Tag Archives: Pleasure Politics

4 Reasons Respectability Politics Has No Place in Black Feminism

27 May


Okay so, quick recap:
Since my feminist views have changed so drastically, I had to write a 3-post series.

In Part 1, Bad Girls Are My New Role Models, I argued that black pop stars are good sexual agency role models (for adults) because they teach us to articulate pleasure.

In Part 2, “Turning to the Dark Side,” I renounced respectability politics, a system of beliefs that expect black women to always be noble, chaste, and deny sexuality because of the hypersexual stereotype that weighs on our shoulders.

Now we’re on to Part 3:
4 Reasons Respectability Politics Has No Place in Black Feminism

“Keep your legs closed AT ALL TIMES,” say the folks for respectability politics. Their argument is that if black women do not acknowledge or flaunt their sexuality, we can extinguish the hypersexual stigma. Because of this argument, we are quick to shame sexy black woman entertainers for singing about sex and daring to twerk.

Though I previously was a devout believer in respectability politics, I’m now saying that acting “respectable” doesn’t fix the hypersexual problem, but instead adds onto it. Here’s why this type of thinking, as well-intentioned as it is, simply doesn’t work.

1. Black women do not control the master narrative
What was that Malcom X said about the media having the power to control the minds of the masses? The media fuels the master narrative, the ideas that circulate about black women. And the media is not ran by black women, but by older white men who profit greatly from the hypersexual black woman stereotype. So even if Rihanna and all the other bad girls on TV suddenly became Claire Huxtable, the narrative would not change. Those who have much to gain from the stereotype would simply find a way to sexualize all of the Claires, the same way they sexualized little Sasha Obama (who has no public sexual record) last summer when she went out in 90+ degree weather wearing short shorts.

2. Black women are not a monolith
We don’t need everyone to be Claire Huxtable. That wouldn’t be an accurate representation of black womanhood. We all have our own various ways of expressing ourselves that go far beyond “respectable vs. ratchet.” Some of us are both and/or neither. We need a diverse range of expressions, as that gives more accurate representations of black women: we need Beyoncé and Janelle Monae, Nicki Minaj and Lauryn Hill, bell hooks and Joan Morgan.

3. Respectability politics works to further restrict and shame, rather than liberate
In respectability politics, we create a very small, heteronormative prison cell for black women to function in. All black women must be Claire, otherwise they’re an embarrassment. What about our working class women, our single mothers, and our lgbt friends…are they an embarrassment? Are our friends who got pregnant a little earlier in life unworthy of respect? Should I be ashamed to move my body the way it wants to when music plays?

Black women are so diverse and express themselves in such varied ways, that demanding for a specific way to publicly perform suppresses not only our sexuality, but also our everyday mannerisms and ways of walking in the world.

4. Ultimately, Respectability Politics is a result of internalized racism
In accepting respectability politics, we’ve internalized the sexist views of black women. Instead of speaking out against America’s minority monolith mentality and stereotyping problem, we support it. We pray that if every black woman is on her best behavior, those rich white men who own the Big 6 media corporations will stop making so many damn housewife shows.

With respectability politics, we’re trying to change our stereotype from a hypersexual one to a respectable one. Yet, instead we should be trying to demolish stereotypes altogether. Shackles are still shackles even if they’re made from gold—and stereotypes are still stereotypes even when we try to make them seem nicer.

Sure, a “nicer” stereotype may do us some good: Maybe then black graduates wouldn’t suffer the higher unemployment rates than their fellow graduates, and maybe people wouldn’t believe we’re “talking white” when we enunciate. But we’d still need to combat whatever other “nicer stereotypes” (sorry, I don’t believe in good stereotypes) are thrown at us. And we would still need to combat the stereotypes cast upon other groups in the U.S.

Wanna know the reason why my opinions changed so drastically? Check out what I’ve been reading:
The Best of the Best articles on respectability politics

P.S. This article is part of the Top Posts. Check out the Best of A Womyn’s Worth.

Turning to the Dark Side: Bad Girls are My New Role Models (pt. 2)

20 May


After my last post, “Bad Girls are My New Role Models,” I’ve got some explaining to do. A few folks felt that my views had changed tremendously, and they were right.

I used to hate super sexy artists like Nicki Minaj. A few years ago, she was the enemy: she was a living, breathing black feminist’s worst night mare (so I thought at first)—the devil, reincarnated to set women back 300 years with her silicone body, overtly sexual lyrics, and constant references to Barbie.

Now, contrary to what I previously believed, she is not the problem. Though Nicki has had many flaws (I’ll never be down for her “nappy headed hoes” comment or that abomination of a song “Cuchi Shop”), I’ve relinquished my disdain for super-sexual artists who get a bad rep like Nicki. Actually— after lots more research, I’m beginning to like her.

