The Woman Code
Iyanla Vanzant Was Right!- by Sophia A. Nelson
“We have such a rich culture as women in this country. And in that culture there are roles, purposes and powers. And we live in a society now where women are demeaned, diminished, and demoralized in ways we accommodate. If we really understood who we are as women, we would really not be so apt to let people define and confine us.” –Iyanla Vanzant on the state of women (emphasis on black women) in an interview with MadameNoire Magazine.
No one has ever accused bestselling author, Oprah self-help guru, and Fix My Life queen Iyanla Vanzant of being shy. Ms. Iyanla (as I like to call her) is, in a word, “power.” The Brooklyn native has made a worldwide name for herself over the past two decades by being transparent about her own life challenges. By being authentic with other people. And by challenging the rest of us to get our “stuff” right. To get our own house in order before we look at someone else’s mess. She can be seen most often on Oprah’s OWN Network, with her popular show, Fix My Life, where she helps the famous, infamous, the righteous, and unrighteous to examine, uncover, and dare to “fix” their lives!
But this past week Ms. Iyanla set off a firestorm among women, in particular black women. The self-help guru called it out. She called “us” as women out. But she really called black women out for not honoring themselves. For allowing no-good men to lay with them and father their children—kids that those men, in turn, do not care for financially or emotionally. She challenged women as a whole to honor the Code (as I like to call it—the Woman Code) by not sleeping with one another’s men. By not cursing, demeaning, gossiping, ripping and tearing one another to shreds. She called on black women in particular to get a grip, and to realize that it is always another woman who will help us when we falter, stumble, or fall in life. Not a man. But another “sister” (term of affection in the black community of women) who wiped her tears when her daughter died at the tender age of 30. When she needed food, it was a woman who fed her. Cared for her. Clothed her. Lifted her. I understand. Because it is women who have helped me when I was sick, afraid, grieving, out of money, or in need of encouragement.
I wish that we as women had the courage to see “us” for who we truly are. Women are special. We are kind. We are giving. And we are healers. When “sisters” support one another, we soar!
Ms. Iyanla said what was long overdue to be said by someone of her stature and gravitas, in my opinion. Yes, women like me have been waving the “red sister flag” for years. I even wrote an entire book to and about black women of my generation (Black Woman Redefined) to help us, help ourselves to get beyond some of the generational and societal stereotypes about us, but more important, for us to get out of our own way. And although I know that I am making an impact on the lives of women a generation younger than me, I grimace at the difficulty of helping women my age or older to get out of their own way. Too many of us are stuck in bad lives because we have not the courage to change ourselves.
Many women did not like or agree with what Iyanla said when she called us “out of order.” Respectfully, I say: Shame on them.
Ms. Iyanla, however, has the opportunity to make an impact on all of us because the power of her life experience (which has been fraught with poverty, rape, abuse, loss, courage, faith, and ultimately triumph) combined with her huge platform can transform the sisterhood of women in ways unimaginable.The bottom line is as my sister friend, Houston author and speaker Kim Bady likes to say: “We must never abandon ourselves.” That is it in a nutshell. We as a generation of women have abandoned ourselves. And it is time for us to find ourselves, and work on ourselves by doing the hard work to heal ourselves.
I hosted a Twitter chat on Monday evening, featuring Ms. Iyanla Vanzant titled “Sisters Out Of Order.” You can check out highlights of the chat on Storify here.
We had a candid, let’s-get-honest chat with one another as black women on a live chat that attracted millions of impressions and interactions for 90 minutes about the state of our affairs. The wonderful thing is that our sisters of other hues (white, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American) chimed in and listened, learned, and shared too. I, for one, am hopeful that when we can dare to be “open,” when we can dare to be “authentic,” and when we can dare to share our stories one with another, we can heal all that is broken inside of us. We can tame the aggressive “alpha chick.” We can reel in the angry outbursts and hurtful words that wound others because we ourselves have not tended to our wounds.
Many women, however, did not like or agree with what Ms. Iyanla said when she called us “out of order.” Respectfully, I say: Shame on them. I personally know dozens of women, many prominent in corporations, in the clergy/churches, in organizations and in industry who truly need what I like to call a “soul detox.” I did one myself recently. And it changed my life. These women hide behind their masks. They deny, obstruct, and cover their pain because they are beholden to the god of image, lifestyle, and celebrity. And unfortunately, they cause great pain to the women they teach, lead, and coach because they themselves are broken. And broken people break things!
Yet we all know well that women of true power are powerful, admired, and successful because they are honest, transparent, and most of all, authentic. I believe our collective healing as women lies in getting back to a code of living that allows us to honor ourselves and one another. Ms. Iyanla is doing something brave and necessary. She is practicing what the elders of our grandmother’s generation did daily: she is holding us accountable for our “stuff.” She is forcing us as the sisterhood of women to work it out, work on self, and to answer the clarion call of our greatness not just as black women, but as all women to rise to our greatness. To lift as we climb. To set boundaries. To love self. And to be not just our sister’s keeper, but as she said on our chat Monday night: “In a nutshell I AM NOT my sister's keeper I AM my sister and I owe myself honor, respect and love.” Amen!