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Steele: Black Women & Sex - Reframing The Image

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by Tanya Steele
March 20, 2014 4:08 PM
17 Comments
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Lupita Nyong’o and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche have me thinking about Black women, beauty, feminism, policing of bodies, etc. We are thinking our way through these ideas as new types of Black womanhood erupt in the culture. Personally, I don’t believe that because a woman claims to be a Feminist, that she is. Feminism, like any other political movement, is a form a resistance. It requires thinking and conscious action.

 

I favor women who make conscious choices to represent themselves in contrast to stereotypical cultural representations- whether they claim to be Feminist or not. For a long time, at least in America, the idea of “woman” was marketed to us by White men in suits. As the culture evolves and diversifies, we see women making choices that are varied, complicated and rebellious. For a long time, the spectrum of “woman”, in America, was reduced to “wife” and “whore”. A womanhood as seen and marketed to us by White men at advertising agencies.  

Certainly, a woman can choose to be anything she desires. But, Feminism requires thinking. Thinking against the notions of “womanhood” that support sexual violence against women, sexual violence against children, domestic violence and true policing of our bodies that happens when legislation is passed that restricts our right to choose. The word “policing” is being tossed at Feminists who are simply attempting to dialogue and think through complicated issues. The term policing should be applied to folks who pass legislation that marginalizes women and promotes violence against us. This notion that “anyone can be a Feminist if they just say it”, concerns me. It does not assert that thinking and conscious action are critical to Feminism. To deny this is to undercut its power.

A part of Feminism is understanding how the culture informs and disrupts our private lives. In 2014, connecting the dots becomes extremely difficult because purveyors of culture claim Feminism with a healthy disregard for the legacy. And, the lines between sexuality, empowerment and Feminism have become blurred. As a Feminist, one understands that the dominant paradigm for sexuality has been male centered. Sex is symbolic of what happens in the larger culture. As one awakens to Feminism, you begin to see how women are not allowed a voice, a say, personhood. In different arenas, we are constantly challenged to speak up or suffer in silence.

Each generation gets a specific challenge to confront. Sexism recycles mythology and sometimes adds a twist. Right now, it feels like the current atrocity being hoisted on women’s bodies is the idea that “good pussy” exists. That there is some earth shattering, textured, vagina that will soar a man’s penis to new heights- if they could just find it! I would say the idea calcified with the rise of video imagery and a particular style of rap. Music historians can and should provide a better argument. It can also be argued that these purveyors of misogyny were simply continuing a tradition. Perhaps, a tradition that started with Playboy magazine. Said videos, however, addressed Black women, specifically. And, began to marginalize and objectify us in ways that astounded Black communities. Many women have bought into this mythology. That, if we dress it up, heel it high, skirt it short, slap on the right lipstick or, toss a hint of wickedness and snap it back, we will cast a spell and render a man helpless to our charm.

I have watched, as women, well-educated, successful, mothers, teens, try and be “good pussy”. It’s a myth. I have listened to women dialogue about one night stands and “hooking up”, converse about a “stripper” informed sexuality that has them running to learn pole dancing. Thinking that if they bend it, twist it, twirl it, lay it down, in just the right way, they are the prize. The chase to find the “good pussy” or to be the “good pussy” is on. Performative sex is the sex du jour. I perform for you but, I don’t connect with you. And, there is a great deal of fun in that. There is a lot of hiding in that, too. As my friends and I try to navigate this landscape, I wonder, how does this serve women?  How do we construct ways of being seen and valued without supporting this ridiculous notion of “good pussy”? And, I wonder, how do we resist this idea?

Enter Lupita Nyong’o and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche.

Lupita Nyong’o is a sensation because she is new! We are accustomed to celebrating women when they “sling it” just right. Or, salute us with a nod to their sexual prowess. Marilyn Monroe brought us here and it is where the most intriguing womanhood lives. Doesn’t matter how it undid Marilyn, folks still want it. Lupita was able to present as beautiful, alluring, charming, intelligent, etc. without being titillating. Sexy not bouncy. In a mini-skirt, in a flowing gown, in a Grace Jones flat top (in ‘Non-Stop’), she serves beauty. Black woman goddess! Lupita pierced the “raunchy”, “vixen”, “Black bitch” narrative with a subtlety and elegance that was transformative for all of us. In a similar way that Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche is modeling a womanhood that is beautiful, deliberate in our fashion choices and brilliant. These African women are rescuing us from a crippling definition of womanhood. We are able to see ourselves in them. And, see ourselves anew through them. However, they are women of a certain class. Women drenched in poverty and violence have limited opportunities to make considered choices. As a Feminist, I consider these women in our conversations. What choices can I present to ALL women that affirm us and uplift us? Choices that extend beyond our lipstick color.

