The Sexualization of Black Women (and Men)
Posted by Ambra at December 8, 2004 11:05 AM



Many may December 08, 2004 remember 2002, the history-making year when both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Oscars for best actors. Washington won for playing a crooked cop, but Halle Berry made history as not only the first black woman to win an Academy Award for "Best Actress" but also the first woman to do so having lost all of her dignity in one of the raunchiest and self-degrading sex-scenes of that year. The mini-celebration that broke out when Berry won the award for her role in "Monster's Ball" came to a screeching halt when some came to realize that she had won the award for whoring herself, something hardly worth applauding. Even more telling was that the "who's who's" in Hollywood made perhaps the most obvious yet subliminal statement about how exactly it is they view black actresses. If you want to get ahead in this business (no pun intended), you have to take off your clothes. History was made alright. That day marked the day that the we gave the highest accolade to someone who displayed one of the lowest forms of human behavior.

Maybe this issue isn't significant to many, but when black people are already underrepresented in so many aspects of life, it's no aid to the culture when the majority of our representation is embarrassing and degrading.

There was once a day when black slave women that were put up on the auction block would have their blouses ripped open by their owners for prospective buyers to see the suppleness of their breasts. How interesting that now, although the auction block looks a bit different, women are ripping their own blouses open and selling themselves down the river. The raping and using of black women solely for sexual purposes during slavery ultimately led to the sexualization of black women in all forms of media. But as the pattern of history shows us, the representation of black people in media has a direct correlation with how we are viewed by society. A study out of Duke University by Cheraine Stanford called "Advertising in Black and White: How and Why Perceptions of Difference Shape Magazine Advertising", states the following:

Representations of African Americans within various media underwent very similar processes of change. Their existence in visual and audio media outlets often reflected their societal status and the way in which white people envisioned their importance. During slavery times and segregation, African Americans were almost invisible within the advertising industry. It was almost as though America was composed of only white people. When blacks began to make their first appearances, they were shown as a number of different racist images being subservient to whites or representing some form of entertainment for white people. Images of people like the faithful, smiling, black servant Rastus (who would later grace the pages of magazines and products as the Cream of Wheat man) and the faithful Mammy figure used to advertise Aunt Jemima pancake mixes and syrup are two infamous examples. These pervasive icons all had similar racist traits and showed "black men and women with bulging eyes, thick red lips, and expressions of stupidity" (Dates and Barlow 433). These images were used to include blacks into the white American society while ignoring their status as people. The black people presented in these advertisements were carefully selected not only to confirm existing stereotypes but also to soothe white people. Whites could see in all the ads that included blacks that they were still subservient and docile. They never appeared as threats, but rather a group of happy, ignorant, partial human beings who only existed to serve whites.
So today it still stands, the images we see portrayed in media regarding black peoples' sexuality is exactly how society as a whole views us. Perhaps the biggest guffaw of this whole nauseating fraud is the current self-perpetuating nature of black images in media. Even on what was once a black-owned television network (BET), there is 24-hour self-devaluation going on, with no plans to stop it.

Last week, I linked to a personal narrative by Duane Brayboy at the Black Informant called "Can a Black Man Be Abstinent?". The portrayal of black men is equally vexing. Brayboy's question particularly struck me because there is a general media portrayal of the sexuality of black men especially that would lead the indoctrinated masses to think otherwise. Whether it's on the big screen, primetime, or music videos, black people in general are most commonly portrayed as sexually animalistic in varying degrees.

Were I to line up four men, one black, the remaining three white, and say that one of those men was a rape suspect, chances are, the black man, no matter how clean-cut and put together, would be one of the top two suspects. Even I myself as a black woman may be inclined to think so because quite simply, we've been indoctrinated to think that black men are sexually primal and aggressive.

