Cultural Trends/Popular Culture

Women of Color Seen As Always Sexually Available

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The stereotypes of women of color as always being sexually available show how undervalued they are, says Jaclyn Friedman in her new book "What You Really Really Want." In this excerpt, she explores the overlap of race and sexuality.

(WOMENSENEWS)--As with all things racial, the intersection of race and sexuality is complicated. It's complicated by the ways race and economic class intersect, by the history of slavery in the United States and around the world, by the fact that race is both an utterly bogus way to look at people and simultaneously very real.

And yet while it's definitely not simple, it sure is important to think about.

Consider, for example, the image of the "innocent virgin." Picture her in your mind's eye. Maybe take a moment now to draw a picture of her, or write down a description of what she looks like.

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What did you draw or describe? Was it a white girl with long hair? Maybe blond, blue-eyed, or freckle-faced? If it was, it's not an accident. Because we live in a racist society that values white girls more than girls of color, we tend to imagine that purity is pale.

That assumption has a terrible flip side: Girls of color are often viewed as always sexually available, simply because of their race. Just look at the specific stereotypes: Latina women are "spicy," Middle Eastern and South Asian women are simultaneously "exotic" and "repressed," Asian women are "submissive," black women are "wild" or "animalistic"--it doesn't matter what disgusting stereotype you choose, it boils down to the same thing: Women of color are assumed to be always available for sex.

"It's easy to feel cheap when you have dark skin, frizzy hair and a big butt," says Mag, one of the women I interviewed. "TV, magazines, people on the street, people in class--it seems like everyone feels like they have a need, no, a right, to your body that you don't have. I've had random white children come up to me and slap my ass. I've had men take photos while I wasn't looking, or strangers come up to me and 'compliment' me on how luscious my backside looks and what they'd like to do with me."

Ridiculous Assumptions

You're smart enough to see how ridiculous assumptions about the sexualities of women of color are. Of course every individual woman wants different things that have nothing to do with her skin color. But the problem with this paradigm goes past how reductive it is. By treating women as though their race dictates their sexuality, we're also telling women that their actual desires don't matter and probably shouldn't even exist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

But it gets even more twisted: Because of these racial stereotypes, many girls of color are pressured by their families and communities to live the stereotypes down by (sing it with me if you know the tune by now) being unimpeachably innocent of sexual desire. So the wider culture is sexualizing girls of color right and left, and yet, in the end, they still often get shoved into the same virginity trap as do white girls.

On top of all of this, it's important to keep in mind one of the main reasons women of color are expected to be always sexually available--because in countries where they've been historically enslaved or colonized by white cultures, the white men in those cultures felt free to rape them with impunity. That women of color in colonized countries should have any say-so in what happens to their bodies, sexually or otherwise, is a pretty new idea in the grand scheme of things, and one that women of color have had to fight hard for, and still have to fight for today.

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I have found the opposite can be true, that if you are a blond, you are considered too silly to resist sex, and so close to nature in an agricultural way that you must only think of mating. The old adage of "blonds have more fun" is a part of that, and is considered actually courageous, which is bizarre and truly demeaning of women's rights. I imagine this depends upon where you live, whether the racial slur to a woman of colour is about her supposedly wanting sex or not wanting sex, either way, she is apparently always wrong.