I do believe we are breaking new barriers with Black female representation. And, I love it. At the same time, the conversation is drifting more toward a middle-class to upper class Feminism. Dress well. Be beautiful. For me, the heart of Feminism has always been about resisting violence against women and children. Yes, there are other layers to it but, this is the heart. And, yes, promoting healthy body image and clothing choice informs a healthier outlook on life. Black women have permission to be beautiful. That is brilliance! I think we have been cloaked in a tortured past and we are emerging out of it. Bring it on!

At the same time, I don’t want us to lose focus. Yesterday, I watched Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche in conversation. A woman in the audience said that Zadie and Chimamanda were presenting differently than Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. She said that Zadie and Chimamanda were “stylish”. I think I understand what she was getting at. The “abuse” literature and the “earthly mother” ideas are outdated and aren’t serving her desire to feel beautiful. This is a slippery slope. We must embrace all of it. But not for Alice and Toni there would be no Chimamanda. And, dare I say, I have yet to read anyone that is as fierce and celebratory of Blackness as Toni Morrison.

We uplift all. Yes, we, Black women, stay connected to our past. We admire the survival and dance our joy. Lupita was able to play Patsey who was, horrifically, degraded. In honoring Lupita, we honor Patsey; the legacy and the unfolding that brought us to today. Today, where we can watch a bouquet of Lupita and know we carry our history- our history does not carry us.  

I watch as Kara Walker takes us through the most difficult corridors of American history. As she, herself, radiates grace, charm and hints of playfulness while being chic. We have reached a new day. And, we have permission to be consciously beautiful and sexy. I look at the Black women who surround me in Brooklyn. If you are planning to visit New York City, I suggest you do it in late Spring or Summer. You will witness the very heights of Black beauty. All shades, textures, attires, Black bohemian, Black professional chic, a Black woman rainbow that will undo any narrow thoughts you may have about Black women being downtrodden, ugly or depraved. The Black women of Brooklyn will take your breath away.

This is an exciting time for Black women. We are unfolding, blossoming and owning our beauty. Any ugliness a man may feel when he looks at brown skin is coming from his dislike of himself. And, any desire you have to choke us, humiliate us, game us, grade our vaginas, comes from your self-hatred. It’s 2014 and we are on a self-love tip. You can get you some but, in a way that is loving and kind. Or, take it somewhere else.

We live in a time where we are sold a mythology of sex. Used to be about folks driving better cars than us. Now, it’s about folks having better sex than us. Girls and young women, attempting to cultivate a sexuality, are ingesting all of this. Trying to figure out what is the best way to act in order to be admired. Women have the choice to put it all on display or cover it up tight with a cashmere turtleneck. It’s up to us. How, as Feminists, do we choose to resist, deconstruct and remain our beautiful selves? The message I receive from Lupita and Chimamanda is to be yourself! And, let your sexuality and style flow from YOUR interior. Discover what thrills you. What Art you like, what music, what colors, what books. Discover and understand yourself. Do not let others dictate who you should be. The person who has your best interest and well-being at heart- must be you. The unique you- wows the world. Just as Lupita did. Did anyone see her coming? Aren’t you beyond thrilled that she’s here? That a quirky Steve McQueen sang his unique voice and graced us with a Lupita, an Adepero, a Nicole.

At the same time, know that Feminism is not self-centered. It focuses on the totality of womanhood. We work to lift the “least of these” as we primp and pamper ourselves. We do not have to sacrifice one for the other.

There is no such thing as “good pussy”. And, if there is, it’s out of your control. Whatever a man feels when he is inside of you- is what he feels about himself. There is such a thing as Feminism. And, it lets you know, there is no need to uncomfortably dress it up, go broke buying a weave, break your neck in a heel or show as much as you can to entice. Patriarchy is very good at lessening your value with your consent. You can choose connection. Intimacy. Kindness. And, you can also choose to play. Play consciously. Play on your terms and play safe. Bring condoms or run out to the drugstore to get one. And, if he doesn’t want to use one, thank him for letting you know, pick up your mini-skirt and saunter home. Within that, within having control and knowing yourself, you will find pleasure, lust and all kinds of yummy feelings you could never have imagined. Let the fools hunt for “good pussy”. The rest of us are evolving out of the misogynistic “Black video vixen” era. Slowly, courageously and beautifully!


Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SteeleInk. Or visit digtanya.com.


