Yesterday, Ayesha Curry was trending again and I have enough experience in this arena to know that it could not possibly be positive. Entrepreneur, mother of three and wife of NBA superstar Stephen Curry, Ayesha for some reason gets people deep into their online feelings virtually any time she does anything. This time, in celebration of her fourth restaurant opening, she did the milly rock in front of her husband at her new restaurant opening.
There is context to this though - we can’t analyze where people’s feelings are coming from without a brief overview of Ayesha’s history with Twitter. Four years ago, Ayesha got people on Twitter upset (me included) when she tweeted this:
Everyone's into barely wearing clothes these days huh? Not my style. I like to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters 😂😂😂— Ayesha Curry (@ayeshacurry) December 6, 2015
There are a lot of bad ideas happening here so I’ll break them down. There is no such thing as an ideal woman despite what society tells us. The limited options and binaries in any ideal is a set-up for failure. As a society, we deeply engage in rhetoric and actions that routinely place women in order, and despite the differences in rankings, the result is the same: losing. Compound the racial dynamic in a non-intersectional feminist ideology that was built to shut out Black women, and it’s all bad. I’d like to ignore men for a moment because what we need to be focusing on is why women do this to each other. Yes, it is patriarchy, the male gaze and the imbalance in traditional relationships (I am speaking narrowly on heterosexual cisgender relationships here) that make all of us centre the male, initially. But we cannot stay there; we know too much now.
For example, it’s easy to make a connection between Ayesha’s 2015 tweet and her (again, controversial) words on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk back in May. In part, on the topic of other women (and their proximity to her man), Ayesha said:
“Stephen is very nice by nature and he’s very talkative. Everything is always very friendly and sometimes to the point where I’m like, ‘I’m a grown woman, so I’ll just insert myself.’ I’ll be like, ‘Hello. How are you doing?’”..And “the ladies will always be lurking, hoping for their moment and waiting...you have to be aware of that…and me..I honestly hate it.”
While she has not engaged in directly naming and shaming women who are interested in her husband, it’s clear that the same issues strike a nerve for Ayesha today. Which in my mind makes sense.
Anyone honest enough about their relationships has to admit that feeling threatened by other people or feelings of jealousy arise in relationships. It’s natural. What is unnatural is us regular folk not in the public eye looking down on Ayesha for telling us these normal things. Her openness as a public figure (who owes us nothing in terms of her personal thoughts, btw) is just as important as our friends who we help when they overreact, project, and live in their heads in their relationships. That we give Ayesha no room in the regular space due to her fame, net worth and proximity to fame through her husband is the same unreasonable narrowness that Ayesha used in 2015 to tweet about women’s clothes. We are in this together - and that does not just mean for women that we deem likable. Any feminism that discounts anyone’s experience is lazy and dangerous, and not the point of a fulsome feminist politic. It’s clear that in the past four years, Ayesha has grown enough to avoid saying things as problematic as the 2015 tweet, has not given up on expressing herself, (contrary to many people’s beliefs, this is a good thing) and is more like us than she initially appeared to be.
Also, the portion of the Red Table Talk that went the most viral was when Ayesha said the following:
“Something that really bothers me and honestly and has given me a little sense of an insecurity is that yeah there are all of these women throwing themselves- but me, the past 10 years, I don’t have any of that- I have (this sounds weird) zero male attention.”
This moment could have been so much more than is was- people took her words literally and were quick to call her ungrateful at best, and much worse. Insecurities are not rooted in the truth, so for people to scold her for a very real insecurity here seems insecure to me. In looking at where that comes from, it clearly cannot be about Ayesha Curry, a public figure most of us do not actually know. In looking at why Ayesha triggers so many people, I see a level of discomfort online that any public-facing woman faces from other people. I also see projecting from parts of us that we think we are hiding. During this Red Table backlash, writer Jamilah Lemeiux tweeted:
I know why Ayesha Curry makes some women uncomfortable. She represents everything they were told they should be, from her look to her her marital status and role we assume she plays at home. However, there is no excuse for holding her accountable for what society did to you.— Jamilah (@JamilahLemieux) May 7, 2019
I fully agree with Jamilah in terms of the image of perfection many people see when they see Ayesha. I also feel what should follow is a rejection of the rules that make a perfect woman in the first place. Ayesha is a light-skinned multi-racial woman who often has a difficult time expressing her privilege in that realm, I get it. But hearing Ayesha express ways that she feels inadequate should not be invalidated because of the women who typically get chosen by men in our community. We can blame men for that.
It’s Black men in particular that serve as the people who dictate our culture: who/what is cool, who is beautiful and what is popular. It is Black men that put racial ambiguity first, not Ayesha Curry. While she may participate, and get rewarded for these things, she does not dictate in the way that, say, Kanye has, to name one of many Black men who openly participate in the beauty politics in the Black community. A lot of the time many of us are doing this unchecked, and without an understanding of what is really going on. Because if we used common sense, we would see that no measurement of a woman’s worth is acceptable, and are all designed to hurt us.
If we are going to unpack any of that hard stuff, we have to admit that projection is an inappropriate place to form or grow an idea. And it’s certainly not a way to empower anyone. On this point, writer and cultural critic Kimberly Foster explores people projecting on Ayesha in her video “I’m Done with Mean Girl Feminism (an Ayesha Curry Rant)”. After reading a comment that stated “Ayesha’s made my life horrible growing up”, Kimberly says:
“She is not an avatar to project emotional trauma on to - this is a real woman who has real feelings talking about her real life and it is unreasonable for us to expect her to shoulder all of that stuff. We have to do our own work to process our traumas; it could be a starting point, but not where the real emotional work is.”
I agree. We can’t in one breath say we want strong feminists, then say we are uncomfortable with certain women expressing agency, or their truth. Genuine feminism has room for every woman, at every place on the spectrum, and exists to protect all of us.
It’s difficult enough to deal with the well documented male behaviour that can be life threatening to us, so we have to abandon the notion that men even have the capacity to rank us. They can’t even control or protect our safety from them. In her 2018 book, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, writer and activist Soraya Chemaly writes, “Everywhere, we learn to adapt to boys and men hissing obscenities, making sexual suggestions, touching us intimately, lurking on stoops, staring from benches following us on foot and in cars, and generally refusing to keep their hands, thoughts, and desires to themselves. I’d grown up seeing this happening to my mother, aunts, and grandmother my entire life, yet no one ever talked about it.” Even during the NBA playoffs, Ayesha was subject to a televised outburst by a Raptors fan who said, “The vibe was unreal, I just want everyone to know, Ayesha Curry we are gonna f-ck her in the pussy”. This level of violence is not what women should expect-nor is that about sports or even fans. It’s about patriarchy and control. We need to be doing something about that, not fake concerned about her insecurities or laughing at her milly rock.
I think we can get closer to a world where women’s voices are collectively valued if we identify our adversaries and cherish our commonalities. To prioritize women’s words is an inclusive process. In looking at the ways people harshly criticize Ayesha’s words when she speaks on her own emotions (or criticize her dancing skills for no reason) is doing the silencing and erasure that poses a direct threat to all of us. Our emotions contain our strength and power and anyone who says otherwise is attempting to subvert that.