Yes, I know the history of the dehumanization of black women’s bodies. I know the current “deviant” hypersexual stigma we’ve carried on our backs since white men first stepped foot on African soil. Previously, I blamed these artists as part of the reason black women haven’t been able to transgress that stigma. However, I’ve recently undergone a Black Feminist make-over, which included a bit of intellectual plastic surgery—and I’m ready for my big reveal:

I’m giving up on Respectability Politics, which is the system of beliefs that decide which black women are “respectable,” based on whether or not she fits a certain wholesome, classy, not-too-sexy mold. Respectability politics is the reason we often embrace Janelle Monae’s work as artistic expression, while we view Rihanna’s as a cry for help. It is reason we love to hate overtly sexy artists like Nicki Minaj believing that these women make it harder for black women shed the hypersexual stereotype.

Yet, these sexy pop stars aren’t the problem; we are.

Our views on these artists are the problem. We may argue endlessly that these artists uphold “imperialist white supremacist patriarchy,” as scholar bell hooks loves to say. Yet, in judging them, we are doing the exact same thing.

Writer Tamara Winfrey Harris explains in Bitch Magazine’s No Disrespect,” that we expect black women, especially those in the public eye, to uphold the same standards of “good womanhood” expected of white women in the 20th Century. You know: women must be noble, submissive, and chaste (Chaste being the most important: some of y’all get all up in arms when married women sing about sex…Let me hear you say “Hey Mrs. Carter”). So in making these demands for black artists, we align ourselves with the same white patriarchal ideas that we so passionately fight against.

If it were up to the devout believers in respectability politics, black women would never sing about sex and never celebrate our bodies. As Writer Cate explains over at one of my favorite blogs BattyMamzelle respectability politics suggest that black women should render ourselves asexual in order to combat white supremacist ideology about black women’s bodies.

Explain this to me: White men, white women, and black men can be sexual, but black women need to keep it on lock? Hmmm, sounds like another double-standard.

We shouldn’t have to deny our sexuality in order to please people who are uncomfortable due to historical stigma about black women’s bodies. This sexuality policing approach denies part of what makes many of us human, as sex is natural for most people.

As Cate says, “While combating the sexual stereotypes of black women is important, I think that it’s essential that we find ways to do it that don’t necessitate denying ourselves access to our own sexuality.”

Ok, I going to stop here cuz I know attention spans tend to lapse after about 600 words (mine included). But I have so much more to say on this subject, so check back for part 3,

 Read Part 3: 4 Reasons Respectability Politics Has No Place in Black Feminism


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And if you’re not feeling what I’m saying, let me know. Your counter arguments help me grow (when they’re informed, that is). Thanks!

Bad Girls Are My New Role Models

13 May


Leaking topless photos, sexing in limousines, and twerking while wearing a diamond-encrusted bra will get you crowned “Queen of THOTS” (current slang for hoe) in a hot second. Rihanna’s topless photo on a French magazine cover got her shipped to THOT Land, where Beyoncé has been exiled since the release of “Partition.”

Lots of folks are concerned that these sexy singers are bad role models because of their young fan base. Now, I wouldn’t bump “Drunk in Love” in the car with my little cousins riding in the back seat, nor would I use Rihanna’s “S&M” video as a stand in for sex-education conversations. But for mature audiences, the vixens of the music industry may be some of our best sexual agency role models.

Okay, fellow feminists, womanists, and everyone in between: I know what you’re thinking. Not too long ago I thought the same thing. I’d watch music videos and think: Why would Rihanna twerk in a thong in the “Pour It Up” video, when everyone knows black women’s bodies are viewed as hypersexual? Why would Nicki Minaj pull so much attention toward her ass when everyone knows the story of Saartje Baartman’s Venus Hottentot 19th Century “freak show,” where she was mocked for her huge ass? We all know that black sexual politics dig deep into a painful history of inhumane treatment of the black female body, and that in searching for our decolonized image, we often turn our noses up to super-sexy black pop stars.

Yet, as Hip Hop feminist Joan Morgan said in her well-known seminar, “The Pleasure Principle,” we should have a “relationship with the history that doesn’t over-determine our sexuality or our choices.” As Morgan and others examining pleasure politics argue, we need to incorporate pleasure into our black feminist discussions. In only focusing on the damage done to the dehumanized black female body, we do ourselves a disservice.

So why not re-humanize it for ourselves? In discussing pleasure politics as sexual agency, There are a few things we can learn from these so-called bad role models. Read more…

Author’s Note: Hey Everyone. This article was originally published on Slutist (Ya girl got published again!). So you can read the rest of the article there. Let me know what you think!

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