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17 Comments

  • CareyCarey | March 24, 2014 10:06 PMReply

    "And deflect all you want Tanya. I really want to see a multi-part piece dissecting the media out there. I've never said I want you to stop writing. I want you to stop writing pieces I was reading from authors 20 years ago" ~ Charles Judson

    "I've got to admire her fearlessness here and I suspect some may not be too pleased with some of what she has to say" ~ Tambay

    First, I agree with Charles' belief that Tanya is doing a bit of deflection.... and, I don't quite understand why? I find it somewhat "different" that a writer who has shown no fear in debating with S&A's audience and loves hiking mountains in the Italian Alps and then paragliding along them , seems to be deflecting Charles' issues. Why? The quandary is more perplexing considering Tambay's above quote - she's fearless? Well, actually, that quote was lifted from a S&A article before Tanya was even a contributor at S&A -->"Who Gets To Tell Our Stories - Great Conversation On The Business Of Black Cinema w/ Tanya Steele" by Tambay A. Obenson, Feb. 2012

    The post was a WBAI radio conversation with Tanya... and boy did she bring it. She dropped her take on the state of black cinema and a little old school gossip on Lee Daniels. Yep, Tanya shows little fear and couldn't care less about someone liking her. So whatsup with her avoiding Charles Judson's very valid questions.

    Heck, as I said in my previous post (I use "CC" when I'm too lazy to write my full name) I am a long-time Tanya Steele fan (and she knows it), so disn't hatin', I really wanna know why the slide-by, now?

  • mark v | March 24, 2014 5:02 PMReply

    "...there is no such thing as "good pussy"..."

    Maybe not for YOU, Tanya Steele.

  • Random Commentary | March 24, 2014 4:55 PMReply

    I'm not sure if this is a Penthouse or Hustler magazine article.

    Two things. Please stop force feeding the beauty, grace, poise, and reserved sensual elegance of Lupita Nyong'o. Seriously this website is losing credibility.

    And second. Good Cookie = 21 and up --->>TIGHT<<--- and well lubricated.
    Bad Cookie = no such thing. its just a sugar free cookie. you sample and forget.

  • Chez Lopez | March 24, 2014 3:14 PMReply

    How can something be nonsense and carefully worded? *scratching head*. Charles Judson, you try hard to degrade this writer. Your comments always attack her. This writer is brilliant. She tears ideas to shreds. She challenges the reader to do a triple take. Definitely too brilliant for you to be her audience. Do you have a personal gripe with her? Your comments are personal. Your desire to put her in her place overrides your good sense. You come off as a sexist troll. There is a Tanya in your imagination that you think you challenge. It is not possible for you to think you are challenging Tanya Steele. Move on, Brother. Accept it. She's smarter than you.

  • Troy | March 24, 2014 12:11 AMReply

    Good pussy= STD/VD/HIV negative
    Bad pussy= STD/VD/HIV positive
    Feminism= a play community around the the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
    All -isms are just play communities.

  • Clearly | March 22, 2014 2:35 AMReply

    Carefully worded nonsense is epidemic on the web

  • Charles Judson | March 25, 2014 8:17 PM

    Did it occur to you Chez that I'm not interested in being pleased.

    Every time I meet some old head from the 1980s who was proud they brought filmmakers like Spike to town, I nod my head. Then ask, you mean like the Weinsten's did? Those brothers that turned into a business. Or, like AFFRM. Which, only took 30 years to pick up where you left off. They smile with pride. My head slumps when I think of how many of those groups from the 1980s could have become distribution companies or film orgs.

    Show me the IFP for filmmakers of color. With all the innovation and energy coming out of Southern California, Chicago and New York in the 1960s and 1970s, there should be one by now. How about Film Independent? I'm not looking for Sundance, I'm looking Sundance Institute.

    From Howard to Clark, I've run into some incredibly smart folks about film. Where are the groundbreaking programs that are nurturing our best talent. When will we hear about a writing program that's AT a college and not just another diversity program pulled together by the WGA?

    Sorry, I don't have time to be nice. Even if I fail, I'd rather be known for trying to put the pieces in place to help filmmakers.

    I don't agree with all the writers on this site. However, I do think they're still some of the best and most engaged writers out there. Disagreeing with them doesn't mean I'm not vested. Hands down, some of the best discussions I have had, HAVE been on Shadow and Act. Even when I think differently, that does not mean I haven't been prompted to reconsider and give someone else's opinion fair due.

    Overall, my patience has worn mad-thin. We could be making stronger strides outside of L.A. Individually, we're doing decently. There are a few successes. Collectively, it still might as well be a pre-Sex, Lies & Videotape 1988 for filmmakers of color.

    So. No, it never occurred to me, because I don't care about that. I'm too busy dissecting data from 25,000 Kickstarter projects for insights and meeting with folks in my state's economic office to see how we can create incubators. I'm asking folks at other organizations, how I can help them do their job better, and how they can help me do what I want to do better.

    So, no. It didn't occur to me. Because we, not I, got sh*t to do.

  • Chez | March 24, 2014 8:22 PM

    Charles, has it occurred to you that Tanya Steele is not interested in pleasing you?

