White Women’s Sexuality is Celebrated While Black Women’s Sexuality is Presented as Limited — not Respectable or Wholesome
Dr. Carolyn West, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington, argues in her 2008 article, “Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and their homegirls: Developing an ‘oppositional gaze’ toward the images of Black women,” that the portrayal of Black women as promiscuous Jezebels throughout slavery and the Jim Crow era served as justification for the long-time sexual exploitation of them by white men.
West says the Jezebel caricatures depicting the stereotype of Black female hypersexuality can be seen on everyday items from that time period, including ashtrays, postcards, sheet music, fishing lures and drinking glasses, all depicting naked or scantily dressed Black women, lacking modesty and sexual restraint. For example, a metal nutcracker (circa 1930s) depicts a topless Black woman. The nut is placed under her skirt, in her crotch, and crushed. “Items like this one reflected and shaped white attitudes toward Black female sexuality,” said West.
Today, the Jezebel archetype, now referred to as a hooch, freak, chickenhead, or ho, can be seen gyrating in rap videos and appearing as prostitutes or mistresses on television and film. These frequent and persistent mass-media portrayals of Black female sexual indiscretion reinforce negative stereotypes of all Black women, while the white female population is free from the sexual behavior of a few being projected onto the whole.