Womanism serves as a response to the exclusion of marginalized communities form the mainstream feminist movement.
Womanism, for me, is the true way to advocate for the legitimization of
all types and interpretations of womanhood (and manhood) in our
civilization. This article chooses to highlight a character in
television, print, or film whose fictional journey embodies womanist
mandates and principles.
- Character: Maxine Shaw
- Show: Living Single
- Year(s): 1993-1998
- Actress: Erika Alexander
Living Single portrayed the professional, romantic, and social lives of
four women: Khadijah and Synclaire James (cousins), Regina "Régine"
Hunter, and Maxine Shaw. Although Khadijah, Synclaire, and Régine lived
together in a New York brownstone across the hall from two gentlemen,
Overton Wakefield Jones and Kyle Barker, Maxine basically was their
fourth roommate, as she was over ALL THE TIME, eating all the food and
cracking all the jokes especially towards her foil-turned-love interest
Maxine Felice Shaw herself was a damn good attorney at
law, choosing to follow in the footsteps of her mother (played in one
episode by the awesome CCH Pounder, and by Jove if your mother is played
by CCH Pounder you are destined to be great). Max later chose to run
for public office under the ever hilarious campaign motto "Ride the
Why was Max a Womanist character?
It is difficult to highlight just one character from Living Single as
being Womanist. To fail to mention the messages of Womanism promoted by
Living Single, including the emphasis on female sexual and professional
autonomy, the representation of Black excellence in the midst of
negative stereotypes of the Black diaspora, and the importance of women
standing in solidarity with one another, would be an error on my behalf.
This article may be coming from a sense of bias, however, because
Maxine Shaw was by far my favorite character on the show.
was different to me. I felt her distinctiveness even when I watched the
show during it's original run as a youth and in syndication during my
high school years, but I couldn't put my finger on why she stood out. I
can now articulate Max's impact as a forceful disruption of the
stereotypes* imposed on women, particularly those directed at policing
and defining black womanhood.
Max did not conform to the four cardinal virtues of piety, purity,
submissiveness, or domesticity required of White women, nor the
stereotypes of obediency, neglectfulness, hyper-agressiveness and sexual
deviancy expected from Black women. This is not because she avoided
sexuality or confrontations or kindness, but that those limiting
classifications of womanhood established by a racist patriarchy did not
define the totality of her being.
was the block braid wearing, little black dress stuntin', quick to put
anyone in a verbal vice grip but would show you kindness and have your
back when times get rough type of woman. Her interactions with Kyle
firmly established Max's refusal to be submissive. She was outspoken,
but not on accident. She didn't stumble into her wit, unlike other
stereotypical representations of comedic woman characters as having to
be "neurotic" or "weird" a la Myra from Family Matters, Phoebe from
Friends, Jess from New Girl, Hannah from Girls, and even Living Single's
own Synclaire. Maxine Shaw was very important to my self-identification
as a Black Woman, and how I carried myself on several planes of
*It is a legitimate claim to classify Max as a "Sapphire" like character
who is portrayed as emasculating Kyle and displaying other
characteristics similar to the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype. This is
an important counter-argument against considering Max a Womanist
character, for in order to improve the representation of marginalized
communities in media/art, we must examine even "positive" instances of
diversity with critical eyes. However, considering the origin and
content of the show (created by Yvette Lee Bowser, led by a Black female
cast, the overall themes of female agency), and the personal influence
Living Single and Max's character had on me, I felt it appropriate to
classify Max's storyline as aligning with the values of Womanism.
Edited by SamoneLenior - Apr 16 2014 at 8:26am