  • Charles Judson | March 24, 2014 7:11 PM

    Chez, name me ten new things you learned about Lupita, her films or how black women were portrayed in the films of 2013? How about 3 films with specific scenes? Okay, maybe two books and what's in them that makes them relevant? I no need smart to know glass empty. Me not dumb.

    I'm sincerely interested in hearing from women their take on black female sexuality and sensuality in film. Indiewire itself is still dominated by a lot of white men. The white women are older. It's a topic that's discussed, yet not explored.

    I freely admit my virtual vendetta. My bias I lay bare. Not because I think I'm smarter. But because in all the years Tanya has written, she hasn't said anything new, or offered any insights that would truly challenge filmmakers.

    This is a damn site about film. Write about film. We, including me, need the thought bombs to destroy the old and to shape the new. This ain't it.

    And deflect all you want Tanya. I really want to see a multi-part piece dissecting the media out there. I've never said I want you to stop writing. I want you to stop writing pieces I was reading from authors 20 years ago. I find it no different than when writers paraphrase The End Of History, as if the last 20 years haven't made that work more relevant to scholarly dissection. Which is fine. But it's not usable guide to shape foreign policy.

    We've dug about two inches into a topic that should be blown wide open. If not here, then where? If not by a site that features black women providing content and actively participating, then what outlet?

    Why settle for barely kinda sorta every once in awhile? Seriously. Why?

  • tanya steele | March 24, 2014 5:14 PM

    As always, I read all of the comments. Nothing new to add. Way more interesting to observe men in conversation with one another about this post:).

  • CC | March 24, 2014 4:39 PM

    WOW... I've never seen Charles Judson come that strong but unfortunately I have to agree with his assertions, not totally but for the most part. And, those who have been reading this site are fully aware of his intellectual prowess and that he's nobodies troll. Having read all of his "disagreements" with Tanya's posts, I've come to believe he simply does not agree with the way Ms. Steele uses this board to move her personal agendas, especially at a film blog.

    In reference to this post... well, he voiced his indifference loud and clear. But what's important to note is that other than the use of the word "nonsense", one would be hard pressed to refute his opinion/allegations. At least, up to this point, unlike those who "defended" Ms. Steele (at her post "Tanya Steele: A Call For Anti-Racism Work) with well-written arguments that explicitly addressed his concerns, not name calling, no one has dropped by this post to do the same, not even Tanya herself. What can one surmise from those facts? Hmmmm, maybe he actually has the best hand (good sense) and has left little wiggle-room for a counter argument?

    Don't get me wrong, I am one of Tanya's long time supporters, but I fully understand
    Charles Judson's point(s) -- on this one.

  • Chez Lopez | March 24, 2014 3:19 PM

    How can something be nonsense and carefully worded? *scratching head*. Charles Judson, you try hard to degrade this writer. Your comments always attack her. This writer is brilliant. She tears ideas to shreds. She challenges the reader to do a triple take. Definitely too brilliant for you to be her audience. Do you have a personal gripe with her? Your comments are personal. Your desire to put her in her place overrides your good sense. You come off as a sexist troll. There is a Tanya in your imagination that you think you challenge. It is not possible for you to think you are challenging Tanya Steele. Move on, Brother. Accept it. She's smarter than you.

  • Charles Judson | March 23, 2014 9:12 PM

    It's 2014, and I haven't done a this is nonsense post. Clearly did it for me. It is indeed nonsense. Tanya continues to be 20 years out of date. More a generator of words than a generator of ideas. We're in the midst of a fourth wave feminism and Tanya is name checking every buzz word and famous name she can. Good pussy. Marilyn Monroe.

    An opportunity to actually use Lupita Nyong’o's career as point to dissect, frame and reframe the image of black women. Instead, it's a thousand word piece that's no more insightful than an Up With People half-time show. Why delve into the messiness of the topic, when cliched aphorisms will do.

    ...and no, I'm not going to stop popping in from time to time to challenge Tanya. If you think this is progressive thinking, I've got a 19th century Utopian starter kit I can sell you. Add water, a dress code and vague humanism, and you'll see your community sprout up in only a few weeks.

    Either we have a real discussion that challenges people. Or, just list the books you've pulled half this stuff from and be done with it.

  • sergio | March 22, 2014 8:42 AM

    Wow seriously? You think what Tanya wrote was Nonsense. You must be sick in the head

  • Michboa | March 21, 2014 9:00 AMReply

    This was a beautiful reminder.

  • ben je | March 21, 2014 7:33 AMReply

    great article

  • K. Little | March 20, 2014 11:35 PMReply

    "The message...is to be yourself! And, let your sexuality and style flow from YOUR interior...Do not let others dictate who you should be. The person who has your best interest and well-being at heart- must be you. The unique you- wows the world." and "Whatever a man feels when he is inside of you- is what he feels about himself." Amen and Amen!

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