Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Objectification of Black Women: From Michelle Obama to Lil' Kim

It has been a minute since I posted a blog. I have been listening more to what others have to say. I feel that being a good listener is critical to being a good writer. It was my hope that this post would be brief, however, I must say that when the Divine touches my pineal gland, thoughts and words rapidly flow to the tips of fingers and on to the keyboard. Let me begin by acknowledging that I am well aware that women in general are objectified and that black men are objectified as well. The focus here is on black women. I would also like to point out that black women have made significant strides in all areas; home, work and community. That said, sit back and take this ride with me.

Now I know many of you may immediately become alarmed that I am using Michelle Obama and Lil' Kim in the same sentence. However, we must give Lil' Kim her props, she brought it on DWTS. In fact, it was LK that inspired me to write this blog post. Lil' Kim played the Becky (White girl) role to the max. She had the language, the gestures and even the misty doe eyed Barbie look. Yet, in spite of this and the fact that she did a great job to have not had prior ballroom dancing experience, she was still reduced to raw sex appeal and the girl with the "bionic booty". Yes, Lil' Kim has in large part has been duplicitous in this objectification of black women, but we will speak to internalized oppression later.

From FLOTUS ( First Lady of the US) to Lil' Kim black women are seen as sexualized beings, rather than the complex, multifaceted human beings that we are. Even the FLOTUS, despite being Princeton and Harvard educated, a loving mother and devoted wife can not escape an obsession with her biceps and buttocks. Many would argue that the feminization of the first lady is a welcomed change from what usually happens with black women. While I too celebrate the fact that Michelle has chosen to focus on her role as loving wife and mother, I think the media in some way trivializes her role when they focus almost exclusively on what she's wearing and if she is showing her arms. By the way, loved CAC's (Commander and Chief) joke about the FLOTUS right to "bare arms".

Historically, black women have been objectified and dehumanized. Archetype female representations such as Jezebel, Sapphire and more recently compliments of "hip hop", stank hoe, chicken head, gold digger etc. It is true that white women are equally objectified, however, their images tend to be that of virtuous, pure and even slightly frigid, while black women have been portrayed as innately promiscuous, seductive, alluring or lewd.

One of the most heinous examples of the sexual objectification of black womanhood was seen in the 19th century with Saartjie Baartman, The Hottentot Venus. Put on display in a circus for her large buttocks and labia, the Hottentot Venus could not escape sexual objectification and humiliation even in death; her skeleton, genitals and and brain were placed on display in a Paris museum until 1974. Upon his election as president of SA in 1994, Nelson Mandela petitioned the French government to have her remains returned. Baartman was returned to her homeland of South Africa in 2002.

Women's suffragist, Sojourner Truth asked in the 19th century, "Ain't I a Woman". It was only recently that the works and deeds of this inspiring leader of women of all races was honored with a bust of her likeness that will be displayed at Emancipation Hall at our nation's capitol. It is also worth noting that it is the first image of a black woman to grace our nation's Capitol.

Venus and Serena Williams, the best in the world of tennis bar none in my humble opinion are constantly referred to by their brute force and of course Serena's ass. Seldom does anyone mention that these talented women are also entrepreneurs and are fluent in several languages. The most of what we hear aside from the physical/sexual presence is that they grew up on the mean streets of Crenshaw in LA.

To think that the first woman to win a best actress academy award was Halle Berry for Monsters Ball. Berry played a tricked out grief stricken, drug addicted mother, who look to Billy Bob Thornton to make her "feel good" in a very sexually explicit down right trashy sex scene. This is in no way intended to demean or minimize the talents of Ms. Berry, however, I argue this was not her best performance. But it fed into the historical stereotypes of black womanhood.

Sadly, the sexual objectification is most prevalent in some facets of hip hop music. Far too many music videos and rap lyrics are laced with misogynistic representations that further perpetuate negative stereotypes of black womanhood. As I stated earlier some black women have been duplicitous in this sexual objectification. Lil Kim along with fellow female rappers like Remy Ma and Foxy Brown to a name a few. These misguided young sisters believe that they are hip-hop feminists in that they are claiming their sexuality. Lil' Kim has so internalized her oppression at the hands of mainstream America as well as the world of hip-hop that she has mutilated herself with surgery and skin bleaching to the point that she is almost unrecognizable as her former self. LK and MJ could indeed be the poster children for self-hatred and internalized oppression.

Most recently, we see the talented Ciara in a music video with none other than I knew nothing about the "wardrobe malfunction" - Justice Timberlake. As black people have spent our whole life trying to break the chains of white oppression and now a black woman is allowing a white boy to sexually objectify her in her own video. You draw your own conclusion, check out the article and video Love, Sex and Magic . Not to appear to pick on Ciara, I must say that lady Beyonce' needs to balance her act as well. I have no objection to the celebration of the female black body in all it's beauty. All I'm saying is "Back That Thang Up".

While I strongly believe in personal responsibility, I must also acknowledge that white men still control the distribution of what we see and hear on the air ways. Nevertheless, as a community and one of the largest
U. S. consumer groups, we can collectively change our images by not buying or supporting products that demean our people as whole and our most priceless jewel, our women.

Well, as I rap up my latest rant, I close by simply saying, we've come a long way from the out house to the white house, and we've still got a long way to go.


shireen said...

wow! very inspiring

Robert said...

Very enlightening.

rtmcmill said...

Very enlightening.

Alisha Gray said...

I really liked this article. Wonderful.