What Are You Afraid of…The Love Below?: Black Female Sexual Agency and the Power/Penalty of Yes


I recently hosted a shindig with a group of 30-somethings at my home.  The group was composed of both men and women, and much of the conversation—albeit fueled by alcohol and barbecue—revolved around male/female relationships and of course sex.  One of the men present at the event put forth the premise that all women fall into four hierarchically based categories: marriageable date-able, fuck-able, and untouchable.

This statement immediately sent me to my special place.  My anger reached biblical proportions. That is a less judicious part of me wanted to smite him on sight—but instead I listened. I listened to him rationalize ad nauseam a limited, simple, and rather hurtful view of women and in particular Black women.  I may be biased, but to me a Black woman’s experience and the way she does “womanhood” is too unique and really too  divine to be reduced to arbitrary categories. Yet his premise gives us a point of departure to discuss Black female sexual agency: its power and its penalty.

The fictions around Black female sexuality are dangerous.  From the sexually repressed mammie to the wanton jezzebel, these convenient and simplistic archetypes make me nervous for several reasons.  First, they are symbolic of the greater cultural systems of patriarchy that normalize sexism and more pointedly sexual prohibition for women—and in particular Black women. Second, they subvert Black women’s sexual agency and support constructed myths of the “good girl” and the “bad girl” to the detriment of Black female sexual identity formation. Finally, they treat sex as a commodity within the relational transactions of Black women and men, thereby stripping it of its spiritual and natural origins.

For decades, Black women have had to negotiate a sexual identity against the historical backdrop of slavery that found them the victims of systematic rape and sexual abuse.  From these origins, a range of sexual stereotype regarding Black women have emerged in the larger culture.  We have been portrayed as either oversexed or sexually deficient.  Sadly, the Black female voice has largely been left on the margins of such discussions, particularly when it contradicts mainstream ideas.   Accordingly, to assert agency over one’s sexuality may even today be interpreted within the parameters of stereotypes like the Jezebel:

The portrayal of Black women as lascivious by nature is an enduring stereotype. The descriptive words associated with this stereotype are singular in their focus: seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd. Historically, White women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty – even sexual purity, but Black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory. This depiction of Black women is signified by the name Jezebel.2

Jezebel Stereotype

In the song “She Lives in My Lap”, by Outkast, a breathy Rosario Dawson’s whispers the lyrics: What’s wrong?/What are you afraid of?/The Love Below. I thought this line was very telling about the power differential that sex can cause in modern male female relationships.  I believe that many men are equal parts attracted to and fearful of a sexually confident woman.

All too often, a women’s sexual ego is equated to her ability to please a man— rather than her ability to derive sexual pleasure for herself.  However, if a woman outwardly expresses her desire for sexual pleasure and moreover asserts agency over her sexuality, she is often reduced to the “jump-off, “the  provocateur”, or ” the heaux”.  Categories and stereotypes become a way of managing common fears men have around female sexuality: that they will fail to please their partner, that their partner might commit adultery, or that they will erase men from their sexual experience all together.

The good girl/bad girl construct is another fall out of patriarchal thinking.   Steve Harvey’s Act like a Woman, Think like a Man is an artifact of this construct.   What’s the difference between a lady and a woman?  Patriarchy.  Western society promotes so-called sexual purity in women as a desirable quality for a mate.  On its face sexual purity isn’t a bad thing; I would simply argue that its value is applied inequitably across the sexes.   Black women are well aware of the “boys will be boys” mentality that governs sexual power structures of our community and for that matter larger Western society, but I believe we have been downright complacent, if not content to uphold and even perpetuate this norm.  We see and define our own value within these constructs: be sexually desirable—yes, desire sex outside the norms of society—no.

Categorizing or stereotyping women along lines of their collective sexual behavior is not only damaging to the female psyche, but I would argue equally dangerous for the greater society.  Ironically, as I type this, I am watching the documentary Love Crimes of Kabul. It traces the story of Afghan women who face prison for adultery and premarital sex.  While worlds apart from my reality, I would argue that the sexist ideology that governs such practices is very real in Western culture  and in the African-American community.  Listening to women talk about their lack of power to define their sexual behavior is an apt metaphor for the power struggles Black women face in defining, owning, leveraging, and embracing their sexuality.  Pain and pleasure interplay in this long running narrative.

Ever since Eve and the apple came into our cultural consciousness, women’s power over their sexuality has been compromised.  Women and men need to collectively take the power struggle, and manipulation out of our sexual relationships, in order to get back to its purest state. Sex is natural, spiritual, and beautiful.  When Black women and Black men confront each other honestly about what they are both seeking, the categories become extinct, the myths are debunked, and the stereotypes are confronted.  Love becomes free again. 

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10 Comments

  1. What did you end up saying in response to the brother who thought it not robbery to categorize women? What a patriarchal loser.

    You spoke so many truths with this blog posts, and I feel more enlightened having read it. Patriarchy has truly done a number on male and female sexuality, but more depressingly on females. It’s a shame that a woman can’t even have sexual agency without fitting into some false madonna/whore category. I am hoping women take back their sexualities and become the sexually liberated beings they truly want to be.

    • @Anti_Intellect I believe that individual was just validating his existence. I think he was articulating something he hadn’t given much thought to. I’ll tell you his ideas are pretty ubiquitous, and on an odd level I respect his courage to voice them. A lot of men and women are operating within that paradigm, but aren’t even conscious of it. I fear/detest/admire his self-awareness. Women can have sexual agency, if other women stop the judgmental, limiting, and self-repressive behavior that validates what society tells us about ourselves. I think more women are starting to get it — but between Steve Harvey and the Church (I said it); I’m not overly optimistic.

