Tag Archives: women of color

Racialized performances in pop music or Why are Beyonce and JLo so scandalous?

This image is approved for consumption by polite society.

This image is approved for public consumption.

Last week, Jennifer Lopez scandalized Britain with a “raunchy” performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Not only did viewers flock to social media (as you do) to complain about JLo dropping it like it’s hot in a French-cut one piece and thigh-high boots, but British  TV regulator OfCom confirmed that it has received complaints about the broadcast and is assessing the matter, but not investigating it.

For helpful context, here is the performance–labeled “disgusting” and “shameful” by some critics–that provoked an “assessment” of whether a competitive reality show violated the bounds of decency.

In my humble opinion, the only thing indecent about that performance was the tepidness of the dancing and the awfulness of the song. (But, hey, maybe it’s not for me. I’m an old–actually the same age as JLo–and I don’t spend much time at the club lately.)

I suspect the assessment of Jennifer Lopez’s performance is influenced by both race, size and age bias. But you know I’m conspiratorial that way, so I asked Andrea, my homegirl and fellow editor at the R to weigh in.

Tami: When I heard all the crowing about this performance, I recalled Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance earlier this year., which also prompted cries of outrage.

Both of these performances seem astonishingly tame in the face of criticism. “Disgusting” is a pretty strong word to describe booty shaking in a body suit. Folk are generally cool with sexy (and sexist) Go Daddy commercials during the Super Bowl, but Queen Bey causes parents to “shield their kids’ eyes.”

I think the response to these performances is very much influenced by racial bias. Brown and black bodies are routinely sexualized. Latinas bear the weight of the “spicy” and “exotic” stereotypes. And those stereotypes have dogged Lopez throughout her career. The nickname “J. Ho”–a reference to the singer/actress’ alleged promiscuity and mercenary character–even has a spot in the Urban Dictionary. And I should point out, these accused character traits seem to be based on little but the skewed way this culture views Latinas.

Lopez herself told US magazine of the controversy: “I think people are so much raunchier than I am. I feel like I’m so tame. [I] wore it at Billboard and Britain’s Got Talent said they wanted exactly the same. So I thought I’d wear the outfit in black. No one complained at Billboard. I think people just like to talk. It was a bodysuit. A lot of performers wear that these days. It is standard stage clothes. I’m not going to walk down the street like that!”

JLo’s act does not seem markedly different from any other pop spectacle–no different Britney Spears’ iconic performance at the 2000 VMA’s or what this Britney impersonator did during an audition for…wait for it…“Britain’s Got Talent” in 2011.

Andrea: I agree, especially about the relative tepidness of Lopez’s performance and the non-scandalousness of her outfit.

What I think  is at play here is Beyonce and Lopez are doing dance moves that are, whether done with Beyonce’s exuberance or with Lopez’s tepidness, sexy moves that they thought of and/or approved of. In other words, they’re expressing their sexual agency. However, that’s a major no-no in a society steeped in the sexist ethos of “I can touch you, but you can’t touch yourself,” which has a long structural history in the lives of women of color due to slavery and colonization.

And this “what about the children” reasoning as to folks’ disgust with the two women’s performance brings up not only women of color doing that stereotypical thing of ruining people’s sexual “innocence” but also something of–how shall I phrase this?–an unspoken notion of the influence of images not only affecting how a person will be “brought up” to express their own sexuality but also the kind of person their brain will be hard-wired to be attracted to. If the child–and let’s be really real, kids are indeed sexual beings–is connecting their erotic feelings to seeing a woman of color dancing like Lopez and moreso like Beyonce, the parents may be thinking that their child just may act upon that attraction and–gasp!–fall in love and–clutch the pearls!–bring “such a woman” home as a spouse.

Tami: And here’s the other thing: Jennifer Lopez (and Beyonce) are not only women of color, they are also women known for having curvy body types, which are often associated with Latinas and black women and are larger than the current ideal for celebrities. Unrestrained fleshiness and jiggle reads differently than hard and trim; Physical abundance is often mistaken for wantonness.

Media wrote about Lopez’s “bum-baring” performance, but the singer’s booty is covered; her outfit was less revealing than typical beachwear. Could the rub be that JLo’s rear is big and round vs. tiny and tight?

