We began developing a historical framework for the study of black women by focusing on the contradiction cited at the outset: the historical role as a labourer in a society where ideals of femininity emphasized domesticity. A dominant image of black women as 'beasts of burden' 21 stands in direct contrast to American ideals of womanhood: fragile, white, and not too bright. The impact of this contradiction is profound. It has already been alluded to in discussions of the values pervading much of the pejorative literature on black women. It can also be expected to have affected self-images as well as their interpretations and expectations of various role-relationships.
In concluding, however, it is important to explore the implications of this historical tradition for contemporary models of black womanhood. Ladner suggests several in her study of adolescent black girls. These revolve around the girls' images of womanhood, goals for themselves, and their relationships to their families and to boys. In developing their ideals of womanhood, Ladner reports that 'the strongest conception of womanhood that exists among all pre- adult females is that of how the woman has to take a strong family role'. 22 The pervasiveness of this image of an economically independent, resourceful, and hardworking woman was resented by some, adopted by others, and accepted with resignation by still others. Nevertheless, its overriding importance remained even though Ladner observed other models which existed alongside it. One of these other models, which appears to me as a variation, is that of an upwardly mobile middle-class woman. Ladner points out that education was most frequently seen as the means to this end. The choice of this model had a serious impact on the entire life of girls who chose it, particularly as it affected their relationship with boys. These girls most often avoided serious involvement with boys, particularly premarital sex and the risk of pregnancy which represented a definite end to their aspirations. Success in attaining their middle-class goals was not only measured in terms of the training or job acquired but also 'by the extent to which one can not only care for himself, but help others in the family'. 23
Girls who rejected the dominant model often adopted a model which Ladner calls a 'carefree, laissez-faire, egalitarian model of womanhood' Different though this model was, it too encompasses a sense of self-reliance, strength, and autonomy. This image, as
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Publication information: Book title: Feminism and History. Contributors: Joan Wallach Scoff - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: Oxford. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 44.