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.
White Women Are at Liberty to Explore the Full Range Of Womanhood, While Black Women Are Criticized When Motherhood and Marriage Are Prioritized
Stereotypes about Black women being promiscuous, procreating irresponsibly, and unfit for motherhood are perpetuated by a media that routinely presents disparaging images and narratives about Black mothers while rarely, if ever, presenting positive views.
That’s why the feminist response to first lady Michele Obama’s decision to be “mom-in-chief” is not surprising. In a Politico article by Michelle Cottle, entitled “Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama became a feminist nightmare,” she quoted several feminists who were disgruntled over Obama’s choice to focus on raising her daughters and issues such as child obesity and education, instead of more politically hot-button concerns, such as abortion.
One columnist Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of Mommy Wars, asked “Are fashion and body-toning tips all we can expect from one of the most highly educated first ladies in history?”
Steiner continued: “I for one have seen enough of her upper appendages and her designer clothes, and read enough bland dogma on home-grown vegetables and aerobic exercise, to last me several lifetimes.”
Super pop star Beyoncé recently came under fire and essentially had her feminist card revoked, for using “Mrs. Carter” – her husband Jay-Z’s surname – in the title of her world tour.
“There is almost something subversive about waiting until the strongest moment of your career, which is where Beyoncé finds herself now, to do away with the infamous glossy mononym in favor of a second name your own husband doesn’t even use,” wrote Rosie Swash of the Guardian.