Tags: culture, discourse/language, emotion/desire, gender, knowledge, media, race/ethnicity, sex/sexuality, theory, violence, bell hooks, beyoncé, black feminist thought, cult of true womanhood, feminism, jezebel, patrica hill collins, politics of respectability, 11 to 20 mins
Summary: This video features YouTube vloggers Shawna and Tieraney candidly sharing their thoughts on sex and romance as queer, black women in the U.S. While they touch on a number of issues, the video works particularly well for drawing attention to the topic of sexual respectibility among women, or what sociologist Patricia Hill Collins refers to as the cult of true womanhood, which is a white supremacist, patriarchal ideal womanhood that emphasizes moral purity, modesty, innocence, submissiveness, and domesticity as virtues. As Tieraney puts it, "I want to give a shout out to white supremacy for really fucking with my sexual liberation, in specifically the ways that black women are projected in the media." In its deployment of representations of what constitutes a respectable Black woman, Shawna and Tieraney understand the media to be an agent that wields control over their lives and has even interfered with their abilities to make their sexual desires known. It is in this context that the two begin discussing bell hooks' recent critique of Beyoncé's new sexually assertive persona, particularly as she performs it in the music video for "Partition." Although Beyoncé has more closely conformed to the dictates of respectability in the past, for hooks, the lyrics and imagery of Beyoncé's new persona effectively collude with the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy in constructing herself as "a slave." Not one to mince words, hooks further contends that she sees Beyoncé as a kind of "terrorist, especially in terms of her impact on young girls." But if one uses the language suggested by Patricia Hill Collins, isn't Beyoncé's recent turn toward openly expressing her own sexual desires through her music simply a rejection of the cult of true womanhood? Maybe, but Collins would likely argue that while Beyoncé may feel she is liberating herself from the shackles of respectability, the truth is she has merely traded one set of shackles for another. The image of the Jezebel, the whore, or sexually aggressive Black woman is another controlling image that originated under slavery and makes regular appearences in contemporary pop culture. As Collins argues in her book, Black Feminist Thought, "the purpose of the Jezebel was to relegate all women to the category of sexually aggressive women, thus providing a powerful rationale for the widespread sexual assaults by white men typically reported by Black slave women." Given that the Jezebel and the ideals associated with the cult of true womanhood exist as two oppositional categories and both of which wield control over the lives of Black women, Shawna and Tieraney's video raises some important questions about the nature of oppression and liberation. When Beyoncé and other Black women celebrities (e.g., Nicki Minaj) construct themselves as sexually assertive, are they engaging in an act of liberation, or are they simply unwitting participants in the reassertion of the Jezebel stereotype, thereby contributing to the racist and sexist idea of Black women as sexual objects?
Submitted By: Lester Andrist
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