Gender Stereotypes in African American Marriages

I recently stumbled upon an advice book with an interesting title. Fighting for Your African American Marriage. The back of the book said the authors understand “how stereotyped gender roles can undermine and demoralize [African-American] marriage[s].” So, in a blog about domesticity and prescribed gender roles for women, I thought this would be a good source of understanding how race and gender inform and .

The researchers (all with PhDs) listed 2 gender stereotypes.

  1. “The powerful black woman who’s supposed to hold everything together.
  2. “The devalued black man who is assumed to remain victimized, angry, unavailable.”

I found it incredibly interesting (and almost audacious) that they chose to essentially define the stereotypes on the 2nd page. I wonder what it must have been like for an African-American to read those two definitions. What if they hadn’t thought of themselves as stereotyped that way? Would they put the book down immediately? After all, the books says that the authors “understand” the “special issues” African-Americans face.

In an advice section about marital expectations, and the erroneous thought processes that result from them, we see a few interesting assumptions come forth. Here is the conversation:

Wellington: (thinking he’d like to go out to dinner with Tera, as she comes in the door) What should we do for dinner tonight?

Tera: (hearing “When will dinner be ready?”) Why is it always my job to make dinner?

Wellington: (hearing her response as an attack and thinking, Why is she always so negative?) It’s not always your job to make dinner. I made dinner once last week!

Tera: (negative cycle continuing, with Tera feeling she does everything around the house) Bringing home hamburgers and fries is not making dinner, Wellington.

Wellington: (with frustration mounting, gives up) Just forget it. I didn’t want to go out with you anyway.

The book follows this conversation with this rhetorical question: Sound Familiar? Perhaps these marriage experts, professional psychologists, and licensed therapists have some preconceived notions of what a typical African-American home consists of. In this conversation, do you see a “powerful black woman who’s supposed to hold everything together”? Do you see a “devalued black man”?

Recent sociological studies put forth in a book called The Myth of the Missing Black Father give examples of instances in which black fathers take special interest in their children. The authors “examine ways that black men perceive and decipher their parenting responsibilitiesmissing-black-father.”

One interesting finding from the book comes from Loren Marks, a BYU professor in the School of Family Life. His article says, “An African American man’s ability to fulfill his provider role depends on community systems over which he has little control. [Other research has found] that the “provider role” is not just something American men do, but it is a significant portion of their identity, of who they are as men.”

These studies make me wonder, is a black woman’s ability to fulfill her “nurturing” role or her “powerful black woman who’s supposed to hold everything together” role not just something they do, but a significant portion of their identity, who they are as women?

It is questions like these that historians can analyze as they look at sources such as Fighting for Your African American Marriage. African American authors, speaking to an African American audience, say that there are gender stereotypes that inform and influence decisions and actions of women within African-American marriages.

Today, there are many interesting articles related to African-American marriage. offers some advice articles to black couples that reveal certain beliefs about gender.

7 Strategies to Use the Power of Your Womanly Ways to Transform Your Relationship

10 Things I Learned About Marriage from Watching the Obamas

“We all know what they are,” the authors of Fighting for Your African American Marriage say,”We African Americans bring these issues and concerns into our marriages, whether we want to or not.” What gender stereotypes do you see in the aforementioned articles? How might these be detrimental to the overall health and stability of marriages and the individuals within them?

Whitfield, Keith E. Fighting for Your African American Marriage. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.


One thought on “Gender Stereotypes in African American Marriages

  1. i found this article very interesting, also because black men did not receive the priesthood till much later then white men. Do you think these stereotypes played into this idea, that society wasn’t ready?


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