Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What black girls can never do

There's a heap of sturm und drang in the blogosphere right now about the appearance of Jezebel posters Moe Tkacik and Tracy "Slut Machine" Egan on comedian and Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winnstead's "Thinking and Drinking" program last week. In case you missed the recaps in Winnstead's column on HuffPo or in Salon's Broadsheet, the supposed third wave feminists embarrassed themselves throughout a slouching, boozy interview where they extolled the joys of heavy drinking, sex with strangers and casual abortion through illegally gotten pharmaceuticals, and minimized the seriousness of rape. Really. Watch a clip or the full interview. Here's an excerpt:
Tracie: "People are always saying it's not safe to go home with strange men, blah, blah blah, like Mr. Goodbar whatever"

Moe: "What's gonna happen?'

Lizz You could get raped"

Moe: That's happening too, but you live through that."

Lizz: "Sometimes you don't"

Moe: "That's true if they have weapons."

One way to look at feminism is that its goal is to remove barriers (legal, societal, etc.) that narrow women's lives and limit their options. So, it is progress, I guess, that men aren't the only ones who are free to swan through their 20s like dull-minded, drunken, perpetually horny, irresponsible asshats. But, y'know, just because you can do a thing doesn't always mean it is wise to do. (...or even that it will be enjoyable. The girls like these two that I knew in college always seemed desperately unhappy and in need of attention.) I find Jezebel's brand of hipster outre post-feminism tired and offensive (if it is possible for something to be both). The idea, promoted from time-to-time on Jezebel, that female genital mutilation is funny, Roman Polanski's 13-year-old victim asked for it, and alcoholism and obnoxious promiscuity are worthy of merit if one has a vagina, is a perplexing twist on feminism to me. But then, my 38-year-old self isn't really the target for Jezebel's antics. In addition to being too old to "get" Jezebel, I may also be too, well, black.

Okay, Jezebel does have black readers. I know some of them. I was one of them for a brief while. My point is that the wanton, careless sexuality promoted by Moe, Slut Machine and Jezebel is off limits to black women in this society. While some young, white women fancy they are breaking barriers and battling the patriarchy by putting their sexuality in public, black women are still struggling to be seen as anything but hot, exotic, ass-wiggling...Jezebels. Consider these excerpts from "Mammy, Sapphire, Jezebel and Their Sistahs" by Marilyn Yarbrough with Crystal Bennett:

In colonial times, white men often viewed white women with suspicion and distrust. They associated white women with sexuality. However, as time passed, white women were no longer portrayed as sexual temptresses. They became celebrated as the "nobler half of humanity" and depicted as goddesses rather than sinners. White women were thereafter represented as virtuous, pure and innocent. The historical and social experiences of African women during slavery resulted in numerous images that defined African American women as deviant.

...there are three common stereotypes ascribed particularly to African American women. First, Mammy, everyone's favorite aunt or grandmother, sometimes referred to as "Aunt Jemima," is ready to soothe everyone's hurt, envelop them in her always ample bosom, and wipe away their tears. She is often even more nurturing to her white charges than to her own children. Next, there is Jezebel, the bad-black-girl, who is depicted as alluring and seductive as she either indiscriminately mesmerizes men and lures them into her bed, or very deliberately lures into her snares those who have something of value to offer her. Finally, Sapphire, the wise-cracking, balls-crushing, emasculating woman, is usually shown with her hands on her hips and her head thrown back as she lets everyone know she is in charge.

Black women are still battling those stereotypes, while commercial hip hop and other media grind them ever deeper into the social consciousness. Watching the interview with Tkacik and Egan, I couldn't help thinking, "No black woman could ever get away with that." I mean, folks are giving the pair a hard time now, but this will all be forgotten in a week or so. Moe and Slut Machine will go on, maybe get better writing gigs at mainstream media outlets, book deals, New York Times Magazine cover profiles (like Emily Gould). They will be okay...probably better than okay. But I can scarcely imagine one of my black blog sisters appearing in public lit up like a Christmas tree and holding forth on her penchant for going home with strange men, using "the pull out method" as birth control and terminating resulting pregnancies. I can't imagine a black woman posing for this photo shoot on a feminist blog. The mainstream would view such a display as confirmation of every ugly stereotype and she would be derided by both the mainstream and black communities. (Weren't black women just told that to change society we simply need to close our legs? And isn't our community still struggling with true sex positivity?)

