Julia GuilbertResearch Final DraftDr. Julie BrannonDecember 13, 2017The Sexuality of Young Black Girls as it is Seen Through a Western Lens Throughout the majority of American history the Black woman has been portrayed as overly sexual and as a product for sexual pleasure, specifically for the pleasure of white men.
This idea of Black women as seuxal addicts was used as concrete evidence, by doctors and slave owners alike, as a reason for the cruel and exploitative behavior of slave owners during the pre-emancipation era. Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman for example, was showcased across the globe, and exhibited for her large buttocks and other natural African features. Even though slavery has ended and Blacks are no longer explicitly sold for physical and reproductive labor in America, these stereotypes about the Black woman as sexual beings are still being upheld by preexisting beliefs that have lasted for centuries and are maintained by those in power who benefit from the hegemonic heterosexual culture in America. These stereotypes are conserved widely through the use of media, consumerism, and cultural and familial norms.
These sexual stereotypes are retained both by those at the top of the social hierarchy in American culture, but also by other Black women, allowing them to be further subjected to “systematic sexual objectification,” (Waring, 2013). Given the history of how the sexuality of Black women and girls is viewed in a hegemonic heteronormative culture and the urgency surrounding the need to change how Black women are subjected to this organized oppression, there are few outlets for Black women to openly express sexual experiences, desires, etc. without being looked at as deviant and being ostracized by the Black female community. This essay will cultural shift due to the increasing influence of mainstream media, and with that understanding how we can use social media to promote the sexual liberation of Black women. Modern Sexual Scripts Of Black Women in America In response to the hypersexualized image of Black women, there has been a bit of resistance. According to French (2012), Black women began challenging these images by enacting “politics of respectability,” which refers to the ways in which members of minority communities police one another in order to appear in agreeance with mainstream culture, traditions, and values.
Unfortunately, this created an even more specialized set of stereotypes that Black women are categorized into and judged based upon. Stephen and Philips (2003) defined these specific sexual scripts as follows: the Diva, a typically middle-class woman who places importance on material items and physical beauty, the Gold Digger, who uses sex in exchange for monetary rewards, the Freak, a woman who enjoys casual sex and is described as “sexually aggressive,” the Dyke, includes women who do not engage in any sexual activities with men. The sexual preferences of dykes is frequently attributed not to the attraction to women, but to the disdain of men which alters perceptions of women who belong to this particular sexual script even further. The Gangster Bitch, is a woman who is known to use hostility as a survival mechanism in response to a hostile environment, the Sister Savior, a woman who is very sexually modest and is rooted in the Black Church. The Earth Mother, is a woman who has a very strong sense of self and is both spiritually and physically conscious, these women are often seen as threatening by men, and finally, the Baby Mama, a name given to a woman whose only connection to a man is that they shared a child, this term can be used in addition to the other scripts. It is within these seven scripts that people perceive the sexual expressions of Black women, oftentimes, young Black girls are placed into one of these scripts by peers and they must choose to either reject the script entirely, or they must learn how to behave in accordance to their assigned script. Experts are interested in how these sexual scripts relate to the sexual victimization and harassment of young Black girls, and recently there has been more research done that explores the ways in which each script relates to “assumptions about sexual identity, deviance, and normality among African American preadolescents,” (Stephen & Few 2007). However, most of the studies that relate sexual perceptions to sexual victimization contain primarily White teenage girls.
Including Preadolescent Black Girls in Sexual Literature The sexual experiences and the sexuality of preadolescents is a topic that is not often discussed, however understanding these experiences can offer insight into how Black girls childhood experiences relate to how they deal with sexual harassment and how they navigate their sexual experiences in the future. Most literature surrounding female sexuality focuses primarily on the White, western sexuality norms, and regards these standards as universal. Because Black girls experience sexuality in different ways, their sexual interactions are seen as deviant by people who subscribe to the heteronormative culture and place extreme importance on White, western values, including professionals who have not made themselves comfortable or even aware of these differences. Due to the lack of literature on Black girls’ prepubescent sexual experiences, we are unable to know, educate, and help Black girls who feel marginalized because they are taught that what they are going through is not normal.
These consequences reach farther than individual Black girls, in order to conform to White America’s cultural norms, the Black community began using Eurocentric theories to judge their own community members. This point is argued by James (2010), “Black queer theorists contend that the pressure social policies place on Blacks- particularly those living in impoverished conditions- to conform to White-middle class heteropatriarchal ideals fosters a Black culture that values heterosexuality for the sake of racial uplift,” (129). Because of this, many members of the Black community regard homosexuality as unprincipled as it is considered deviant behavior in western culture, and homosexual individuals within the Black community are frequently rejected from the community or they are able to act and dress in ways that either conform to traditional heterosexuality or they abide by the social rules of expressing homosexuality, by not discussing or publicizing their sexuality. Including Preadolescent Black Girls in Sexuality Literature What James (2010) refers to as the “myth of the innocent and asexual child” has caused many people, especially parents, to feel uncomfortable and unwilling to share information or allow their child(ren) to participate in studies that analyze the ways in which children engage in sex play and how that relates to their sexual experiences later in life.
