Women of all races, ethnicities, cultures and socio economic backgrounds have and will experience street harassment and other unfair sexist practices against them. Women who happen to be from minority groups and lower socio economic background tend to experience street harassment to a much greater extent than women from other groups. Men tend to prey on young, vulnerable women who can’t protect themselves or fight back against them. Hence many young women find themselves the victims of harassment and sexual assault by perverted and sick men.
How is this tied in with Black women’s experiences living in this country?
From the time this country was founded, Black women weren’t allowed to owe up the ownership of their bodies or sexuality. White slave masters raped Black women as a way to have dominance over them and to produce more slaves. Black women’s bodies were often times, even to this day, seen as fetish objects or objects of disguise and scorn. This is where the Jezebel and Mammy stereotypes came into play. To justify their sexual attraction or lack of to their Black female slaves, many White slave masters made up the oversexed Jezebel stereotype to justify their sexual interactions with these women. The Jezebel stereotype reduced Black women’s bodies and sexual prowess to a promiscious, oversexed, animalistic whores who were asking for it. To justify their lack of sexual attraction to their Black female slaves, the Mammy stereotype came into play. The Mammy stereotype displayed an overweight, asexual Black woman who worked for her master and wasn’t sexually attractive. In other words, these stereotypes came into fruition to justify their sexual exploitation of the bodies of their Black female slaves.
Here is an image of the stereotypical ”Mammy”
Here is an old commercial of the Jezebel stereotype
Many Black women experienced being raped or sexually assaulted by both Black men and White men during the Reconstruction era and Jim Crow era. The sexism in wider society condemned Black women’s sexuality and existence while the patriarchy and colorism in Black America carefully regulated Black women’s sexuality and body. Since Black women weren’t protected, many of them felt violated and didn’t have anyone to run to for help. Thus many Black women did whatever they can to protect themselves and their bodies from rape, assault and sometimes even murder.
This is even magnified today in watching Hip Hop music videos where Black women’s bodies are objectified and reduced to their enlarged buttocks, breasts and thighs. I believe that women should be able to owe up to their sexuality however I don’t believe in sexual exploitation of women’s bodies. And what I see in many of these Hip Hop videos where these women walk around scantily clad and the rapper spewing out sexist, misogynist and colorist lyrics is sexual exploitation of women. However, many people argue that these women choose to be in these music videos, which is true however exploitation of a woman’s body is wrong whether she agrees to it or not. The sexual exploitation of Black women’s bodies along with sexism and misogyny in Black American collective has further destroyed Black women’s image and put out an image that Black women are oversexed jezebels with big butts, hips, thighs and breasts.
Images like this in Hip Hop often portray Black women in an objective, oversexualized light.
There are many double standards when it comes to Black women and White women expressing their sexuality. White women such as Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry could wear provocative clothing and express themselves sexually and these women are seen as ”empowering” and ”edgy”. Black women such as Rihanna and Beyoncé who do the same are seen as ”ghetto” or ”trashy”. Wider society already sees Black women’s sexuality as deviant and expects an oversexed or promiscuous woman when it comes to Black women. Many people in the Black American collective especially Black men would try to ”scold” Black women and tell them not to wear weaves, long nails and anything that looks provocative in their efforts to control Black women’s sexuality. Hence Black women are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to respectability politics and being respected in society.
Due to historical experienced as well as recent experiences, Black women have faced in this society, many of them feel like they can’t owe up to their sexuality. Being unprotected and undervalued in a patriarchal, White supremacist society, Black women are seen as easy targets for sexual exploitation especially street harassment. Men can street harass them and get away with it because Black women as seen as disposable. Many if not most Black women have had stories where older or creepy men harassed them in public while others looked and didn’t do a thing. I know because I have experienced street harassment and older creeps trying to hit on me in public when all I wanted to do was get to my destination.
What can Black women do to protect themselves from street harassment?
Black women should avoid areas where there is a high concentration of men(particularly Black men in this case). Many men are predatory and see women as prey that they can use and abuse. Even if you do avoid areas where there is a large concentration of men, women still find themselves being harassed by random men on the streets. Walking with a group of friends is another suggestion. Men are much less likely to prey on women who are with a group of friends because it means that the woman has some sort of protection. I also suggest attending self defense classes to learn on how to protect yourself from such men as well as carrying a knife with you.
However, I believe that the best way to counter street harassment is developing a support system of family, friends or associates. Developing a support system lowers the risk of being targeted by predator men on the street and helps protect a young woman when she is in time of need. And when predators see that you have a support system to protect you and fall back on, many of them would be less likely to harass you. Again, this isn’t a given but having a support system to protect and fall back on has helped many young woman who have dealt with issues such as street harassment, rape, domestic abuse etc.
What can we do to bring street harassment to public awareness?
Last year, there was a video of a young woman who was filmed walking in New York and being catcalled by men as an experiment on street harassment. This video was called the Holla Back video. Watching and hearing about the video did bring the issue of street harassment to public awareness however I believe that the video didn’t do justice to the revelance of the issue. The whole presentation only showcased bias in a guise of trying to get the public aware of street harassment.
First of all, White men who harassed the woman were screened out while Black and Hispanic men were kept in the video. Men of all races and ethnicities are capable of street harassment not just Black and Hispanic men. Second of all, I believe this video didn’t really raise the issue of street harassment to the full extent that it should have. There should have been more emphasis added to the importance of why street harassment is wrong and ways to solve it. Most of all, I believe that Holla Back video didn’t fully bring the issue of street harassment to light due to the fact that African American women and other minority women face street harassment more often and in much more hazardous ways than their Caucasian counterparts.
Unfortunately, street harassment will always be an issue in our society however I believe that more women should fully bring this issue to public awareness and find ways to counteract this problem.
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