Andrea: I think Lopez herself has pointed out how her body shape get framed in this society: “People equate sexy with promiscuous. They think that because I’m shaped this way, I must be scandalous–like running around and bringing men into my hotel room. But it’s just the opposite.” To me, Lopez shouldn’t have had to say such a thing–her body, however it’s shaped, is hers to do with what she wants with nary a comment to the press. However, the burden of the stereotypes about Latinas and Black women keeps us defending our reputations in the public space in order to, as Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry says in her book Sister Citizen, keep our bearings in the face of the socially constructed crooked images of ourselves.

But we’re not only defending our reputations that folks assume comes with our bodies; we also need to defend our bodies, literally, as seen by the clip of Beyonce whipping around and firmly telling a white-appearing concertgoer in Denmark that she’d have him removed because he smacked her butt–and this happened last week!

This brings me back to what you said about our bodies being routinely sexualized. It’s not just that bodies of color are routinely sexualized; it’s that our bodies are furthermore seen–still–as public sexual property to be discussed and publicly contested to be the figures that people shouldn’t aspire to desire sexually, though I’ve heard quite a few non-Black and non-Latin@s say that Beyonce and Lopez inspired them to “love their curves” and/or “embrace their booties” in light of the contested reality that Beyonce’s and Lopez’s curves are seen as a physical and sexual ideal.

Tami: Lastly, I think age is a factor in this discussion as well. Western culture worships youth. Women past a certain age aren’t supposed to sexy; we are supposed to cover up. Madonna is routinely told to put it away. And, to hear some folks tell it, Janet Jackson’s biggest sin wasn’t showing booby on primetime television, but showing over-40 booby. Sexy dressing may be fine for the 20-somethings, but for women north of 40, it is unseemly.

Andrea: *Sigh* I think part of this is the association of age and motherhood. Lopez and Beyonce are both mothers. Forty-something women especially (Bey is in her 30s) are cast as matronly–whether or not we have children–and being sexually attracted to a woman of that age is seen as MILFing, which, as the phrase states, is all about desiring a woman old enough to be (some)one’s mom, who are always constructed as non-sexual beings in this society. (Thus, the porned-out “shock” of the attraction.)

But, as we talked about in an earlier conversation, pop is relentlessly marketed as the “music of youth”–and “youth” is relentless hyped as the desired, if not ideal, stage of life, partly because of its able-bodied physicality–that very few people have a career in pop music in their late 30s and especially in their 40s and beyond, especially women of color. The brilliant singer Cassandra Wilson can enjoy a long career in jazz. Jill Scott can stay a neo-soul singer for a good long time, especially since she can always cross over into jazz (which she has). Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops will have longevity in the alt-country/bluegrass scene. Tina Turner, who had a string of pop hits in the 80s, is idolized as a rock icon who here lately rocked out as as torch singer. Grace Jones is lionized as a black proto-AfroPunk goddess who can shame all pop performers with a hula hoop. And I highly doubt any of them would get whapped on their asses at their concerts.

No, it’s pop goddesses who are so deeply degraded when they aren’t meeting the physical ideals of youth, like, well, getting older. And it’s Black and Latina pop goddesses–like Beyonce, Jackson, and Lopez, who’s still fondly remembered as one of the Fly Girls for In Living Color–who are degraded so roundly and so publicly.

Open Thread: Reality TV And Race

Request in the comments yesterday:

kdlmn • 14 hours ago
Could we have a reality show open thread and/or round table on racialicious sometime please? Just a suggestion. Reality shows seem to be together with crime shows the only area in which PoC are overrepresented–cause it gives the viewer yet another possibility to ridicule PoC (added bonus: women of color. women on reality shows in general are always catty and back stabbing, never help one another). There are so many offenders here that I don’t know where to start. The last ones I saw were “Hollywood Exes” (3 Black women, one Latina, one White woman) and “My Big Fat American Gipsy Wedding”, which is especially appalling as it comes just when the Hungarian and French government have in different ways declared that Roma are Open Game. In Hungary a right wing politician recently had a DNA test published to prove that he definitely had zero Roma ancestry. So gross.

Mickey • 7 hours ago
I agree about a round table discussion about these so-called reality shows. Whose reality are they showing? Most of this stuff is edited to make certain people fit into stereotypes the public automatically buys in to, especially regarding PoC. I watched a couple of episodes of “Hollywood Exes” and, although it is not too bad compared to other shows of its nature, the Black ex-wife of R. Kelly and the White ex-wife of Jose Canseco sort of get on my nerves.

Consider the thread open! A couple things I’ve noticed after the jump. Continue reading

Who Is the Black Zooey Deschanel?

