Ciara Wants You to #LevelUp
I’m sure you’ve heard about Ciara coming under fire for her tweet this weekend. If you haven’t, here’s a quick summary: Ciara published this tweet with a clip of Pastor John Gray preaching a sermon where he (again) blames single women for their singleness. In the clip, Gray states:
“Here’s what the scripture says,” Gray preached in the clip. “‘He that finds a wife finds a good thing.’ It didn’t say, ‘He that finds a girl that he’s attracted to, who he then begins to date, who he then calls his girlfriend, who he then buys a ring, proposes to and makes her his fiancée, who he then marries later who becomes his wife. You’re not a wife when I marry you, you’re a wife when I find you.” tweet
Of course, it pissed a lot of folks off but many agreed. While the tweet doesn’t anger me, her positioning is disappointing. She’s shaming and blaming the exact same women who fought for and defended her right to be happy as a single Black mother who found love again. Her words indicate a blaring tone-deafness of her own history at best and complete antagonism at worst.
Ciara’s #LevelUp is Only a Symptom of a Bigger Issue
Let’s get clear: there’s no formula, set of behaviors, or established criterion that will guarantee you a romantic, intimate partner. I don’t care what anyone tells you. For church girls like me, though, Ciara’s endorsement of Gray’s sermon is completely in line with what we’ve been taught. Our religious experiences are shaped from our formative years, teaching us that we are to abide by codified and established behaviors in order to be a “good thing” to be found by a man. We’re conditioned to believe that our singleness is our fault rather than our informed choice.
Ciara’s sudden authority in all things marriage is also not unusual to church and unchurched women alike. Despite being publicly dragged by Ashy Stay-at-Home-Sons of America, Ciara is now espousing the same logic that was used to shame her decision to be in a relationship with and produce a child from rapper Future, making her his 5th child’s mother. Yet, as is often the case, her short but healthy marriage has made her incredibly reflective and a sudden expert in how to get, keep, and marry a man.
Her #LevelUp tweet leaves a bad taste because it implies that all women who are single remain so because they don’t value or love themselves. While it may be Ciara’s testimony, it’s not every woman’s testimony. For as many women as her words may help, they are ones that cause harm to the broader conversation of women’s personal and sexual agency.
John Gray’s Pick-Me Relationship Theology is Violent.
As public theologian Candice Benbow has pointed out before, Relationship Theology has indoctrinated so many women – especially Black women – to blame themselves for their singleness, tying their ability to be coupled with their holiness and personal salvation. Aside from the gross heteronormativity of it all — to the exclusion of queer women and deliberate silence on Men’s preparation for marriage — it feeds into a larger issue of how women are socialized to reject personal autonomy and agency.
Women are constantly bombarded with accusations of why they’re single — every reason except personal choice and autonomy. Then we wonder why women don’t know how to express personal and sexual agency/autonomy in the long run. Women are implicitly taught that relationships, sex, and all interpersonal interactions are things that happen TO us and not WITH us and our consent. When we gloss this over with Jesus, it becomes even more harmful as it now intertwines spiritual guilt with the emotional shame associated with singleness.
Ciara did all of the “wrong” things and is projecting that regret onto other women. While my heart rejoices that she found the strength to love herself as God loves her, that’s not every person’s story of why they’re single. Marriage is not a penultimate victory or sign of adulthood. Marriage is beautiful, it’s hard work, but it’s not a desire of everyone.
Moreover, shaming single women or somehow disparaging their being single is why so many women are rushing to be with trash bags to claim they’ve been chosen. This is violence and yet, pastors like John Gray have absolutely no remorse for continuing to spew it from pulpits across the country.
Men who’ve never had lived experience as women, especially Black women, have taken authority in telling us how to “be chosen” by them all while exonerating or minimizing their own emotional labor to be better partners to be found. Meanwhile, women who are educated, licensed, and credentialed to speak to other women are often silenced or relegated to furthering this misogynistic swill from pulpits. Yet, we know Black Women’s singleness is profitable both inside and out of the church, so this is not shocking.
We need to, as a society, stop demonizing singleness and pathologizing single people. Perhaps we also need to stop legally favoring marriage over singlehood, but that’s a post for another day.
If if we stopped trying to pathologize singleness, we could actually have real dialogue about mending the problems of male/female interpersonal relationships (specifically those because this shit is so heteronormative). If people are single, it is because they’ve made a deliberate choice to be so.
As for Ciara, I pray her marriage lasts. The same women who stood in the gap when she was being lambasted may not be there this time.