So I finally forced myself to catch up on Vh1′s Love & Hip Hop Atlanta. It was quite the task and left me grateful for the healthy relationships that I’m involved in. At the very least, I can write pieces like this with at least a little bit of authority. And good thing for me, the show never disappoints with the amount of problematic gender and relationship content to dissect.
Three seasons in, it’s safe to say that the show is pretty predictable. There hasn’t been a single episode that didn’t involve women in conflict over a mutual (male) love interest. While the smallest gesture or an inaudible shot fired can send female cast members into violent rages (that often involve thrown cocktails) directed at each other, it is rare that any of that rage is directed at said love interests. Apparently, when you’re someone’s girlfriend or wife, a willingness to understanding the complexities of human emotions and relationships is a courtesy that only extends to those directly providing orgasms. When it comes to other women, they are given a one-dimensional label and treated accordingly.
Speaking from lots of first, second, and third-hand experience, being a “side chick” — that is, dating someone who is in a relationship, knowingly or unknowingly — is no more or less nuanced than being in a monogamous relationship. The circumstances are always complicated and the feelings are rarely less valid than those in the primary relationship. There is a certain amount of vulnerability, accountability, and communication that have to be in place to sustain such an arrangement. So when I hear the phrase “check your bitch” constantly used on Love & Hip Hop, I’m not only confused, but left feeling angry.
“Check your bitch” is what a girlfriend/wife says to her boo when his side chick has, gasp, a voice. It’s a territorial demand for a man to legitimize the personhood of one woman, his girlfriend, while delegitimizing the existence of another. It’s an erasure of empathy and respect. It is the muting of any feelings, opinions, and anything else that makes someone human. It’s very similar to how we treat black women who twerk or those who are single moms. Have we really reached a place where a woman involved with a non-single man, although possibly unethical, isn’t even a person anymore, but instead is some sub-genre of woman who needs to be trained not to speak or act when the superior “girlfriend” breed is around? I call bullshit.
Requiring such behavior is problematic for a number of reasons, the main one being that women and their value are assessed via their relationship to men. You’re only worth something if he calls you his girlfriend. This dehumanization aligns with patriarchy because it ignores men’s involvement in the breeching of relationship commitments and scapegoats the other woman. If I, the girlfriend, acknowledge that you, the “side chick,” are a human being, I have to also acknowledge the set of emotions and circumstances that drive your relationship with my partner. Doing so means I have to examine his intentions as well. Which requires me to hold him accountable for his actions. That’s not an option when I only consider myself “somebody” if I have a partner to validate me. We ain’t shit until a man makes us the shit. So it’s simply easier for us to target other women, then claim to be “ride or die chicks” (a term that has become synonymous with remaining in an unhealthy/broken relationship just to say one did).
Obviously, women being terrible to other women for the sake of their male partners isn’t anything new. But it’s seriously getting old. Our lives should never be contingent on the devaluing of someone else’s. And we should hold the people who have betrayed their commitments to us accountable. There would be no “side chicks” without cheating partners. Our relationship titles shouldn’t be passes to disrespect other women, and they certainly shouldn’t make us feel like someone else that our partner is involved with is any better or worse than us.
Sesali knows Maya Angelou didn’t die for this shit.