Let me be clear. I find the public persona of Tkacik and Egan distasteful. I don't think any woman (black, white or otherwise) should aspire to the what seems to be a mighty shallow existence. But, if I am honest, I envy that some women can fearlessly own their sexuality, no matter how gin-soaked and depraved. Isn't part of equality the freedom for marginalized folks to be as icky as members of the mainstream without different consequences?

So, while it feels strange to say it: Here's to the day that black women can get sloppy drunk in public and label themselves "Slut Machines." I hope it comes soon.

Great minds totally think alike

Professor Tracey at Aunt Jemima's Revenge also tackled the issue of Jezebel and how the blog relates to black women: must be credited with challenging conventional thinking for women. It slays me that in the 21st century, it is still shocking to folks that women enjoy a good drink, a good meal, and good sex, and sometimes all in the same evening! helps shatter many of the stereotypes about what women want and believe.

Looking at the site this weekend, I began to have one of my rhetorical musings about whether or not black women could have produced something like As soon as the idea popped into my head, my thoughts were immediately filled with a shrieking "hell no!" I was instantly reminded of how a few weeks ago, I dared to diss the Sex In The City movie and black women descended on that post taking me to task about bashing the series and the movie. Yet, when I raised the point about whether or not there could ever be a black version of SITC, those same women that defended the show, all passionately answered "hell no!" Read more...


professorwhatif said...

Thanks for this great analysis. I didn't see the interview but have read some other reactions around the blogosphere.

What I love about your analysis is your points about racism and white privilege. One of the 'privileges' of being white, as you point out, is to be, in your words, a sloppy drunk slut machine and it be ok -- as well as NOT about race.

Great, great post -- reminded me of the great essay "Claiming Jezebel" by Ayana Byrd.

Brother OMi said...

You know, I don't have an issue with a woman who gets drunk and has casual sex. I just don't see how that is something that is liberating.

I don't consider males who continue to have panty raids and several nights of drunken stupor to be positive traits. As a former sailor, it was embarrassing to drag shipmates back to the base or ship. it was embarrassing to have to bail out shipmates for dumb stuff like that. Unlike many of my peers, i don't like looking back at those dates.

that's my problem with several white feminists: they don't look to break down barriers but to just replace the faces of those who continue to hold power over the powerless. Many feminists don't include non white women.

If anything, black women have always maintained their morality when it comes to issues of sex. Just read the memoirs of black women during slavery and post slavery. it is the mainstream media, racist establishments, and the ignorance of certain groups that maintain that stereotypes that black women are sexual objects.

Fifth Dimension said...

First, thanks for this. I am white and I never thought of this angle. Thanks for opening my eyes to this.

Second, I don't think these women are feminists in the first place. Or perhaps they are, but they are certainly not liberated - their actions are not empowered. They are just drunken free-fucking party girls. Hopefully they'll grow up.

bellatrys said...

Only pretty, well-off young(ish) white women who don't fall into the 'trailer trash' category can get away with it (to the extent that they do get away with it, which given that talk of STDs and repeated rapes, and the fact that this *is* their only success, isn't much), I'm afraid. Just look at all the liberal bloggers who start going "OMG I hope she doesn't breed!" at the tought of some uncouth unwealthy unpretty Appalachian woman having sex, or, well, can't stop slamming Paris Hilton (which shows that even wealth isn't enough to protect from the 'slut' tag, for women of any ethnicity.)

And being the vapid twit who prances for the men isn't a new thing any more than it's feminist - Becky Sharp was portrayed doing the same thing to get ahead in the environment of the Regency, so it was considered 'old-fashioned' and certainly not part of the rebellious 'bluestocking' movement, 160 years ago.

I worked with a (white) gal who thought that she was better liked and successful by playing the drunken party slut at the office - but couldn't see how all the men laughed at her and gave her no respect and were simply happy to use her as the distraction-bimbo to get new clients for the advertising department. She was however lonely, desperate for a man - any man - and a child to fill her pointlessness, and yet resentful of those of us who just wanted to be treated like fellow human beings regardless of gender. She considered herself 'liberated' and yet she acted no different from the hardcore conservative (white) Christians I knew, except for talking dirty and being honest about her drinking. The desperate quest for validation by any and all men at the cost of other women was just the same.

I guess it's part of the Santayana's Law thing - the Jezebel writers and fans being ignorant of history (feminist or pop cultural, white or black or Asian or Native American or anyone's), just can't realize how soooo not different they are.

Somebodies Friend said...

In response to the last post...(the white woman)

What about after she had the man, the one of her dreams....

Why didn't the insanity stop?

That is the part I don't understand!


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