“Being Black and female is characterized by the private being made public, which subverts conventional notions about the need to hide and render invisible women’s sexuality and private parts. There is nothing sacred about Black women’s bodies, in other words. They are not off-limits, untouchable, or unseeable.”-Beverly Guy-Sheftall
I think most women are intimately familiar with this. You’re walking down the street, listening to music, thinking about what you have to do that day, some guy you were too familiar with on the first date (damn!), when all of a sudden, you hear a sucked tooth, a grunt, and:
“Eh yo GIRL! In the RED SHOES! Come over herrrreee!!”
If we do not graciously accept this delightful, one-size-fits-all catcall, we are sometimes called outside our name. “BITCH!” is a common retort to our usually muted disallowance.
Why I gotta be a bitch for?
Sometimes, when I see a group of young men, I cross the street or fix my gaze on something opposite them because I don’t want to be verbally assaulted.
Black female bodies are particularly susceptible to verbal assault in public space. Black women’s bodies have historically been figured as open territories, a chasse gardée, an experimental plane for others to perform work on.
YO! Potential-filled man with the tired lines and anemic vocabulary
with swag seeping out of your pores
How you doin today?
I love the way the sag of your jeans compliments the grace of your frame
I love the way the conviction in your pupils enthrall me so much I forget about the dirt of this city block.
Do you understand how lustrous,
how industrious and unconquerable we could be if we revered each other’s insides?
Do you understand that the shape of the Earth might shift if we paid homage to one another by recognizing the courage of our sepia-colored stories?
“the female body is metaphorically produced as raw natural territory awaiting discovery and cultivation by the hands of male[s]…”-Terri Kapsalis
Before it was commonplace for women to leave the home to perform work, most women were confined to the space of their home. When it became necessary for women to work outside of the home for economic reasons, these “public” women were subject to multiple male gazes. Even though it is the norm for women to work outside of the home now, I would argue that there is still a stigma attached to working women. If you are a woman and you work inside of the home, you are subject only to your husband’s gaze. If you are a public woman, you are subject to the gaze of many men. Public women, then, become “fair game” for catcalling men. Of course, for the most part, if a “public” woman is with a man, she does not get solicited. It is understood that the woman is “taken” (regardless if the man and woman have a romantic relationship).
Black women must contend with the sexist concept of the female body as untamed territory and they must also contend with the notion that their femaleness is non-normative (because it is non-White). Because they are deviant examples of womanhood, it becomes easier for men to make sexually exploitative and derogatory remarks about them. What is so troubling about this fact is that Black men internalize Eurocentric standards of femininity and fully embrace their miseducation by saying things like “YO, FAT BOOTY!” Sometimes the woman’s humanity is reduced to footwear, a standout accessory, or an article of clothing when they say something like “HEY! GREEN SHORTS, COME OVER HERE!” When we are reduced to our possessions, it makes us realize that the catcall is not birthed from a selective process. It is not thoughtful or caring, respectful or polite. We do not have names, and sometimes we do not even have faces. We are simply embodied. This reality illustrates Doris Witt’s assertion about Black female presence. They are simply “constitutive absences.” We shape the world silently. We give birth to aspiration without making a sound. We are obscured by suppressive doctrine but are always there – to serve food, to give love, to re-insert dreams into the bodies of the people who perform work on top of our limbs.
Where is the love?
This issue is particularly bothersome to me because I think it reflects the fact that Black people aren’t loving each other properly. Of course, to love someone else properly, you must first love yourself. I realize that as a man, it is difficult to talk to women in public spaces, and sometimes you shout something out just to catch their attention. And sometimes she gives you attitude when you do say something polite. That rude woman probably had to deal with 5 “FAT BOOTIES” and 3 “FUCK YOU’s” that day. It would be revolutionary if we realized the potentiality of the brown in our skins, if we understood that the idea that we came from nothing is untrue and was put in place so that we do exactly what we are doing–not loving each other. People who don’t love each other can’t fathom loving freedom.
The Body as a Colony
Anne Fausto-Sterling contends that “from the start of the scientific revolution, scientists viewed the earth or nature as female [my emphasis], a territory to be explored, exploited, and controlled. Newly discovered lands were personified as female…identifying foreign lands as female helped to naturalize their rape and exploitation.”
My body is not a colony.
I am a whole person.
Yes, I have hips and booty
but I also have presence
and the power to say “no.”
The veins that flow through me are not rivers or oceans but vessels of hope
The arch in my back is not a valley but a groove where I place my dreams
My limbs are not roads to navigate, rather they are shapely extremities I use to perform work
When you call me, I want to you recognize all my seismic potential
I want you to compliment me on the gall it took for me to push my body up from the trial of hard nights
Tell me how fat my capacity for loving is
Tell me how sexy it is that my two fleshy mounds of brilliance push out of my fit-like-a-glove gown made from tirelessness
Tell me how beautiful it could be if we pressed our perspiring brown histories together and pushed out writhing metamorphosis, gleaming and breathing and free
What are your thoughts on the solicitation of women in public space? What is the male perspective of this public event? Please share your thoughts.
Guy-Sheftall, Beverly. “The Body Politic: Black Female Sexuality and the 19th Century Euro-American Imagination.” Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture
Kapsalis, Terry. “Mastering the Female Pelvis: Race & the Tools of Reproduction.” Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture
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