Ask Ijeoma: Is The “Other Woman” Free To Do As She Pleases?


Ijeoma Oluo — renowned activist, writer, and Establishment Editor-At-Large — answers readers’ questions about body image, race, feminism, and more. Have your own question to ask? Email with “Ask Ijeoma” in the subject line.


I believe solidarity in womanhood includes not making moves on a man you know is taken (even if you don’t know his partner). I’ve discovered that many women I know don’t share my feelings. They say the man should know better and the “other” woman is free to do as she pleases. What do you think?

I think that we need to stop looking at relationships like property and start looking at them as agreements. You are with someone because you want to be, and if you are monogamous, it’s because you choose to be. Nobody is “taken” by anybody — it’s impossible. You are your own person all the time, and you are solely responsible for your decisions. Does this mean that a woman shouldn’t feel bad if she starts a relationship with someone who already has a partner, or even a family? Honestly, I don’t know if it matters. Because if you’ve been hurt by an unfaithful partner, your pain isn’t that someone was willing to sleep with your partner, your pain is that your partner was willing to sleep with someone else. If you’ve been hurt by someone’s infidelity, you have every right to be angry with everyone involved. But as a society, part of increasing honesty and equality in relationships is recognizing that we are the only people responsible for the decisions we make.

I’m very angry with myself for not having spoken up many times on social media when challenged by white males who try to school me on sexism in science. As a black female, I try my hardest to let my voice be heard, but I feel so shouted down. Ijeoma, I don’t even have a question, I’m just sad.

Don’t be angry with yourself — it’s hard enough being a black woman out there, you don’t have to fight all the time. You do what you need to get by. Men need to take responsibility for ending sexism — and they have the reserves afforded by their privilege to do it. White people, too, need to take responsibility for ending racism — and have the reserves afforded by their privilege to do it.

I fight racism and sexism every day — but don’t be fooled, it’s also my job. I’m paid to write and talk about these things, and before I was writing full-time, I remember how absolutely exhausting it was to work in an environment rife with racism and sexism, then going home and battling it on social media, all while raising two kids. You take care of yourself first. Just being here, every day, in a world that tries to silence you, is enough.

If you had to have a totem animal, which one would you choose?
It would be a bald eagle telling me that I don’t have a totem animal because I’m not Native American.

(Credit: Pixabay)

Lead image credit: Flickr/Robert

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