Adults who idealize the innocence of children actually damage them when they engage in consensual sex play with other children. When a child is reprimanded for engaging in sex play, they are discouraged from further exploring their bodies and sexuality which leads to confusion and feelings of inadequacy in the future. A study done on the sexuality of prepubescent children showed that both white and black children engage in the same sexual behaviors, however, White girls are more likely to take part in sex play with other girls, while Black girls are more likely to engage in sex play, almost exclusively, with other boys.
We can attribute this to the negative stereotypes surrounding homosexuality within the Black community. This exclusive sex play with boys is detrimental to Black girls because many of them do not learn about their bodies and sexuality without being subject to the strict male gaze. Young Black Girls and Peer Sexual Harassment In 1993, the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation created a national survey on peer sexual harassment to be completed by children from eighth to eleventh grade. Results had shown that 81% of children experienced unwanted or unwelcome sexual behavior in their schools, James (2010). Black and White girls experienced sexual harassment at the same rate however, 42% of Black girls experienced sexual harassment before seventh grade, compared to 31% of White girls.
Due to the stigma around consensual child sex play, when it is harassment it is either ignored or seen as playful behavior by adults, “boys will be boys.” French (2012) found that many African American high school girls believed that it is essentially the girls behavior in cases of boy/girl sexual coercion and harassment. Black girls stereotype victims of sexual harassment and see them as threatening as they believe that the other girls behavior will attract their partners. This behavior is further encouraged by the media which is largely consumed by school age children. Rap videos for example stereotype Black women as “sexually insatiable,” which reinforces the beliefs introduced by White slave owners in an effort to justify their rape and reproductive exploitation of Black female slaves. In French’s (2012) study consisting of seventeen African American high school girls, the majority of the girls had stated that media has a very profound affect on how men and boys view Black women and girls. They mention that they are consequently expected to act in the ways the women are shown and described in popular music videos, television shows and movies. Young Black Girls Express Their Sexualities In mainstream clothing stores, the majority of the clothes presented to and promoted to young girls are either inappropriately suggestive or “innocent” clothing, regarded as clothing for “babies” by young girls.
James found in her 2010 study on the sexuality development of young Black girls that these clothes are advertised to young girls so intensely that by the middle of elementary school they do not want to wear “children’s clothing,” this age compression is detrimental to the physical and cognitive skills as can be seen at many elementary school playgrounds. The clothes that are being widely worn by young girls (skirts, dresses) do not allow for the same type of play that young boys engage in. Instead, many young girls will take part in hand clapping games and other activities that do not require much physical exertion, that allow for sexual practice. Sexual Scripts and White/Black Biracial Women Waring (2013) defines “exotic” as, “foreign origin or character, strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance, or involving a strip tease,” in short the term exotic is related to difference, appearance, and sexual connotation. Due to the increasing amount of biracial individuals in America, approximately 1.8 million, and with a prediction of one out of five Americans identifying with more than one racial category by the year 2050, I believe that it is important to take their accounts into consideration when discussing the sexuality of African American women in the United States. From her interviews Waring found that mixed individuals usually attribute their attractiveness and attention from potential partners to the fact that they are mixed race, or racially ambiguous. Because of the sexual scripts regarding Black women, usually associated with words such as “hypersexual, immoral, devious,” etc.
and White women such as, “chaste and pure” are so prevalent in American culture, the biracial female body presents “a different dynamic of exoticism than Black female bodies due to the paradoxical embodiment of chastity and hypersexuality simultaneously.” The relationships of Black/White biracial, heterosexual females, especially relationships with White men allow researchers to study the effects of racial ideologies in American culture. One biracial women recalls a relationship with a White male, describing how he made a point of telling her that her exotic features and styles of hair and dress that relate to Black American culture sexually stimulated him. Conclusion Many Black women are beginning to reject these rigid sexual scripts they have been repeatedly placed under, and deny the roles they are expected to play by the larger society, their communities, and intimate partners. However, there are many ideologies and systems still in place that allow for the social degradation of Black women. The lack of knowledge, of both the general public and leading researchers in the field, surrounding these systems and how they work is one of the biggest factors working against the societal rise of Black women, and making these issues more noticeable to the public is a vital step in reaching social justice. Creating more safe spaces for women of color of all ages to talk about, learn about, and seek help and advice from would also allow these women to feel more comfortable with their own sexual experiences and sexualities.
ReferencesJames, A. E. (2010). Too Early to Talk About Sex? Issues in Creating Culturally Relevant Sexuality Education for Preadolescent Black Girls in the United States.
Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7(2), 128-141.French, B. H. (2012). More than Jezebels and Freaks: Exploring How Black Girls Navigate Sexual Coercion and Sexual Scripts.
Journal of African American Studies, 17(1), 35-50Waring, C. (2013). “They See Me as Exotic..
. That Intrigues Them:” Gender, Sexuality and the Racially Ambiguous Body. Race, Gender & Class, 20(3/4), 299-317.