in 2010 about the legal history of women White women and Black women as property in this US society? (I just completed a class on Race and Conquest in Colonial America), I KNOW that there is connection between ideologically women being seen as property and women being legally treated as property,? which is rooted in English Common Law doctrine La Feme Covurt.

According to Wikipedia the? La Feme Covurt doctrine says that,

…husband and wife were one person as far as the law was concerned, and that person was the husband. A married woman could not own property, sign legal documents or enter into a contract, obtain an education against her husband’s wishes, or keep a salary for herself. If a wife was permitted to work, under the laws of coverture she was required to relinquish her wages to her husband. In certain cases, a woman did not have individual legal liability for her misdeeds, since it was legally assumed that she was acting under the orders of her husband, and generally a husband and wife were not allowed to testify either for or against each other.

Keeping the legal history in mind I am going to back to the streets and patriarchy.

Over Memorial day weekend, I was reminded of this notion of protection
and domination isn’t clear cut.

My intuition is cold, and so I try and follow it as often as a can.

On Memorial day, I was walking up 8th ave to 14th street to
get my favorite taco’s from the taco truck with my gentleman

I was scantily dressed. Tank top, poom poom shorts, flip flops.

It was about 90 degrees that day.

I saw a man walking towards us, kinda bent, at the spine at a 40 degree angle.? He was off his meds and on something else. Disheveled. Thin. But lightweight diesel. Kind of like a zombie with a moderate “pimp” walk.

He reminded me of that reoccurring junkie character in the Spike Lee movies.

I knew that if he was close enough to me, he would try to touch? or grab me.

I also knew that if he did that somebody was going to go to jail that day.

Within a split second, I told Pepe, “Blood move to my left side” and we switched places.

With the quickness (and I was glad b/c sometimes he can’t hear me and I would have hated to have had to repeat myself.)

I was closer the street. Pepe was between us. Pepe ain’t a little dude.

As the addict man walk by us he yelled out “Man you suppose walk on the outside her near the street.”

I was relieved.

I followed my intuition.

My rationale is that if he was willing to talk to a grown man like that then he would also be willing to try me.

I had a few questions in my head after this happened.

How was patriarchy working in this situation? Did I have to choose between the possibility of one person dominating me and being protected by another?? In some ways yes.

Do I feel like I did the right thing?? Yes. Under the circumstances.

I also think about how these issues are not clear cut.

When was the last time, maneuvering on the street that you followed or failed to follow your intuition? What happened?

What do you think of Gregory’s idea that “when guys fight over a woman, it?s really not about ?protecting? her at all ? it?s about a man asserting and defending his property rights over that woman when those property rights are being infringed on by another man”?

Any other thoughts?

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  1. says


    Thanks for quoting me at length – I’ve been working through this whole masculinity thing in my head, and that thread gave me a chance to express those ideas in detail in writing.

    Bottom line, chivalry and thuggishness are two sides of the same coin – a ritualized display of stereotypical masculine posturing with the possession of women as the arena where these rituals get acted out.

    To the men catcalling at you you do not exist as a person, you are the canvas on which they project their manhood [“I can holla at any woman I want – therefore I am a REAL BLACK MAN”]

    And to the men “protecting” you from the catcallers, it’s the same deal [I can protect “my woman” from other Black men – therefore I am a REAL BLACK MAN”]

    You don’t get to be a separate person in either scenario – you’re an object to be used as a symbolic prop for men to use to prove that we are “REAL MEN”.

    And yes, that is as fucked up as it sounds (especially if you’re a woman).

  2. says

    Does Mr Butlers argument go for all races or is this supposed to be something the black community only deals with? Holding your hand can be equated with having you hold my pocket now?

    I consider myself a strong black man and I take this as an assault on my pursuit of happiness (black women); I am not fit for a black woman because I am protective of my partner?

    interesting perspective, so what’s a black man supposed to do?

  3. says

    How about treat the women in your life like equal human beings who don’t need your “protection”?

    Hey, I know it sounds radical (not to mention “unmanly”) – and it took me my whole life to accept that idea – but I happen to think that road is a whole lot better than the patriarchal “protective of women” road.

  4. says

    MDot- again, as always, insightful. The question of protection/domination is closely attached to what we are socialized to think “a man is” and how we enact these masculinity scripts. The very idea of women as property or to be protected is rooted in an unequal power distribution. Your highlighting the ways that Black men, across the class strata, exhibit male privilege. While the “cat-calling” and notions of property/domination/protection are part of all groups, there are some acute manifestations within or community that remain under-explored at best or ignored at worst. At the Black Male Privilege panel, Michela A. Davis asked essentially asked, “but what if I still want a man to protect me?” I don’t think there are any easy answers to these questions, but they are ones that we have to interrogate the visible and invisible systems of power and inequality. All of us taking account of what we have been taught, what we do and how we can challenge our socialization is truly revolutionary praxis. Thanks for opening the gates.

  5. says

    I LOVE these discussion questions you tag on your posts. I (obviously) always need help organizing my thoughts, so they help me out a lot.

