I’m losing my softness.
Unfortunately, not physically! Anyone who I’ve roped into a hug can attest to that. But the inner core of who I am—quiet, demure—has been changing. The world isn’t a safe one for soft black women.
America prefers its black women angry, aggressive, and entertaining. And if a woman is not all three, mainstream American culture will do its level best to provoke and ridicule her until the desired result manifests. And then sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
For hardness and aggression in black women is beloved, so long as no ire is pointed in the particular audience’s direction. Black men look on in amusement as black women clap back at white feminists who dismiss their contributions and curtail their advancement. And those same white women will dry their eyes days later and clap for joy as those same black women hold black men accountable for sexist behavior that denies black women agency. Watching Mammy read someone for filth is fun as long as one is safely tucked within her enveloping skirt—blameless, cherished, protected, and deferred to.
The world of DeConnick’s and De Landro’s Bitch Planet is an exaggeration of our own, where women are told that they must fit within extremely rigid boundaries or face severe punishment. But in our world, and I suspect in DeConnick’s and De Landro’s as well, race impacts those boundaries. And what is demanded of one group of women is often frowned upon in another. Bitch Planet examines the need to be compliant—to be docile, to be demure. But what of those for whom being demure is deemed noncompliant? For black women, softness and stereotypical femininity is unexpected—and seems to elicit vicious anger and displeasure in others. When we are labeled as that which is desirable, that which is to be cherished, that which is to be protected, a pushback—cloaked in the lie that black women are inherently unacceptable, brusque, masculine, animalistic—is immediately enacted.
A black woman who is soft, carefree, hyperfeminine, reserved, and demure is radically noncompliant.
It is interesting to note how acceptability plays out according to the two most notable members of Bitch Planet’s ensemble—Kamau Kogo and Penny Rolle.
Kamau is a fighter. She is tough, smart, athletic and more than willing to put herself on the line to protect weaker individuals around her. She adheres to the importance of the truth even in the face of punishment. One would think that feistiness, the refusal to back down, is what results in her incarceration and engenders mistreatment. No. The powers that be see her—those traits—as potential entertainment. And yet in a white woman in that same world an inkling of those traits results in expulsion and death. But Kamau? Well, we are not even certain Kamau is a prisoner and not the lone volunteer mentioned by guards in issue one.
Though the last of Penny Rolle’s crimes is “wanton obesity,” her weight only seems to be an issue when she refuses to accept ridicule or hate herself for it, when she refuses to “prioritize how others see” her. The mockery of women of size has been a longstanding source of amusement in the States. It seems to bring joy to the men of Bitch Planet as well. We see from the jovial (and bigoted) conversations of men Penny has served in the past. Her weight draws derision and laughter from white men, but her presence as a caretaker is accepted and her body considered a joke or a delight reserved for a group of men referred to as skins.
“Skins. They like ’em big like that. It’s in their animal nature—big asses, big lips.”
It is when Penny finally lashes out, refuses to accept her role as a state-sponsored servant and source of amusement, that the law comes down upon her. As a black woman it is not her weight, but her rejection of her weight as wrong that is inexcusable.
The Fathers will love you as long as you hate yourself.