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Women Of Color On The Weight Of The Generational Curses They Carry

I carry the narrative of being a strong independent woman because of the pain my mother endured.

Life & Travel

Women have been programmed for generations to look, act, speak, heal and not heal a certain way. Sadly, most of this has been passed down from the women in our families growing up. Our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts sometimes projected traditional beliefs or acted in ways we didn't always agree with. Continuing to love them, but consciously knowing the pain behind their lessons and actions.

I grew up in a household where both my mother and father worked. My father was bringing in most of the money and covering the bills from his mechanic business. My mother was working for minimum wage and providing her children with what they needed. As their marriage began to strain, so did the finances. My father (the breadwinner) eventually left home and started a new life. At the same time, my mother held the financial responsibility. As the bills began to pile, so did her stress. Food was now minimal, and cable was a privilege. One day, it all became too much. My mother grabbed me in frustration and said, "Don't you ever rely on a man!"

The pain in her eyes still haunts me to this day.

As an adult, I have struggled with financial roles in relationships. I find myself cringing when a man wants to pay for date night, cover living expenses, or even buy me a cup of coffee. The idea of a partner providing financial security is frightening. I know this fear comes from my childhood experience. I carry the narrative of being a strong independent woman because of the pain my mother endured. I'm learning through therapy that it's OK to be a strong independent woman and be cared for by your partner. A common factor many women of color struggle with today.

I believe I am the woman I am today because of my mom. I have inherited so much (both good and bad) from watching her as a little girl. As I learned this about myself, I began to wonder if other women felt the same way. Here are a few women on their experience with generational curses.

Khristina Williams

Courtesy of Khristina Williams

"As a little girl watching other women in my life, my experience was seeing women who constantly put others before themselves. The women I saw growing up were independent and strong. My mother always sacrificed so that my siblings and I could have a better life. My mother constantly worked, so we spent most of our time with my grandmothers and sitters. I have some strong women in my family, but the man was the head of the household.

"My great-grandmother, Ernestine, was a nurturer. Growing up, I observed her taking care of my great-grandfather, a former WWII vet. They stayed in separate rooms due to him being ill. Her entire day revolved around taking care of her husband until his demise. All of the women in my family leaned on one another in good and bad times.

"In terms of gender roles, the women in my family defied those expectations."

"The women (my mom's generation) were able to pursue careers. However, my grandmothers and great-grandmothers were housewives. So, it's interesting to see the changes through generations. Gender expression and gender roles are societal constructs. I was never raised to feel I couldn't do something because of my gender. My family has always encouraged me to be the best version of myself and do what I want to do."

For more of Khristina, follow her on Instagram.

Anisa Benitez

Courtesy of Anisa Benitez

"I don't believe in 'curses', but there are infidelity patterns and scarcity in my family. I grew up around others who felt and expressed a lack of prosperity, time, money, and love in their lives. Meanwhile, they weren't expressing appreciation for the abundance in their present moment; for example, gratitude for good health, the love of friends, and the money to always make ends meet somehow.

"In regards to breaking a scarcity mindset, I've learned that the present moment is abundant. Our clinging to the past or fixation on the future is the root of most suffering. When we can enjoy where we are and all we have, the more good opportunities we see in the present."

"Loving myself has been healing. I practice living mindfully and mind my thoughts most of all. 'What is the story I am telling myself?' is a common question I ask myself. I go to therapy, meditate, take care of my body, eat well, sleep, practice creative wellness, make time to laugh, enjoy this life, and take holistic care of my health. I make more love-based decisions than fear-based. It's a better time to be ourselves openly. It means more room to self-express, heal, liberate yourself and others."

"Women in my family are compelling and nurturing. However, taking on caregiving roles left them with little bandwidth to care for themselves. They didn't know how to enjoy their alone time. We need to normalize breakthroughs. It would be great to see enough women of color liberated, successful, and being themselves. This way of living shouldn't be considered a 'breakthrough'."

For more of Anisa, follow her on Instagram.

Britney Turner

Courtesy of Britney Turner

"When it came to my mom, I observed something that I would rarely see on TV shows and movies at that time--a woman who was knowledgeable in finances and accounting. You always heard that men handled the finances and were the breadwinners, and women just didn't ask questions. Seeing her crunch numbers and budget gave me a different outlook on financial literacy and its accessibility to women. Not only did I learn about financial literacy from her, but I also observed the way she carried herself.

"In the media, women are often sexualized and exploited for their bodies - but I'm thankful that my mother and grandmothers rooted us in the church and taught us the importance of respecting yourself and demanding respect as a woman. Watching their mannerisms and how they were vocal about their needs helped set the tone of how I would present myself in the workplace, friendships, and relationships.

"As a little girl, watching the women in my life was a great experience. I took away so many different perspectives from each of them about being a woman, and more importantly, being a black woman."

"We still have so much work to do, but seeing the women I admire live life unapologetically and speak their minds is such a liberating feeling. Seeing women of color embrace their skin, natural hair, and features without shrinking themselves has made me want to cry. I think back to being in elementary school and feeling like straight hair was more 'appropriate' or more 'professional'. I remember being scared to embody what it means to be a black woman fully. Generational curses sometimes come from the stigma and stereotypes that society has placed on us as well."

For more of Britney, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Britney Nicole

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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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