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, crossposted from What Tami Said

I had a great Twitter conversation yesterday with @AndreaPlaid, @AnnaHolmes and @Amaditalks. We were talking about Julie Klausner’s recent post on Jezebel, “Don’t fear the dowager: a valentine to maturity.” Klausner’s post, lamenting the trend of grown women adopting childish personas, is sort of a companion to all the similar pieces about modern men living in a state of perpetual boyhood. She writes:

There’s so much ukulele playing now, it’s deafening. So much cotton candy, so many bunny rabbits and whoopie pies and craft fairs and kitten emphera, and grown women wearing converse sneakers with mini skirts. So many fucking birds.

Girls get tattoos that they will never be able to grow into. Women with master’s degrees who are searching for life partners, list “rainbows, Girl Scout cookies, and laughing a lot” under “interests, on their Match.com profiles. Read more…

Anna is quoted in a similar article from The Daily Beast about websites launched by Jane Pratt and Zooey Deschanel.

But when the site xoJane.com was finally unveiled a few weeks ago—minus Gevinson’s involvement (though she says she will be launching a sister site in a few months), the reaction was less than stellar. Writer Ada Calhoun, on her blog 90sWoman, called out the site for its incessant namedropping (Michael Stipe was mentioned nine times the first day), writing: “The chatty, best-friends-realness voice feels put-on and costume-y, like too-big heels.”

Perhaps part of that disappointment stems from the improbable goal of including 48 year olds and 12 year olds under one roof. The result is a seemingly permanent state of girlishness that any professional woman over the age of 30 should cringe at, but one that Pratt pushes with abandon.

“I actually blame Bonnie Fuller,” said Anna Holmes, the founder of Jezebel.com, referencing the former Glamour and Us Weekly editor, whose penchant for bright pink cursive handwriting scrawled all over the pages of her magazines and websites has nabbed her million dollar paychecks—and, unfortunately, permeated the lady mag and gossip set.

With such tickle-me-hormonal content online, it makes one wonder, where is the content for women who want the equivalent of GQ, with sharp articles about powerful women and fascinating trend stories, written by writers as good as Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion? Where are the fashion spreads that make you feel aspirational, not inadequate? Must everything be shot through with a shade of red or pink? And does everything have to end with an exclamation point? Read more…

The Klausner article generated a ton of push back on Jezebel. I suspect because the manic pixie dream girl persona is “in” right now and everyone wants to feel like they choose their own choices. In this case, that means that some women want to believe that their predilection for rompers and kittens and baby voices reflects their individual personalities and not some trend toward retro, non-threatening femaleness. But no one chooses their choices in a vacuum and certainly it means something that so many women seem to be finding this super-girlish, childish part of their personalities at the same time, while Katy Perry’s sex and candy persona is tearing up the charts and actual little girls are being bombarded with pink, purple, princesses, tulle and sparkles.

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I Haven’t Actually Been Called a Slut

By Creatrix Tiara, cross-posted from Creatrix Tiara

Not that I know of anyway – no one’s said that to me in my face. I don’t even know if I’ve been called a harlot or a whore or any other synonym for a loose promiscuous woman.

People don’t often tend to associate me with sexuality, at least when they just see me and don’t really know about what I get up to. “Unattractive” or “ugly” would probably be more common insults, asides from “you Bangla”.

But the biggest reason though is because I spent all my life in a society and culture where people didn’t even talk about sexuality. That thing about how women are sexualised in society through ads and media and all that? Not where I came from! You were meant to be pure, innocent, untouched, sweet…”sweet” was actually a word that got used a hell of a lot as a compliment, come to think of it.

If you wanted to denote someone as slutty, trashy, harlot-like, you know what you’d call them?

Sexy.

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The Latoya Tour: “Ain’t I a Woman” In Brooklyn

If you’re in the area tonight, please check out Latoya–who’s teaming up with Elizabeth Mendez Berry–refusing the silence about race, feminism, and activism. :-)

Galapagos Art Space
16 Main Street
Brooklyn, NY

Ain’t I A Woman: Women of Color Speak On Activism
April 11th, 2011, 6PM – 12AM
Mixer 6PM ** Panel 7-9PM ** Party 9-12AM

Long after Sojourner Truth pondered the question – “Aint I A Woman?” we continue to face a white supremacist culture that undermines women of color, young women, undocumented immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. We’re convening this panel to ignite a discourse about the experiences of women of color in the feminist movement and beyond. On this night, six outstanding feminists and activists will go head-to-head to discuss race in the feminist movement today.