For a black person to make a statement of abstinence today is especially counter-culture because we are not thought of in that light. Picture in your mind, the image of the typical "American Virgin". Betcha that person isn't black. This country has yet to release the historical baggage of the black race being portrayed as sexually perverse, deviant, and dirty. And regretfully, I say that white and black people alike are now equally guilty of allowing such a myth to be perpetuated for so long. I've said it many times before: black people cannot afford improper representations. We also can no longer continue to sit by passively as false images are portrayed as real.

I find the words at the beginning of Halle Berry's acceptance speech to be particularly perplexing:

"This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll. It's for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it's for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you. I'm so honored. I'm so honored. And I thank the Academy for choosing me to be the vessel for which His blessing might flow."
Color me haughty, but I almost think it a slap in the faces of the black actresses that have attempted to build a clean career in this business. For all the black women that spent years playing the maid, this is what we have to offer them? I think not. And to quote Berry, we're being used as vessels alright, but for God's blessing? That notion is highly debatable.
Original Post
Even though I debated about this subject on several message board sites, including this one, is it possible that the show "Girlfriends" can also be held responsible to an extent for perpetuating the myth of supersexualized black women, like the "Girlfriends" character Lynn for example, who's so sexually active and repressed that she was even attracted to her own friends and even inanimate objects?
quote:
Originally posted by Huey:
Even though I debated about this subject on several message board sites, including this one, is it possible that the show "Girlfriends" can also be held responsible to an extent for perpetuating the myth of supersexualized black women, like the "Girlfriends" character Lynn for example, who's so sexually active and repressed that she was even attracted to her own friends and even inanimate objects?



Are we really surprised by the Girlfriends TV show?...Who produces Girlfriends?...Kelsey Grammer...The guy from the Cheers spin-off Fraiser...It's just one big sexual fantasy for massa...

BTW, he has a strange obsession with African artifacts, if you ever watched Frasier they were all over the TV "house" and in his real home they are everywhere too...Very "Isis Papers" if you ask me...But then again this whole subject is...

Whoever controls the images, controls your self-esteem, self-respect and self-development. Whoever controls the history, controls the vision.
-Dr. Leonard Jeffries


And WE do not control the images...yet...

I was pissed that Denzel had to be a Crook and Halle had to screw a White man for them to win Oscars...I just don't understand how Halle doesn't get that...She was so proud...It was so pathetic...I think Denzel knows though...

My other favorite stereotype that Denzel played was the "I'm a grown ass Black man who had to be "saved" by the pure love of a little White girl, and she's my best friend and makes me so happy!" crap called "Man on Fire"... It reminded me of Bill Robinson in the old Shirley Temple movies minus the tap dancing...

The loving and loyal "Uncle Tom," the lazy and dimwitted "Stepin Fetchit" and the gigantic and protective "Mammy."...and the oversexed "tragic mulatto"...add a few crack whores and pimps that can dance and presto! Not much has changed in essence with the media and images of "us"...
I am sorry, but I really cannot see anything wrong with or stero-typical about "Girlfriend"---in fact the show seems to capture the spectrum of anywomanUSA----the one that is materialistic, the one who is timid and cautious, the one who is married, the one who is young, single and does not know what she wants . . . ----this show could have just as well been played by all white actresses, all Latino, all Asian . . . etc.

As far as Halle Berry's role in Monster's ball----the only thing that was sooooo rounchie about is was the fact that a Black woman would actually have sex with a white man that was born and breed racist redneck-----other than that, unless I saw a cut version, because I caught it on video, that scene was rather tame considering what you can find shown in movies now.----However, I must agree that Monster's Ball was not an emmy award winning movie or performance for Halle.
quote:
Originally posted by sunnubian:
I am sorry, but I really cannot see anything wrong with or stero-typical about "Girlfriend"---in fact the show seems to capture the spectrum of anywomanUSA----the one that is materialistic, the one who is timid and cautious, the one who is married, the one who is young, single and does not know what she wants . . . ----this show could have just as well been played by all white actresses, all Latino, all Asian . . . etc.
[Actually it has... it's called "Sex in the City"]
As far as Halle Berry's role in Monster's ball----the only thing that was sooooo rounchie about is was the fact that a Black woman would actually have sex with a white man that was born and breed racist redneck.


