Tag Archives: A Womyn’s Worth

Sorority Girls Must Twerk

16 May

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Originally published on Racialicious.

“So you’re going to twerk right?” was a common question my sorority sisters and I got when we entered a dance competition this year at our school.

Not too long ago, the university I attend welcomed its first historically black Greek-letter organization. I had the privilege of becoming a member of this sorority and was curious to see how the students of a predominately white university in a wealthy area would receive a historically black organization on its campus.

The university was widely accepting of the sorority; however, as we became more visible on the campus, we experienced much cultural insensitivity.

This year, for the first time, we participated in a sorority dance competition that raises money for charity. During the week leading up to the dance-off, several people approached us asking if we were going to twerk — as if twerking is the only style of dance a black woman can do.

Yes, most of the pleas for us to twerk on stage were jokes—you know, those obnoxious, not so funny, purposefully racist jokes—the same jokes many people shrug off and laugh along with because they are believed to be harmless.

Yet, there is a serious problem when we idly allow people to make ignorant and unacceptable comments, especially those that trivialize issues of class and race. As we read in the article, “Let’s Get Ratchet! Leave Your Privilege at the Door,” also featured on Racialicious, views about twerking employ certain bigoted ideas about poverty and black culture.

These comments and jokes about our sorority twerking relate to the effects of a black woman’s image based on media coverage. With the countless Twerk Team videos on Youtube and the glorifying of a “bad bitch” who can “bend it over and touch her toes” in commercial hip hop lyrics,this style of dance has become a fabricated indicator of “authentic” black womanhood. Essentially, the conversation about the style of dance becomes: all “real” black women can twerk.

This expectation is progressed through the numerous videos of young black women popularizing the dance style online (They aren’t the only ones doing it, but they are a significant majority). On one hand, if a woman chooses to dance sexually that is her choice. However, I find it problematic if her decision to twerk comes from commercial hip hop’s ideas about women (none of which are uplifting) and the songs that accompany the dance, such as French Montana’s “Pop That” and Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” which demand a woman’s complete submission in order to sexually please her male company. Type “twerk” into youtube and you’ll find several young women accepting the sex-object role that the music demands of them. These demands become increasingly problematic when they involve race and gender. Notice that no expectations are placed on men or women of other ethnicities to twerk. People are often shocked when white women do it.

As it is extremely provocative, twerking suggests a lot about black sexuality. As feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins discusses in Black Sexual Politics, African Americans’ use of their bodies is heavily promoted and celebrated above other abilities, such as intellect.

Maybe that is why there aren’t many stereotypes about black women being smart.

The focus on black bodies is not a new concept. Author Norman Kelly explains in Rhythm and Business that these ideas date back to slavery, when bodies were used to cut sugarcane and harvest tobacco, and raped to produce more bodies for labor. Yet, too much use of the mind was prohibited, as reading was illegal.

This use of bodies, specifically, the focus on what twerking accentuates, a woman’s behind, dates even further back to the 19th century, when Saartjie Baartman first made her appearance in Europe as the freak show Venus Hottentot. People visited the show to gawk and mock her huge behind and peek under her clothing to look at her vagina.

These 19th century views continue to exist in the comments about twerking. When people expect or demand that we twerk, black women are once again reduced to a piece of ass.

Unfortunately, many people of color have adopted some of these external views on black sexuality, as several of the jokes about our sorority twerking came from other African American students on campus. During the preparation for another show, one black student who saw us practicing also asked if we would twerk for our half-time basketball game performance. In asking this, he and other students of color who made similar comments participate in progressing harmful stereotypes of black women. Because this guy’s mind went right to twerking when he heard we were dancing, his views of women how black women should appear on stage have been influenced by disgusting stereotypes of black women in popular culture.

As leaders and promoters of equality, we must amend the incorrectly-deemed “harmless” jokes and comments about black sexuality, as they further the idea that black people are only good for physical activities such as manual labor, dancing, and sex. These jokes suppress ideas about successful black scholars and intellectual leaders.

When these dehumanizing ideas circulate in popular culture, I am concerned about how they affect our self-narratives and self-esteem. Growing up, my friends and I wrestled with what it meant to be authentically black. Our music interest, sense of fashion, and ways of dancing were all influenced by external ideas about black culture that we saw in music videos, on the radio, and from our peers (this was just before Youtube and Twerk Team became popular). As much of my teenaged perception about what “authentic” blackness meant came from BET, where currently Nicki Minaj acts as an updated Venus Hottentot (as much of her brand, appearance, clothing and lyrics point to the same two body parts Europeans gawked over at Baartman’s freak show: her ass and vagina). I eventually had to unlearn a lot of the demeaning ideas of black womanhood I was exposed to. I am still in the process of unlearning.

Calling people out on their rude jokes and comments aids this unlearning process and teaches them about the stereotypes they uphold when they make such comments.

Authors note: Hello All, I wrote this article when I was new to feminism and hadn’t realized the harm of respectability politics. My views have changed. Check out the articles below, which are more up-to-date on my Black feminist politics.

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Top 7 Perks of Shaving Your Head

28 Mar

buzz cut van

As bald and buzzed cuts become increasingly popular, women are daring to shave their heads. I’ve worn a buzzed cut for nearly 3 years, and I have to say: it’s been a psychological, emotional, and amusing experience. I had to adjust to a different look and reactions that I got because of the new look. Hair is major part of a person’s identity, and there are implications whenever someone drastically changes their hair.

And honestly, there are so many advantages to having no hair.

