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...


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