So are you saying that if Billy Bob Thorton looked more like Tom Cruise and wasn't a redneck, then it would have been okay? What about the fact that her character and Billy Bob's character were both drunk, and they both lost a son? As raunchy as the sex scene was, they both consented to it.

I will agree that there were more scenes that were more graphic than "Monster's Ball."

Like the scene in "Angel Heart" where Lisa Bonet is having sex with some chicken guts, or the scene between Lisa and Mickey Rourke, or the movie "9 1/2 Weeks."

Granted, that the movie roles that Denzel and Halle won their Oscars weren't the best roles, but they weren't the worst either. As much as folks are upset for them winning, they still would've been more ticked off had they lost.
The problem I have with "Girlfriends" is the same problem I had with the movie "Waiting to Exhale." I could not relate anyone I know, let alone a girlfriend to any of those women!! Eek I am most happy to say that I can't think of anybody I know who really acts like that. And especially not a Black woman! broscream

In some highly exaggerated form I could see where whatever reality they are trying to achieve is coming from ... but to me, it's a stretch! Roll Eyes
quote:
Originally posted by Sweetwuzzy:
How interesting that now, although the auction block looks a bit different, women are ripping their own blouses open and selling themselves down the river.


Sex Sells, or Does It?

This is unfortunate, not just for black women, but for women in general. Do you think there will ever be a time when our attraction to the opposite sex won't be exploited in ways that makes someone else rich? With regard to Halle Berry and Monster's Ball, the movie was definitely written well and had a very good story line that kept you interested in wanting to know how the two main characters (Berry and Thorton) were going to end up together. But admittedly, after viewing the movie, I lost some respect for Halle. I know she's talented and is gifted in her craft, but for every job, there should be some limitations. They could have just showed the two of them kissing and rubbing heavily, then cut to the next scene. They didn't have to strip the woman butt naked. I was completely shocked by how far they were taking the scene because prior to Monster's Ball, we had hardly ever seen nude shots of Halle in any movie. She went from showing nothing to showing everything! BTW: I always wanted to ask someone this, does anyone know why Thorton choose the title, "Monster's Ball" for this movie???
Monster's Ball was a term in the movie where the condemned murder was going to his/her execution, similar to "dead man walking" or "walking 'the Green Mile'" so to speak.

BTW, Halle was briefly nude or at least topless, in the film "The Last Boy Scout" back in 1991.

Let's be frank, if Halle was going to be nude, she couldn't wait any later, because she was already in her 30's. Most of these actresses are getting nude in their teens and 20's. Halle wasn't the first and she won't be last. It's not black women but women in general, as Rowe put bluntly that are exploiting themselves. Li'l Kim is the perfect example.

The reason I added "Girlfriends" is that I just can't picture any sane man watching this program voluntarily. If a guy watched it to understand women, black women specifically, he would probably end up being a lifelong bachelor. Those female characters are way too stereotypical and/or very dysfunctional:

Joan: Neurotic, light skinned...tragic mulatto track record with her failed relationships.

Maya: single mother, medium skinned, beautiful, "bughetto/ghetto fabulous" to an extent, cheated on her husband.

Lynn: biracial "free spirited" woman, light skinned. Extremely sexually active, many partners, but yet suffers from tragic mulatto syndrome when trying to find out about her biological past or getting a job.

Toni: textbook definition of a sapphire--beautiful face/hair/body, but also an acidic tongue and matching rancid attitude/personality; self-absorbed, inconsiderate, uncaring of anyone else's feelings outside her own...dark-skinned.

I'm shocked that many folks aren't surprised about how dark-skinned BW like Toni are portrayed on television and film.
quote:
Originally posted by Huey:
quote:
Originally posted by sunnubian:
I am sorry, but I really cannot see anything wrong with or stero-typical about "Girlfriend"---in fact the show seems to capture the spectrum of anywomanUSA----the one that is materialistic, the one who is timid and cautious, the one who is married, the one who is young, single and does not know what she wants . . . ----this show could have just as well been played by all white actresses, all Latino, all Asian . . . etc.
[Actually it has... it's called "Sex in the City"]
As far as Halle Berry's role in Monster's ball----the only thing that was sooooo rounchie about is was the fact that a Black woman would actually have sex with a white man that was born and breed racist redneck.


