Shrinking Violets and Caspar Milquetoasts: Shyness, Power, and Intimacy in the United States, 1950-1995

By Patricia A. McDaniel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Assertive Women and Timid Men?
Race, Heterosexuality, and Shyness

[W]e were told in the same breath to be quiet both for
the sake of being “ladylike” and to make us less objec-
tionable in the eyes of white people.

Combahee River Collective,
Combahee River Collective Statement (1979)

Black women and men have had to contend with a very different set of assumptions about their “natural” proclivities for shyness than have whites. In contrast to “naturally shy” white middle-class women, black women of all classes have long been assumed to be naturally assertive. In the nineteenth century, this ideology took shape in the image of the “mammy,” the loyal, nurturing slave with a sharp tongue whose “verbal assertiveness [was] tolerated when she [was] giving advice to her mistress” (Jewell 1992, 42). In the mid-twentieth century, this ideology was represented by the image of “Sapphire,” a “sassy,” “verbose,” and assertive black woman, devoid of compassion, who used her words to belittle and “emasculate” black men (Jewell 1992, 45; Mullings 1996,

-67-

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