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Girlfriends: The Mirror Of Myself I See In Joan Clayton

The most intimate relationship starts with you and ends with you.

Her Voice

The all-time best Black women show in the early 2000s defiantly goes to UPN's Girlfriends! If you weren't a confrontational Maya, maybe you were a materialistic Toni or a free spirit with no responsibilities Lynn or a super accomplished Joan. After the eight-season series relaunched on Netflix in October, I had to rewatch the series over to fully dissect their experiences–as a grown woman and not as a child (like I was back when it came out, and I shouldn't have been watching it).

I saw a bit of myself in all of the women on that show. I am the unapologetic spicy part of Maya, the comical aspect of Toni, and I am a Black bi-racial woman like Lynn; I know the struggle very well of not feeling Black enough. But the character that hits home the most was the mirrored perspective I seein Joan. She had such a big heart, but so little boundaries that she wasn't aware was dishonoring herself more than anything else. Here's what I mean by that.

Joan was the prize and the problem.

Giphy

Joan was every Black woman's goal; she was an accomplished lawyer, she rocked her natural curly fro hair like it was nobody's business, was stunningly beautiful from head to toe, and owned a home before 30–all by herself, no man needed! She was the muse, but she didn't know it. Countless times throughout the series, she has bent over backwards for almost every man stepping into her life.

Joan was a serial dater because she feared being alone and feared that she would be unable to have a family of her own because of her biological clock. One of her deepest insecurities was not being able to achieve her fairytale in the timeframe she saw for herself. She went from date to date with minimal breaks without seeing the necessity of reflecting on who and why she involved herself with the men she chose. As I was rewatching the series, I thought this woman is doing too much, and then I sat in my bed thinking, damn, that used to be me.

As women, we stretch ourselves too often, selling ourselves short and falling in love with potential and not thoroughly looking at what this partner can contribute to the partnership. Just like Joan, I didn't see the beauty in solitude or even understand how other people did; I just knew I had a void to be filled. I had long-time abandonment issues due to my biological father being in and out of my life, and I entertained countless amounts of the wrong people to fill that void.

But over the last two years, I learned that no one could fill that void; but me.

A love letter to my younger self.

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If I could write a letter to my younger self, I'd embrace her tightly and tell her I see you trying, but you're putting all that energy in the wrong places. To experience a lasting long-term relationship, you will have to know your worth fully and hold others to the standards you put in place.

Once you know your worth, you're not afraid to be alone, you simply accept that you will be handing out a lot of no's because everyone doesn't deserve access to you.

During Charlamagne's interview with the Girlfriends cast, he asked all the women where they would see all the characters now based on their growth as individuals. Joan a.k.a. Tracee Ellis Ross mentioned she doesn't think Joan got married:

"I think Joan is happy in herself, I don't think she's had a child or gotten married, and I think it sets the example that the happy ending does not mean that you ride off with a man on a horse."

The bigger problem is how society perceives women's worth based on marriage and children and not for their individuality–as their male counterparts. Women are whole people, not just a fraction of a person on a man's arm; we have to hold other women and men that belittle women's worth based on their patriarchal views accountable.

I understand where Joan was coming from why she did what she did, but it's a toxic cycle, and she couldn't find meaningful love until she knew what she was looking for and not just accepting a bunch of nobodies masquerading as her somebody. There is beauty in solitude and digging deeper to know ourselves as women.

Self-reflection is a journey, not a destination, so if you're playing victim, throw that mindset out; you play a part in every relationship you involve yourself in–platonic or romantic.
Slow and steady wins the race; stop trying to jumpstart a super intimate relationship with someone that most likely doesn't even know your last name and is probably wearing a mask for the first six to twelve months of the relationship just to please you. Let people show you who they are; pay attention to how people treat you. Words are easy, but actions show you where someone's heart is.

Partner or no partner, the most sacred relationship is with yourself. The most intimate relationship starts with you and ends with you.

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 submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured image via Giphy

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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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