So are you saying that if Billy Bob Thorton looked more like Tom Cruise and wasn't a redneck, then it would have been okay? What about the fact that her character and Billy Bob's character were both drunk, and they both lost a son? As raunchy as the sex scene was, they both consented to it.

I will agree that there were more scenes that were more graphic than "Monster's Ball."

Like the scene in "Angel Heart" where Lisa Bonet is having sex with some chicken guts, or the scene between Lisa and Mickey Rourke, or the movie "9 1/2 Weeks."

Granted, that the movie roles that Denzel and Halle won their Oscars weren't the best roles, but they weren't the worst either. As much as folks are upset for them winning, they still would've been more ticked off had they lost.

___________________________________________

No, what I am saying is that if a Black woman is going to have sex with a white man (even as a character in a movie)---she should at least know that he is not a racist, and if she doesn't or is not sure, she should not ever, ever, ever have sex with him---even as a character in a movie. (Not to mention, the fact that it was no more than a one night stand to begin with)----however, this role could have just as easily have been played by any other race of woman, but his being a racist would only matter if the attress is African American/Black.

____________________________________


In "Girlfriends"---the characters being portrayed are a reality ---of a lot of women in America, regardless of color----though they are not perfect----they are portraying reality in America---regardless of race----for some women---not that I am suggesting that all American women are of either one or the other personality type, but that they are real personality types of women in America---really through out the world---in fact this show could have also have been written for four guy who were all friends. But then, I guess it would be viewed as: the friend who is honorable and trying to have a meaning relationship (as apposed to neurotic, etc.); the bi-racial friend who is "confused" and "just does not understand" racial complexities, etc.; the married friend, who "made a mistake"; and the friend who is a "player"----
quote:
Originally posted by Huey:
I'm shocked that many folks aren't surprised about how dark-skinned BW like Toni are portrayed on television and film.


Its probably because not very many people have the time and/or interests in analyzing and dissecting the characters of the sit-com "Girlfriends." Most people understand that Girlfriends was never meant to be a representation of how black women are (or should be), but merely a spin-off from the HBO TV series Sex And The City, starring Sarah Jessicah Parker. Girlfriends is nothing more than a 'black version' of Sex and The City, depicting four 'independent' career women with four different personalities and interests finding love in an urban chic setting.
SO does everyone concede that Black women are sexualized by the media or not?

Is Girlfriends a good exapmle of this or not?

Is it just a coincidence that the roles Halle and Denzel played were some of there most negative and not their best performance?

{It's frightening that some people think Grlfriends is realistic BTW)
quote:
Originally posted by Huey:
Monster's Ball was a term in the movie where the condemned murder was going to his/her execution, similar to "dead man walking" or "walking 'the Green Mile'" so to speak.

BTW, Halle was briefly nude or at least topless, in the film "The Last Boy Scout" back in 1991.

Let's be frank, if Halle was going to be nude, she couldn't wait any later, because she was already in her 30's. Most of these actresses are getting nude in their teens and 20's. Halle wasn't the first and she won't be last. It's not black women but women in general, as Rowe put bluntly that are exploiting themselves. Li'l Kim is the perfect example.

The reason I added "Girlfriends" is that I just can't picture any sane man watching this program voluntarily. If a guy watched it to understand women, black women specifically, he would probably end up being a lifelong bachelor. Those female characters are way too stereotypical and/or very dysfunctional:

Joan: Neurotic, light skinned...tragic mulatto track record with her failed relationships.

Maya: single mother, medium skinned, beautiful, "bughetto/ghetto fabulous" to an extent, cheated on her husband.