1. Everyone thinks you’re the most confident person in the world

People see bald/buzzed cut women and assume they are the most confident beings on the planet. It’s the bald woman’s stereotype. And I say, just go with it. Exude that confidence.

2. You don’t have to be afraid of water

On a rainy day my freshman year, two black friends and I ran back to our dorm from main campus. Our white friend trailed slowly behind.  When we got there my white friend jokingly said, “So, are black girls afraid of water?” I know that wasn’t the most PC thing to say, but it was funny and held some truth. If our hair is styled a certain way, we avoid rain, swimming, and exercise. Prior to cutting my hair, I often had to choose between straightening my hair and exercising. I hated deciding between the two because it seemed like such a shallow decision. Now I exercise whenever I want, and sometimes (rarely) I’ll even swim.

 3. Being bald weeds out shallow men

Bald is not the average type of pretty. I used to worry that men wouldn’t be attracted to me because I had no hair. And that may be the case. Some men prefer women with long hair (their loss). However, I’ve noticed the types of guys that are interested in me have a certain personality. Often times they are more open-minded, sophisticated, down to earth, and sure of themselves. (Not to say I don’t get my share of “Aye where yo boyfriend at?” That still happens—but I could spend a whole nother post talking about that).

4. Your hair is ready for any occasion

Ever have those days where you get dressed, look in the mirror, and you look absolutely stunning from toe to hairline—and then you’re hair just kills it? Buzzed cuts look perfect almost all of the time.

5. Less time and money on hair products, weaves, salon appointments, etc.

If I could take back all of the hours I spent in the salon or in front of the mirror braiding, twisting, straightening, or wet-setting my hair, I’d be a published fiction writer by now.

I know I don’t have to go into detail about the time that goes into maintaining hair. I also know I don’t have to talk about the price of a weave or any other style that requires time at the salon. Meanwhile, I can cut my own hair in less than 25minutes. Or, I can go to a barbershop and get it cut for $20.

 6. You get showered with complements

Not to seem cocky, but I always get things like “I love your style,” “Not many people can pull that off,” and “You are so beautiful.” I didn’t receive that much attention prior to cutting my hair. Buzzed cuts are bold, edgy, and make a statement. You always stand out when you’re the only bald girl in the room.

7. You’ll inspire others

I’ve noticed that people are inspired when they see women with buzzed cuts. It gives some women the reassurance that they can cut their own hair. Sometimes seeing an example of a unique form of beauty inspires others to express their own rare beauty.

Tips for women who want to cut their hair:

  • Keep your natural hairline. Some people disagree with me on this one. Really, it depends on your face. I have my natural hairline and I love it. If you’re unsure. I would keep it when you first cut it, and if you don’t like it, you can change it.
  • Just do it! I absolutely love being bald. I’d encourage anyone who is thinking about cutting their hair to do so. You’ll probably look FABULOUS.

In case you were wondering, here was my first haircut. It’s gotten shorter and shorter since then.

How to Change the Image of Women in Hip Hop

19 Mar

How to Change the Image of Women in Hip Hop: from Powerlessness to Activism

Lately I’ve been hearing a collective complaint regarding the image of black women in the media: There’s nothing we can do about it.

In an interview with Clear Channel (a large mass media company), activists from an organization called FAANMAIL explained that people don’t feel empowered enough to change hip hop’s portrayal black women. People don’t feel like they can’t make a difference because of the large entities they are up against.

Yes, the task will be challenging.

When challenging misogyny and racism in the media, you’re up against powerful companies with billions of dollars, that control what airs on TV and the radio, and employ several destructively influential hip hop artists, reality TV stars, and insatiable businessmen that all act as a collective Goliath.

That’s why people don’t try.

But we need to get out of this powerless state of mind. It’s not the government, the industry, or “the system,” that suppresses our voice—it’s the belief that we can’t do it that stagnates progress. Our feelings of powerlessness are partly the reason the image of black women in the media is what it is: an uneducated, hypersexed, “big booty hoe” with no concept of manners or self-respect.

However, change is not impossible. People have already made tremendous strides. Several organizations, such as FAANMAIL and Truth in Reality, work to change the image of black women in the media. In addition, we’ve all heard about how one writer, Sabrina Lamb, started the petition that canceled the show All My Babies Mamas. This is just the first step.

More work must be done—and it cannot solely happen online. It’s great to raise awareness through petitions on Change.org and social media, but armchair activism cannot replace live effort.

Activism online is too easy, and as the Harvard Crimson puts it, “Effective activism that creates lasting change takes effort and is often very frustrating. In fact, if an action is shiny, prepackaged, easy, and does not require any research or other sort of effort on the doer’s part, that is probably a sign that it is not going to be highly effective. If we hope to make a difference, it is essential that we are critical of such representations.”

In other words, real activism requires you to leave your computer screen and get your ass off of the couch (Ironically, I need to take my own advice. Blogging is a start; but, it’s not enough).

Here are some ideas on how to get active:

  • Connect with like-minded individuals.
  • Partner with organizations that are already doing the work
  • Host public rallies to show others there is a group that cares about the issue.
  • Use social media to its fullest extent
  • Involve local newspapers to spread the word
  • Get corporate sponsors (I know this may be easier said than done…yet still possible)
  • Try focusing on what changes you would like to see in the media (explaining what you don’t like is good, but giving examples of what you would like shows potential)

Of course, all of this will not happen overnight. But its the perseverance, dedication, and passion that gets things done.

“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Recommended Link: http://faanmail.wordpress.com/2013/03/12/talk-back-our-conversation-with-clear-channel-about-community-concerns/

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