Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog



As I was reading Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens”, I was struck by the question: just how many women throughout history have been denied reaching their full potential?

In the piece, Walker talks about how black women of the past were never allowed to reach their full potential. Instead, they were seen as next to nothing, unable to create things or be fantastic in any way. She says, “Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies one’s status in society, “the mule of the world,” because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else – everyone else – refused to carry.” (pg 405)

She brings up many powerful women, including Phillis Wheatley and her own mother, in order to bring home the point: all of these women could have been so much more if society hadn’t been forcing them down at every turn.

Walker asks, “How was the creativity of the black woman kept alive, year after year and century after century, when for most of the years black people have been in America, it was a punishable crime for a black person to read or write?” (pg 403)

Things aren’t that bad today, but we still have a ways to go. For instance, if a woman is working as a nurse or a stay at home mom or a secretary, no one says they aren’t reaching their full potential. But a man in the same job probably would be told that more than once. Why is that?


2 thoughts on “Potential

  1. I think perhaps no one questions the fact that a secretary or nurse or housewife wouldn’t be reaching her full potential because throughout history, women were typically less formally educated than men, and therefore were once actually reaching that full potential. Obviously, that is not the case these days, but this instance wouldn’t be the first time we as a society have held on to antiquated stereotypes that have no actual hold. The sexism and gender division of the modern workforce is slowly being dissolved, but the fact remains that you are correct; jobs such as the ones you mentioned, or babysitting for example, are typically assumed to be jobs held by women, and jobs like lumberjacking or mechanic work in an auto garage are typically seen as masculine, male dominated jobs. The only way I can foresee any expedition of this process would be to encourage the continued diversification of these jobs. For example, perhaps offering female exclusive scholarships for mechanic programs or male exclusive nursing scholarships.

  2. @J. Douglas Morrison, how do you mean, once they (women) were reaching their full potential? Unless I’m misunderstanding, I fail to see how women being less formally educated than men equates to their reaching their full potential in the fields of any of the three careers you mentioned. I agree with the post, that women have historically been denied reaching their full potential (especially women of color) because of lack of education and academic book-learning.

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