I Have The Perfect Response To "What Do You Bring To The Table?"

Her Voice

On an early Thursday morning last week, a friend and I, both over-caffeinated and excited to be playing hooky from work, traipsed into the city to attend a live taping of The Wendy Williams Show.

The only real plan was to sit, laugh and look cute in the audience, but by the end of the episode I had spilled the tea to Wendy and the world that I exclusively date wealthy men. Then, things got interesting.

My question, posed during her "Ask Wendy" segment, went a little like this:

"Hi Wendy! How you doin? I'm going to level with you, I only date wealthy men. My friends judge me because they say I'm too picky. I do want to settle down some day but they have to have the 'ching ching'. Should I lower my standards?"

Her follow-up questions came in tandem. "How old are you and what do you have to offer?" Wendy responded.

"I'm 38 years old," I answered, "And when people ask me what I bring to the table, I say 'I am the table.'"

The audience cheered as Wendy shook her head and looked at me with a mix of judgment and disapproval. A tense conversation ensued both on and off camera, with Wendy ultimately telling me I needed to "grow up".

Little does she know, only a fully grown woman can make the declaration I did, and mean it.

To provide some context, which many, including a barrage of online trolls, completely missed, at this age, I'm old enough to have lived the struggle love fantasy more than once. Because of that, I have finally awakened to the understanding that pure self-preservation requires both higher standards and higher boundaries in my dating life.

It is a powerful realization when you step into the role of creator of your own life.

You realize just how much you are worth, and as a result, begin to take more care in deciding who does and who does not get access to your magic. This shift can happen at any age, but too many of us come to this realization late, only after we've been drained emotionally, financially, and/or spiritually by a member of the Ashy Association or the Dusty Delegation. That being said, it is never too late to wake up to your power as a woman and demand your worth.

Which is why Wendy's second question is so infuriating. As a connoisseur of the online dating arts, the "What do you bring to the table?" line of questioning is a popular male response to any slight indication on a woman's part that she is expecting more than a cup of coffee and a hard penis.

The response, "I AM the table," is my way to communicate concisely that yes, I have it all, beauty, brains, credentials etc, so you should actually be trying to impress me, not the other way around.

Of course, I could rattle off the fact I'm a Spelman grad, I have a law degree, am a successful entrepreneur, a marketing professional, Glambassador of Newark, author of 100 Things to Do in Newark Before You Die, yoga teacher, and a bad bitch. But does any of that define me or somehow entitle me to a high quality man?

Absolutely not. I could be a circus clown (no disrespect to circus clowns). Irrespective of my size, age, or color, I have the freedom to demand a certain standard and pursue relationships with men that have reached a certain level financially.

Because really, what are the requirements for dating a wealthy man?

If I looked like an Eastern European supermodel or was an A-list celebrity, would Wendy have posed the same question? Did anybody wonder what credentials Elin Nordegren had in order to date and marry Tiger Woods? What about Melania Trump? Or Salma Hayek? Of course not.

What makes me or you any less worthy to date and marry someone of a higher income bracket?

To go even deeper, the "table" question is offensive on its face, because it puts a woman, who by nature takes anything a man gives her and improves on it, in the position of having to defend her worth to a perfect stranger based on random qualifications like looks, credentials, or "freak number." Whenever that question is posed, I now know that you've sized me up and have determined that what little you know or see so far is not enough, so you need a list of additional qualities that I'm "offering" in order to take me seriously.

Newsflash: A woman does not have to "offer" a man anything other than her companionship.

Revolutionary concept to some, but these are the facts. The whole reason men are driven to get up everyday, go to work, have successful careers, and make a lot of money is so that they can afford to impress women and date/marry the dream girl of their choosing. So it goes without saying that the woman is the table. What that means is a woman simply IS worthy, and that has nothing to do with how many degrees she has.

Our value is intrinsic and intangible. It's in the peace you feel when we're around, the joy you get from making us happy, and the diamonds that spring from our womb should we choose to bless you with children.

All the rest is simply table decor.

If you have a hard time understanding this, you are either a woman who has been socialized to think that you need to go above and beyond in order to get or keep a man (it's the other way around, sis), or you're a man who's not a provider and is instead looking for a woman to "help" you (aka cook, clean, provide live-in sex, have your babies, raise your babies, do all the emotional labor of sustaining the relationship AND pay half the bills).

Good luck to you guys. As for me and my dating life, I have made a conscious choice not to settle, because I've learned once you settle, you end up getting even less than what you settled for.

Still convinced that love is the only thing we need? How about some stats?

Black women are the most educated group in America, but we are still not on track to get equal pay until the year 2124. That's how far we are behind. Then, black women leave college with more debt than women of any other race, and to make matters worse, college-educated black women are less likely than any other groups to practice assortative mating, that is, the decision to marry a man with a similar level of education.

Our nonblack peers are practicing it at higher rates than we are, which is contributing to both the wealth gap (white families have nearly 10 times the net worth of black families) and also the phenomenon of downward intergenerational mobility in black families (middle class black children are more likely than their white counterparts to become poor adults).

These stats are horrifying. And yet, black women are still seen as selfish, superficial or "gold diggers" if we decide to set a standard for our dating life that other women wouldn't blink an eye at. This is not about using anyone for a come up, it is about wealth-building for the next generation and the one after that.

It's time as black women that we level up not just in our careers, but our romantic relationships as well.

To do so, you don't have to focus solely on super rich men, but assortative mating requires that you date and marry out, rather than down.

And no, money isn't everything, but we just marked Equal Pay Day 2018, the day each year where the gender pay gap is highlighted and women are encouraged to demand what they are worth and negotiate salaries accordingly. Ladies, I am here to tell you that you should keep that same energy when it comes to your romantic partnerships. Marriage is a business, so you should go into with the knowledge that if things don't work out, you'll be better off or similarly situated as you were prior to marriage, not worse.

Love comes and goes, but community property is forever.

So men, please do us all a favor and stop asking women what they bring to the table. Instead, start contemplating how you can provide a home and a lifestyle that your ideal table fits comfortably in.

Do you think women should be asked what they bring to the table or do you stand behind the belief that we are the table? Share your thoughts in the comment section down below.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissons@xonecole.com

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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