Lynn: biracial "free spirited" woman, light skinned. Extremely sexually active, many partners, but yet suffers from tragic mulatto syndrome when trying to find out about her biological past or getting a job.

Toni: textbook definition of a sapphire--beautiful face/hair/body, but also an acidic tongue and matching rancid attitude/personality; self-absorbed, inconsiderate, uncaring of anyone else's feelings outside her own...dark-skinned.

I'm shocked that many folks aren't surprised about how dark-skinned BW like Toni are portrayed on television and film.


I agree with every thing you said...
With the exception of BET's Rap videos, black women are rarely seen on television programs and/or commercials as being sexually desirable, so I really don't know why this author is tripping. In fact, you'll be hard pressed to find black women on television being portrayed as beautiful and appealing. You will more than likely find black women being portrayed as having a severe attitude problem, loud and wrong, overweight, obnoxious, and unwilling to defer to men's leadership. This is what I see on television. I do not see black being portrayed as sexy and attractive (that is, unless they are selling 'hair care' products).
quote:
Originally posted by Rowe:
With the exception of BET's Rap videos, black women are rarely shown on television programs and commercials as being sexually desirable by men, so I really don't know why this author is tripping. In fact, you would hard pressed to find black women on television being portrayed as beautiful, desirable, or appealing. You will more than likely find black women being portrayed as having a severe attitude problem, loud and wrong, overweight, obnoxious, and unwilling to defer to men's leadership. This is what I see on television. I do not see black being portrayed as sexy and attractive (that is, unless they are selling 'hair care' products).



Lol about the hair products...

Are we talking about oversexed sexual objects...or romantic sexuality.

If you are talking about the latter I agree.

But in movies and TV we have often been portrayed as loose...and sexually wild...always chasing after men but never getting them...albeit with the other stereotypes you mentioned...but rarely/never as romantic love interests...SO which one are you dealing with? They are two seperate "images"

What do YOU mean by "sexualized"? I think of the "oversexed" thing...
White women are more negatively sexualized in the media than black women. That is my argument. You are more likely to turn on the television and see a white woman being portrayed as a "blond bimbo sex kitten" than you will a black woman. As far as American media is concerned, black women are not desirable, sexually, romantically, whatever. This is why, in America, black women are the last to be considered for long-term dating and marriage by both black and white men's standards. We are the last to be considered beautiful unless our appearance draws closer to that of white or mixed women. And we are the most self-conscious, insecure, envious, and resentful toward the appearances of one another.
You know, as a teacher, I have the opportunity to see how children and their attitudes towards themselves and perceptions of others develop early. Last year, I observed two veteran teachers literally drooling and fussing over a bi-racial student whose parents allowed her wavy black hair to grow rather long. As both teachers heavily complimented the girl, lifting the hair, playing with the hair in amazement by its length, the other black girls in the classroom watched very carefully as all of this was going on. When the student had to return back to her seat among the rest of her peers, not very many female students wanted to interact with the student because of the attention she had received from the teachers. The problem is that many adults are not cognizant of how their behavior impacts their students. Children are very observant and they can feel the difference between how you treat them compared to the other students. And I am also certain that this scene had some impact on the boys in the class as well in terms of how they are socialized to be attracted to certain types of women.
quote:
Originally posted by Rowe:
White women are more negatively sexualized in the media than black women. That is my argument. You are more likely to turn on the television and see a white woman being portrayed as a "blond bimbo sex kitten" than you will a black woman. As far as American media is concerned, black women are not desirable, sexually, romantically, whatever. This is why, in America, black women are the last to be considered for long-term dating and marriage by both black and white men's standards. We are the last to be considered beautiful unless our appearance draws closer to that of white or mixed women. And we are the most self-conscious, insecure, envious, and resentful toward the appearances of one another.


I agree with you to an extent, but even though WW are more negatively sexualized than BW, they're more sexualized simply b/c they are hyped as more desireable than black women or other dark women of color.

