Black women have a complex history of stereotypes when it comes to sexuality which implies that Black women are despicable and inferior. These are ideologies were created during slavery and used to validate the sexual treatment of enslaved women. Many of these ideologies are still present in today’s media. The media uses these stereotypes in music videos, movies, television shows, and other various forms of entertainment to continue to brainwash society into believing the negative stereotypes of Black women.
According to author Hammonds (1997), the world’s preoccupation with Black women’s sexuality began when Europeans’ made contact with the content of Africa. Hammonds presumes that the nineteenth-century image of the African woman was linked to a “freak show attraction” named Hottentot Venus. The Hottentot female was named Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman. Baartman was objectified and placed on exhibit because scientific experts considered her genitalia and protruding buttocks sensational and extraordinary. Scholars considered the genitalia of Baartman and other African women as ‘primitive’ and a sign of their sexual appetites. Even upon her death, Baartman’s “preserved genitalia” were placed on public display. These beliefs helped to form the foundation of Western thinking and treatment of the Black female body.
Hammonds also states that at the end of the nineteenth century European experts in fields, ranging from anthropology to psychology, ‘scientifically’ concluded that black female body embodied the notion of uncontrolled sexuality. Enslaved Africans were labeled ‘savage’ and ‘primitive’, which justified the idea that they could not control their own bodies, and therefore validated the need for white ownership and domination (1997). Over the years, several stereotypes about the primitive nature of women of African descent have emerged. “Sara Baartman’s sex and race were the main physical and cultural traits that caused her to be engaged in a scientifically racist and sexist study. Her organs, genitalia and buttocks were thought to be evidence of her sexual primitivism and intellectual equality with that of an orangutan.” (Crais & Scully, 2009). Unfortunately many of this beliefs and labels still exist today and are perpetuated by the various forms of media from music videos to reality TV shows.
The historical context and hypersexualized stereotypes of Black women perpetuated in the media and in broader society have helped to shape the perception of Black women’s and girls’ sexuality. The prevailing images of Black women and girls in the media are: Jezebel, baby-mama, video vixen, chicken-head, gold digger, angry Black woman, and T.H.O.T. (Them Hoes Over There). The more Black women and girls see images of themselves getting famous for fitting into one of these labels, the more they feel inclined to mimic the images they see. Additionally, these images, with their highly sexual undertones, may also influence the way in which others value and interact with them (Stephens & Phillips, 2003).
Hip Hop videos play a significant role in shaping the images of Black women and girls in the media. Most videos are filled with hypersexualized women, often referred to as “video hoes” or “video vixens,” who are scantily clad dancing, suggestively and competing for the artist’s attention. Additionally, the lyrics of the majority of Hip Hop songs are comprised of predominantly sex, drug and violence and contribute to the misogyny of women. This highly sexual explicit and demeaning portrayal of Black women significantly affects their self-esteem and may have long-term effects on their self-efficacy and sexual decision-making. Stephens et al. (2007) found that girls acceptance of sexual stereotypes in Hip Hop videos more likely to test positive for marijuana use, engage in binge drinking, have multiple sex partners and hold negative body images. Wingood et al. also, found that Black female adolescents viewing media images with high of sexual content were twice as likely to have multiple sex partners, have sex more frequently, not use contraception, and are more likely to have STD (2003). “In addition to seeking approval regarding their appearance young Black girls express that being a part of music videos, the images have a lot to do with what they called “status. “You get the bling [diamonds] when you are in videos and on T.V. shows. Everybody wants to wear Gucci or Prada and how else are you going to have that kind of money? Young girls just want to be sexy and want to be known and have stuff” (Wingood, 2003). This comment regarding “status” and “being known” is directly related to class, socioeconomic status and its impact on sexual risk.
Although music and videos are influential in impacting the sexuality of Black women and girls, televisions shows also play a significant role. TV programs such as Love and Hip Hop, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Sorority Sisters, and Being Mary Jane are filled with images of angry Black women, unhealthy relationships, lack of sisterhood, a false sense of self-esteem, overt sexual undertones and are famous for promoting “status” and “using what you got to get what you want.” These TV shows and many other help to further contribute to the unhealthy images of Black women and girls. In addition, they help to add to the layers of intergenerational patterns, stigma, shame, guilt and embarrassment surrounding sexuality. Unfortunately, there are not many TV shows that counteract or provide an alternative and more positive image for them to emulate. As a result, many of these “reality TV stars” become the role model. “Being Black and being female is crazy. When you turn on the TV sex sells. Like, everything, like, the music videos. And, [when] you turn on BET and all these Black women are just selling sex and it’s crazy because, I feel, for the – for the young girls that’s growing up – that is the only example of sexuality we see” (Wingood, 2003).
Sex is visible in all forms of media from party ads, club fliers, television, music and videos. Unfortunately, Black women have become so desensitized to seeing themselves being portrayed negatively. While there aren’t any signs that these unhealthy and demeaning images will disappear any time soon, there is definitely a need to counteract them in the media. We are in need of a new sexual revolution, one which restores the dignity of Black women and girls. It is time for Black women to reclaim our sexual images in society. We must ask ourselves several questions: 1) Do we care about the type of women our girls grow up to become, 2) Is their public image worth defending, and 3) Is their sexual integrity worth protecting? No longer can we still in silence or stand idly on the sidelines while the images of Black women continue to be destroyed in the media. However, in order to change the trajectory, we need to begin with restoring Black women’s sense of value, worth and sexuality. We need to transform from the “jezebel,” “angry Black woman,” “video vixen,” “gold digger,” “baby mama,” “chicken heads,” and “hoes” to self-respecting women, wives, mothers and leaders in our community. Once we do, we will be to see a shift in our society that will begin to embrace and celebrate Black women’s sexuality.