Friday, February 22, 2013
Malcolm X's View on Women
Malcolm would rarely visit his mother, and seldom spoke of her: he was deeply ashamed of her illness. The experience etched into him the conviction that all women were, by nature, weak and unreliable. He may have also believed that his mother’s love affair and subsequent out-of-wedlock pregnancy were, in some way, a betrayal of his father (36).
-from Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life Reinvented
…immediately my attention was struck by the mannerisms and attire of Lebanese women. In the Holy Land, there had been the very modest, very feminine Arabian women –and there was this sudden contrast of the half-French, half-Arab Lebanese women who projected in their dress and street manners more liberty, more boldness…Wherever the spiritual values have been submerged, if not destroyed, by an emphasis upon the material things, invariably, the women reflect it (355)
-from Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X
If asked about black female leaders in the fight to attain rights, many of us in America can quickly proclaim Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, but it usually stops there. This void of female voice and presence is also evident in Malcolm X’s attitude from Haley’s book, but also in his life, as reflected in the except from Marable’s book. It represents, to me, an overall phenomenon in the African-American struggle for rights and recognition in America during and before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. It reflects an underlying perception gender roles present in the black community during this time period as exemplified in Malcolm’s relationship with his mother, whom he regards as weak and unreliable. As shown from Haley’s excerpt, Malcolm carries this view of women later in his life and further more, uses women to exemplify good versus evil, Islam versus other religions, and Westernization versus other cultures.
Even though both his parents did not make sturdy wages and were both active members in Marcus Garvey’s organization, Malcolm revered his father more, partially because he saw a role model for his future and partially because his mother was much more stern and willing to punish him. After his father’s death, Malcolm felt a void in his life, neither one that could not be filled by his mother nor any other black male figure. I think, as a result, he scapegoated his mother as a defense mechanism.
When he visits Beirut for the first time, he pays close attention to the women’s attire not on the men’s attire, which I’m sure was similar at the time as well. His word choice and adjectives strikes me the most in his description. He describes Arab women as modest and very feminine, while Lebanese women are described as half-Arab, who project more boldness and liberty. Boldness and liberty are two poignant words, and ones that I would actually attribute to Malcolm himself. Many, especially in the black community, love Malcolm for his boldness and his fight for liberty for blacks to retain their rights and form a Pan-African movement. To describe the Lebanese women as bold and projecting liberty, he in turn views them as masculine, which I find ironic. The contrast of the
Analyzing Malcolm's relationship and views on women makes me wonder if his attitude was unique to black leaders during this time period. Both Fanon and Martin Luther King Jr. rarely address women in their works. It certainly leaves me with questions and vexations.
Posted by Maria at 2:37 PM