OWN’s popular scripted series “Greenleaf” explores the inner workings of the Black church, specifically as it pertains to the first family and, even more importantly, the wife behind the pulpit.
The pastor and first lady portrayed on the show are positioned as the superstars of the congregation and often present a picture of the perfect marriage. In particular, the first lady is expected to be a leader for the women in the church and its representative at church and social functions. In “Greenleaf,” Lady Mae Greenleaf played by award-winning actress Lynn Whitfield, is struggling to keep that perfect façade intact.
This season, her carefully constructed world is unraveling. Like many real-life women, her marriage has left her unfulfilled. Her marriage is over and has been for quite some time, and her relationships with her children are strained. The audiences discovers that the woman they thought had everything actually has been hiding the same struggles many women face.
Whitfield’s portrayal of Lady Mae has become the focal point of the series, with audiences cheering her on as she starts her new journey as a woman starting her life over on her own terms.
Rolling out sat down with Atlanta-based author and life coach Nevaina (Nih-von-yah) Rhodes to discuss why women are often left unfulfilled while attempting to live up to the demands of their husbands, families and religious affiliations.
Do you believe it’s a woman’s nature to put the man in her life first?
The Bible tells us in Genesis that part of the “curse” was for the man to lord over Eve. That aside, there is the reinforcement of history. There was a time when women were only valued if covered by a man — either [a] father or husband — so the desire for security was a real motivator. And I believe women have a subconscious desire to be adored and some, if not many women, have a yearning to procreate, [which is divinely designed to keep the human race alive. Couple that with cultural subliminal [portrayals] of Prince Charming and the white wedding, [and] it seems hard to resist the desire to want a man. And with the purported male to female ratios….a woman might feel compelled to do whatever it takes to keep her man.
Lady Mae acknowledged putting her own dreams on hold to support her husband. Why do you believe women have such a hard time realizing their own needs?
The maternal or nurturing instincts and expectations make women natural life-givers and sacrificial supporters. The very act of giving birth can cost a woman everything …literally. There is also the cultural dynamic in many countries and customs that do not value the voice or person of women. When your station in life is systematically reduced, your own sense of self and autonomy can be diminished. Historically women have had to fight for the right to vote, to control their own bodies, own property. Knowing what we need can be a unique challenge and often just as difficult as getting the need fulfilled.
Lady Mae worked diligently to make sure that her husband had what he needed and that her children had their needs met. How can women keep themselves as a priority as they care for their children and/or a husband?
With these psychological and even physiological odds in some ways “stacked” against women, it is the aged airplane analogy that is the best advice one can take to heart. Put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Even the woman motivated by being a caretaker, problem solver [or] people pleaser can be compelled to prioritize self-care if made to understand and fully commit to the notion that I am no good to anyone else if I am not first good to myself.
In “Greenleaf,” Lady Mae’s bitter resentment for her own choices is on full display. Is this a normal place for women to be after things have gone wrong?
Release of regrets can be difficult. It can often begin with forgiveness of self first and self-acceptance. Affirmations and monthly mental and emotional “self-checks”
can help women maintain balance and embrace bliss. Then resentment for any reason is less likely to take hold.
What advice do you have for women who, like Lady Mae, are looking to change the trajectory of their lives?
Taking time to meditate allows a woman to look inward and reduce outward noise. Authentically answering the questions “What do I want?” [and] “What do I need?” will prove invaluable in staying focused. A simple thing like a joy list can be a quick go-to for a mood booster. Write down 10 to 12 things that bring you joy. Lastly, learning to “breathe easy,” with deep cleansing breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, allows optimal oxygenation. Where air flows, clarity grows.