We know that the movements to eradicate racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and sexism are inextricably connected. We reject the silencing and subjugation of women of color and aim to create a safe and courageous space to raise our voices, confront tensions, celebrate our triumphs, create collective solutions and share our stories. Through this sharing, we can create a united front so that, instead of surviving through silence, there can be a dialogue on how to battle institutionalized oppression.

Speaking our truth is crucial to our survival. By gathering together and learning from our shared and individual tales of love and struggle, we will each emerge with new perspectives that will enable us to engender the change we envision for the world.

In the words of bell hooks, “There can be no feminist revolution without an end to racism, classism, ageism…”

Round One: Latoya Peterson, Founder of Racialicious
Elizabeth Mendez Berry, Journalist

Round Two: Lori Adelman, Program Associate at International Women’s Health Coalition
Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, Reproductive Rights Activist

Round Three: Jessie Daniels, PhD, Author and Sociology Professor at Hunter College
Anna Holmes, Jezebel Founding Editor

Music by DJ Lobotomy Copter throughout the night, http://on.fb.me/gRnBsN

**$10 Suggested Donation (but no one turned away for lack of funds)
**We encourage live tweeting during the event using the hastag, #AIAW

** For more info, contact Morgane at refusethesilence@gmail.com with the subject line: “Ain’t I A Woman”

Price: $10 to help us cover reservation costs, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

“We’re Not Going to Stand for It”: SisterSongNYC’s Jasmine Burnett

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

I met the inimitable SisterSongNYC leader Jasmine Burnett after I came all late to Stand Up for Women’s Health Rally in NYC on February 26.  (In full disclosure: I’m also part of SisterSongNYC.)  In the video, she discusses some of the intersections of reproductive justice–economics, voting, and mothering–and what activism needs to be done.

Transcript after the jump.

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On Being Feminism’s “Ms. Nigga”

Like, late night I’m on a first class flight
The only brother in sight the flight attendant catch fright
I sit down in my seat, 2C
She approach officially talkin about, “Excuse me”
Her lips curl up into a tight space
Cause she don’t believe that I’m in the right place
Showed her my boarding pass, and then she sort of gasped
All embarrassed put an extra lime on my water glass
An hour later here she comes by walkin past
“I hate to be a pest but my son would love your autograph”
(Wowwww.. Mr. Nigga I love you, I have all your albums!..) [...]

For us especially, us most especially
A Mr Nigga VIP jail cell just for me
“If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake”
Just got some shoe-polish, painted my face
They say they want you successful, but then they make it stressful
You start keepin pace, they start changin up the tempo

—”Mr. Nigga,” Mos Def featuring Q-Tip

 

Recently, I was invited to speak at a major feminist event.

It was for a cause I cared deeply about, and I would share the stage with some of the best recognized figures in feminism.

And yet…I hesitated.

Less than three years ago, I would have jumped at this opportunity, delighted to be invited, honored to be included, proud to make my contribution. But that was then.

Now, I read the email with a healthy dose of suspicion.  Why did they want to invite me? They mentioned receiving my name on referral from another marquee named feminist, which made me wonder why the referral was needed.  Did they really need more speakers at this late date? Or did they need to add some color to yet another stage that was sure to be full of white women?

I also instantly felt guilty.  Was I projecting? Over reacting? After all, this was a short notice event. Isn’t the cause more important than my waffling feelings about mainstream, movement oriented feminism? Why was I instantly suspicious of their intent? Can’t I give people the benefit of the doubt for once?

The emotional see-saw over my decisions to participate in feminist focused events has been my constant companion for close to a year or so now, but it took on a new dimension when Jessica Valenti decided to leave Feministing.  That night, I was at a cocktail meetup, when one of my friends grabbed my hand and asked if I heard the news.  I’m a lot more removed from the blogosphere at large these days (our transformation is all consuming at the moment) so I hadn’t seen or heard about the post.  My friend, who is another African American woman, told me to take a look as soon as I got home.  “Basically,” she said, “it was all about her this whole time -she got hers so fuck us!”

So Jessica Valenti’s official departure from Feministing (and Renee’s subsequent response) is why I was actually spurred to write this post, but the problem goes back far longer than just that.

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For Your Women’s History Month: Loretta Ross on the Origin of “Women of Color”

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

Full disclosure: I met Loretta Ross at a Women’s Media Center’s media workshop for progressive women last summer, and we’re connected through the New York City chapter of SisterSong, which reshaped the reproductive-rights fight to reproductive justice. And I just think she is an incredible activist and living historian.

I saw this clip of her explaining to another generation of feminists where the term “women of color” came from and wanted to share.

Transcript after the jump.

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