For example, there is much hype about Jessica Simpson playing Daisy Duke in the upcoming "Dukes of Hazzard" movie, but no one is fussing over Beyonce' playing opposite Steve Martin in the upcoming "Pink Panther" movie remake, coming this summer.
quote:
Originally posted by Rowe:
You know, as a teacher, I have the opportunity to see how children and their attitudes towards themselves and perceptions of others develop early. Last year, I observed two veteran teachers literally drooling and fussing over a bi-racial student whose parents allowed her wavy black hair to grow rather long. As both teachers heavily complimented the girl, lifting the hair, playing with the hair in amazement by its length, the other black girls in the classroom watched very carefully as all of this was going on. When the student had to return back to her seat among the rest of her peers, not very many female students wanted to interact with the student because of the attention she had received from the teachers. The problem is that many adults are not cognizant of how their behavior impacts their students. Children are very observant and they can feel the difference between how you treat them compared to the other students. And I am also certain that this scene had some impact on the boys in the class as well in terms of how they are socialized to be attracted to certain types of women.


This is a sad reality on so many levels. It is also one of the reasons I feel I am glad(in a strange and ironic way) That I was born in the time period I was(prior to multiculturalism), and raised around racist white folks in my early years... They didn't do any of this colourism thing... So us few African/Blacks around all got treated like sh*t, regaurdless of complexion.

I often see this same behavior, especially in the South..It is quite disturbing. And I call it out whenever I see it happening. May I ask...Did you tell the adults doing this about their bad behavior?
quote:
Originally posted by Oshun Auset:
May I ask...Did you tell the adults doing this about their bad behavior?


I'm not in favor of making a scene and/or undermining the authority of other teaachers in front of children. I suppose I could have approached the women after school, but its very difficult to find a tactful way to approach people about their ignorance and these were not the type of women that you approach uncautiously. These were veteran teachers, who are much older than I am, they probably would have laughed it off as if to say "don't you have more important things to be worried about." So no, I didn't bother them with it.
quote:
Originally posted by Rowe:
quote:
Originally posted by Oshun Auset:
May I ask...Did you tell the adults doing this about their bad behavior?


I'm not in favor of making a scene and/or undermining the authority of other teaachers in front of children. I suppose I could have approached the women after school, but its very difficult to find a tactful way to approach people about their ignorance and these were not the type of women that you approach uncautiously. These were veteran teachers, who are much older than I am, they probably would have laughed it off as if to say "don't you have more important things to be worried about." So no, I didn't bother them with it.


Understandable under the circumstances...
Peace and Blessings,

I hope this doesn't offend anyone too much. But....until we control the images we and others we are concerned about see, this seems, to me, and irrelevant argument. We tend to argue over someone else's images of us, their creativity, morals/judgements and sense of art regarding our culture (or lack of it). Seems fruitless. Individuals(actors/entertainers) among a powerless people, in a society that over stresses individualism will do what it takes to survive and gain status. Unless....they have alternatives. The more pertinent question is what alternatives out of the Black community are we producing? What images are we taking control of that we would like to see? Even if one does not want to be in the entertainment industry, how much are we, as individuals, doing to spread the word of something decent we enjoy? Word of mouth can be powerful...

Peace,
Virtue
quote:
Originally posted by virtue:
Peace and Blessings,

I hope this doesn't offend anyone too much. But....until we control the images we and others we are concerned about see, this seems, to me, and irrelevant argument. We tend to argue over someone else's images of us, their creativity, morals/judgements and sense of art regarding our culture (or lack of it). Seems fruitless. Individuals(actors/entertainers) among a powerless people, in a society that over stresses individualism will do what it takes to survive and gain status. Unless....they have alternatives. The more pertinent question is what alternatives out of the Black community are we producing? What images are we taking control of that we would like to see? Even if one does not want to be in the entertainment industry, how much are we, as individuals, doing to spread the word of something decent we enjoy? Word of mouth can be powerful...

Peace,
Virtue


I agree... There are some black directors/producers who are just as bad as their white counterparts, when it comes to representing blacks...

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