Summary: In this music video, rap artist Missy Elliott fills the void in the discussion of pro-sex black feminism. Historically, black voices have been excluded from the sex-positive feminist revolution. In part, the marginalization of black voices is a product of a colonial past that has stereotyped the black body as always already hypersexual (see Saarjite Baartman). As a result, black academics have taken up a “politics of silence” to resist these stereotypes. A potential site to begin the discussion of a pro-sex black feminist discourse is rap music (Skeggs 1993). The female rappers “talk back, talk black” (hooks 1989) to the colonialist system that attempts to contain the expression of women’s sexuality. In Missy Elliott’s hit song “Work It” (lyrics here), she expresses her own kind of sexuality, effectively creating a dialogue for us to rethink our analyses of black women’s sexuality. How does Missy (re)claim her body as a site of desire and empowerment? How does Missy establish herself as an active sexual subject in the song? Does this challenge patriarchal notions of female sexuality? How does she subvert traditional understandings of the black body? Does Missy challenge conventional (white) beauty standards (i.e. celebration of hips, large butt etc)? How, if at all, does Missy’s music differ from other female artists and, specifically, other popular women rappers? Does Missy create a language for other black women to start understanding and theorizing about their sexual experiences? Can we understand the black female body as separate from representations of Saartje Baartman? How does this enhance our understanding of active black female desire? Do you think that rap music is a legitimate medium to begin theorizing about black sexual scripts?
Submitted By: Pat Louie