“When your daddy walked through the house, he was so big he filled it up. That was my first mistake. Not to make him leave room for me.” —Rose Maxson, Fences
When I first heard Viola Davis brilliantly dramatize this classic August Wilson line in her Oscar-winning performance in Fences, it actually took me aback for a moment. It was such an overwhelmingly powerful concept packed into three simple lines near the end of a movie in which Denzel Washington skillfully portrayed exactly what that feeling meant.
As a man, I was familiar with Denzel’s character because that was what I was told alpha manhood was: being a highly driven, take charge, responsibility-focused provider who could light a room up with his laugh and darken the entire houses’ aura with his scowl. That’s called being a man’s man—or so I thought.
Growing up, this hypermasculine ideal was implanted in and through every aspect of society, right along with the rigidity of traditional gender roles that stated what made a man “a man” and a woman “a woman.” On the long list of pro-masculine traits, there was one characteristic that was missing: emotional presence.
When I was young, everything from the shows I watched to the music I listened to and the elders I scrutinized informed me that it was a woman’s job to be the emotional bedrock of the family. While it’s the man’s job to buy the house, it’s her job to make it a home. While it’s the man’s job to support the family, it’s her job to cultivate the family. Oh, and it’s her job to ensure her man feels grounded, sane and supported while also making sure the children understand that they are loved, appreciated and cherished.
Of course the husband can help with that, but it’s not “his job” to exert that emotional labor. That is the problematic ideology that I, and many other men, grew up being inundated with.
For some of us, we didn’t even become aware that this was an issue until we were made aware of it by the women we loved—the same women we also failed to absorb. The undue pressures that women face to carry the brunt of the emotional labor in a relationship is something I’ve recently become aware of, and it’s horrific to truly take in my own complicity in perpetrating that BS in my own relationships, past and present.
So when I heard LeBron James’ recent apology to his wife, Savannah, for being so addicted to greatness that he sometimes fails to recognize the importance of her and his children, I read that not as a simplistic statement of physical presence but as more about emotional presence, too.
As men, it’s important that we understand that recognizing one’s mate’s importance isn’t just simply about being home, being funny, being a disciplinarian and filling the house. It is also about accepting the permanent role of handling your relationship’s emotional labor. Whether it’s your children, your significant other or any other loved ones, you are required to be involved no matter what society says. The “let her handle it” ideology is literally destroying our women, but we can actually do something to alleviate that stress.
Black. Women. Aren’t. Machines.
They may be magic, but they are human. And the task of being the sometimes sole providers of emotional labor in a relationship is beyond exhausting, especially in an age where Black women are achieving so much professionally and academically. We want them to be achieve independent success while also acting as the main source of our emotional support, and that’s is BS.
It’s time we collectively start propagating emotional labor as a trait of modern manhood and masculinity. It’s time we start looking at Black women as our equals. Being present emotionally is being a man, and it’s time we start spreading that message to other dudes and stop expecting our women to continually exert themselves.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site, ThisIsYourConscious.com. He’s author of the book You’re Not a Victim, You’re a Volunteer. He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.