  2. Are we still on this shit? Plenty of women (black and otherwise) are getting their nut off and not giving a fuck what people classify them as. And whatever a dude says about them makes no difference cause they are still getting theirs. It’s mainly the women who pine over this and worry about any mans classifications or the way he organizes shit in HIS mind, that makes them all want to find some kind of universal answer.

    News flash: It’s not gonna happen. Men want a woman they can respect that they wont feel will go and fuck someone else. Just like women do. Men’s egos are attached to everything from their ability to provide to their sexual prowess. Men are afraid of being stripped of their manhood. Their identity. Woman have many layers and many things that can still classify them as women. Men don’t feel that way. Whether or not this means more men are sensitive I don’t know, but at the end of the day, what one, 10, or 100 men think a woman should be doesn’t mean that is the reality. Women talk a lot about patriarchy and what they feel is wrong, but never say what should happen to solve the issue. Are we just gonna keep saying “that’s sexist” and that’s patriarchy, are are you going to take steps to eliminate it? How are you going to tell any person they are wrong for having their outlook and that their outlook is damaging if a bunch of other people adhere to it? This is just beating a dead horse.

    Ladies, go get yours and stop trippin.

    • @J Thanks for your comment. More or less agree. Things are progressing, but you would be surprised the limitations many women put on themselves …not sure we are beating a dead horse, but I would argeu the jury is still out. You are work there is work to be done. This is my contribution to the cause…that and living a life that is authentic to my beliefs, desires, and wants. I’m determined “to do womanhood” my way…social constructions rooted in patriarchy and my spirit are incongruent. I’m all for ridding the lexicon of “sexist”, “patriarchy”, and any number of the well-worn language of discrimination, when and if we as a society have evolved based its outputs.

    • White Americans feel that Blacks are beating a dead horse because racism persists. Perhaps Blacks should never mention that either. Simply not discussing an “ism” makes everything related to it vanish? And furthermore, for an “ism” to change of any type, everyone must be involved. It’s not a woman’s job alone to cure sexism. It’s Black people’s job alone to cure racism. I say this because many men minority men detest racism and its implications but will rationalize sexism for hours and days and build entire blogs to do it. Fascinating how that works.

      Then again, maybe Whites think we are “trippin…”

      • I meant it’s NOT Black people’s job alone to cure racism in that sentence mid paragraph.

      • @trudy I think the whole “beating a dead horse” sentiment is basically a cop out to reinforce the current systems and power structures that benefit some and marginalize others. Its is a logical fallacy say that when confronting various -isms we are beating a dead horse…if the horse were dead the outputs of it would be too i.e. institutional racism, discrimination, police brutality, etc.etc.

      • Exactly. It is a lazy cop out. And to shift the blame to the person enduring everything from the stereotypes to the brutality of another as the one who is to fix it is classic White supremacy actions manifesting in other forms of prejudice (i.e. the sexism and misogyny you describe above) and bias. The only “dead horse” is the speech about something that has not changed and people still perpetrate labeled as a dead horse. The horse is alive and galloping and tracking mud into everyone’s house.

  3. I’ve not even been in those mixed hang out sessions in years like the one you mentioned because I genuinely cannot stomach the patriarchy, especially when it comes to sex. I cannot. I am sitting here trying to remember when last was I in a group like that and I think perhaps 2004.

    Most views that people have on sex and romantic love are ones that I do not agree with or cannot relate to so I find the colloquial conversations rather pointless as they genuinely become insulting. The only time I really discuss it is with women I know and in the same context as this blog is written. Patriarchy and sexism themselves have to unravel more before there will be any change in views about sex, especially where Black women are concerned. Sadly, I think sex will be the LAST place where change will occur because even the most powerless man in a patriarchal society often feels that sex is the last available place to exert power and control, not just over perceptions and ideas about Black women and sex, but their bodies themselves. Kinda tiring actually.

    Excellent, thought-provoking post.

  4. Excellent helps make sense of the allure and threat of the bisexual woman. Also reminds me why I hate Too Short more than any rapper…

    What of the women who but into being sidepieces or groupies sending their cooch on-demand? I mean the ones looking for love and approval. The ones who tat dicksucka on their chests and go by the name “freak”

    Sighs….

  5. After reading this page/post, I see that Black women have learned nothing. In fact, I give up my campaign to explain to them why they should not want to be whores, sluts, jump-offs and such. They can do whatever they like, however, they should not expect much from a man who is looking to build anything. I do not see the majority of the 40 and under Black women as being fit to marry, mother children, or build a nation with. “A man’s status is elevated to the level of the women who he associates with.” At one point, I was depriving myself and trying to build with them, but now that I see they just want to be used, I have been doing lots of stroking. Clearly, if I am going to build, it will be with a woman of another race, but I will take all of the p*ssy the sisters are throwing at me these days. If they want to be used up, I shall use them. I don’t care about how they feel because they want dick and nothing else. They are damaged and a lost cause. This page/post helps me realize why there are 1.2 million Black men in prison, our children are full of self-hate, and we are going to suffer in the future. This article was confirmation. We should not put it all on the line for women who do not know their true value, PERIOD! They deserve what they get. In fact, I think all of them should get poles put in their bedrooms and let the fellas come through and start throwing dollars at them. If it makes them feel good that MANY MEN want to use them for cum buckets, then so be it. Shit, I don’t mind being used by Black women for sex. I love it. I don’t have to spend money, treat them good, or even know their names. I can fuck without responsibility. I have no problems with it, but building with them, uh no. So, yeah, vagina power. Please, please, please, I can never have enough of that sweet black goodness. Be extremely loose sisters. Please!


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