    1.) The last time I followed my intuition was a coupla weeks back in New Orleans when I sensed that big, drunk, and possibly unsavory type individual was following me back to my hotel. I walked into the lobby of the hotel across the street and hid until he went away. Last time I didn’t? About two years ago in Harlem. I was subsequently mugged at knife point. Lesson learned.

    2.)I agree with Gregory’s assessment. It’s less about a genuine concern for your safety, and more about re-asserting dominance over your person. This is why a lot of men approach (and harrass) women when they’re out alone. I’m prolly a little bit more cynical about this than most, but from what I’ve seen the rule is this: going outside without a male companion means that you essentially forfeit your right to be left the hell alone. It’s pretty much open season.

    I think you did the right thing. This is a hard question. Lemme ask you, if you had been with another woman (maybe someone more stoutly built than yourself?), would you have been like, “Girl, I need you to play human shield for a minute”?

  6. Renina says

    if you had been with another woman (maybe someone more stoutly built than yourself?), would you have been like, ?Girl, I need you to play human shield for a minute??

    WOW. WOW. WOW. Girl. You a cold piece of work for asking me this.

    You know what. If I felt like she was unsafe, I would not have asked.

    And Would have locked arms and said, aye blood, lets walk in the street, by the cars, parallel to the sidewalk.

    In fact I do that all the time when tourist are standing around or when jawns are on the sidewalk and I don’t want to deal. Most the time I can see them ahead and I just cross the street tho. Walking around them on the outside makes me a target because it is clear that I am avoiding them.

    Or I cross the street. The thing about it is, 8th AVE b/w 13 + 14th, ain’t the best Place to be bobbing and weaving in and out of cars. I believe it is a 4 laner. #Ummhmm.

    Really good question.

    Last time I didn?t? About two years ago in Harlem. I was subsequently mugged at knife point. Lesson learned.
    Holy crap. Are you okay?


  7. says

    Hey, sug! That’s a GREAT answer. When I’m out with friends who are smaller, height or width-wise, and we perceive that someone might be a threat, I kind of instinctively position myself protectively. I do it automatically, and regardless of gender. Yup, just call me the Jolly Brown Giant. :o)
    All jokes aside, though, I think that sort of protectiveness is natural with folks we CARE about. And I think that this is what sticks in my craw about that faux chivalry. I guess for some men, it’s genuine, but for too many, it’s motivated by the possibility of sexual access.

    Also, thanks for your concern re: the mugging. I think that kinda thing always stays with you, but I’m aright. I’ll say I learned a lot about the NYPD during the whole ordeal. Hmph.

  8. says

    How about treat the women in your life like equal human beings who don?t need your ?protection??
    I guess what I don’t understand is how I could live this way in the hood. Women are getting harassed right? i see it as you can let it slide or you can say something, the dudes harassing her are more likely to listen to me than her i figure.
    If we don’t protect our women who’s to say it will be reflected that we don’t care? that they arent worth protecting?
    I am all for equality but I dont think were there to let them fend for themselves just yet.
    I also don’t see how you can cut it so black n white on the “I protect to dominate you issue.” I rarely find a problem that only has two outcomes/solutions?
    sorry for all the ?s trying to see ur point of view

  9. Renina says

    @ Enig,

    Can I use your comment for a Blog post, I have an idea?

    I don’t mean NO harm when I say this, and I AM NOT CALLING you a slave holder,

    BUT, White Slave holders use to say the same SHIT about enslaved negros.


    I am all for equality but I dont think were there to let them fend for themselves just yet.


  10. manaen says

    A few drive-by thoughts:
    * The woman who taught me to walk on the outside of the street, my mother, said it was so I would shield the woman with me from passing vehicles’ splashes. Similarly, she taught me on stairs to precede descending and to follow when ascending, with eyes chastely averted, so if the woman tripped, she could use me to stop her fall. This could be seen either as sexist or as physics (having the greater mass absorb the misdirected force of the lesser one). I see it as doing what I can for whom I care. Somehow, I hadn’t seen putting myself in peril — or moisture — as exercising some property claim on someone I hadn’t considered to be property.
    * My wife is from the flatlands of Oakland and the Crenshaw District of LA. Am I making her my property when I honor her request to interpose my 6’2″, 210-lb self between her and whoever drew her concern? BTW, I don’t need to be prompted now that she’s trained my eyes to recognize who this would be.
    * Was I making those unknown and unmet women my property when I backed-off people who they didn’t want bothering them and then went about my own business after the annoyance was over?
    * In the example of catcalling, I prefer to (you choose) turn the other cheek / deprive them of the feeling of significance and connection they seek by drawing attention from the woman with me. However, if I have the physical ability she lacks, but wants, to stop this physical assault, in what way am I honoring her by leaving her in a problem she cannot solve but I can? This view of friendship — *not* doing for a friend what I can but they cannot — is an innovation for me.
    * How does walking on the outside position me to fight if we’re closest to the curb and someone passing us from the other direction would be next to my wife? (Assuming we’re following the convention of passing oncomers on the right)?