The sexuality of the black woman: objectification and the stigma of promiscuity


Note from BW of Brazil: The debut and now second episode of the new controversial Globo network television series Sexo e as negas has brought front and center a re-ignition of the topic of stereotypes of black sexuality, specifically that of black women. Brazil’s history, from the sexual assault of black women by slave masters under 350 years of slavery, to modern day representations of black women as portrayed by the media, continue the association of Afro-Brazilian women to hyper-sexuality. For activists, the very title of the series in itself continues this association. The subsequent broadcasting of the series confirmed the worst nightmares of female activists who see the black female characters of the show continuing along the same lines of stereotypes about black women that are widely known throughout Brazilian society.

Controversial Devassa beer ad from 2011
Controversial Devassa beer ad from 2011

While the Carnaval season is the most visible time when the brown flesh that is, for the most part, invisible throughout year, is featured gyrating for the entire world to see, these images can be seen in tourist brochures (connected to sexual tourism) as well as advertisements. Last year, for example, the Ministry of Justice announced a suit against the beer maker Devassa that could cost the company a R$6 million (US$2.47 million) fine due to the sexually suggestive nature of an ad that linked the dark color of the beer with widely held stereotypical views about black female sexuality. The very name of the beer, Devassa, means “wanton” or “debauched”. These sorts of images along with a televised history of sensually provocative and menial labor based roles are a few of the reasons for the outrage on this latest television series. 

The sexuality of the black woman

by Jarid Arraes

Originally published in Blogueiras Negras

Sexuality is a diverse and subjective field and, therefore, nothing about it is unanimous. The sexual construction of each person is unique and can’t ever be characterized universally. However, the reaction of society regarding women’s sexuality tends to be quite similar for many women worldwide. This occurs in large part because of the influences of patriarchy. This system of social organization subjugates all women, but the picture is complicated specifically for black women.

All women are objectified and culturally usurped of any autonomy. For them, there is a compulsory process to be experienced in order that sovereignty over their own sexuality is retaken from the hands of patriarchy. An extremely exhausting effort is necessary to escape from the position of object, without the right to speak, and to obtain jurisdiction over sexual life itself.

Sexism against the black woman

The way that maintenance on female sexuality is exercised varies with other intersectional ties of the woman in question. A black woman suffers the effects of sexism and patriarchy differently than a white woman. A good example is to be reflected in the case of Quvenzhane, a nine-year old black girl of nine who was called “cunt” (a derogatory word to refer to women, more or less equivalent to “buceta” in Portuguese) in a news parody site. The reaction of the people was to reveal the occurrence because it was “only a joke.” But when a white woman said the same word on television, people are shocked. This difference in perception of situations is not free of socio-cultural influences and therefore, even if unconsciously, many people manage to reveal the case of Quvenzhane – despite being a child and a victim of violence of a sexual nature – only because of the fact that she is black.

In both cases, the girls are dominated by sexism and treated as beings without autonomy. Control over the white girl is done in a pretentiously protectionist way, while the black girl is visibly harassed. This leads us to reflect on the very idea of ​​sexual safeguarding in childhood: a white girl should be guarded from any expression of sexuality, but for a black girl the exposure to sex or violence is considered acceptable, often leading to situations of sexual abuse.

A cor do pecado (The color of sin)

da cor do pecado

Photo: Taken from the 2004 Globo TV novela Da Cor do Pecado

The black woman is surrounded by dichotomies when it comes to her body: on the one hand, there is a mix of invisibility and undesirability when the female body is black, because the erotic market in men’s magazines and media representation give precedence to white and blonde as desirable women. Black nipples, armpits and genital, for example, are considered filthy, with a multitude of products (available) in order to lighten these parts. The sexually desirable qualities are always those attached to the body of the white woman and even features considered bad, like kinky/curly hair or a wide nose, are much more tolerated in a woman of fair skin. (1)

On the rare occasions in which society expresses a desire for black women it is almost always the idea that the black woman is a “different flavor” and a “spicier” woman. The black feminine body is hyper-sexualized and considered exotic and sinful. Who hasn’t ever heard that the black woman has the “cor de pecado (color of sin)”? This is the breach that was left so that patriarchy continue to impose racism on black women: the dichotomy of the “gostoso (tasty)”, exotic and different, but at the same time it is forbidden, unthinkable, wicked and no good for marriage or monogamy. Our society has generally considered that racism is bad; the problem lies largely in identifying racism of attitudes and everyday policies. And to sexually segregate black women is also a form of racism, but it is socially acceptable in the XXI century.

Premature sexual objectification and the stigma of promiscuity

Early on, the black girl is symbolized sexually. After all, she is considered more provocative than the white girl: she has the “color of sin” and is not “the right girl for relationships.” Black girls and adolescents are seen under an objectifying gaze, are the biggest victims of sexual exploitation and, since the vast majority comes from the poorest strata – undeniable racist vestiges of a slave owning society – they are inserted very early into forced prostitution, being sold and exchanged for negligible values.

For these factors, the black girl grows with the stigma of being promiscuous. And the truth is that society does not reflect on the objectification and exploitation that it imposes upon black girls, it only reinforces its concepts of racist exotification and condemns the black woman to a life in which their sexuality will always be her tormenter. It is this black girl that will be used as a scapegoat for sexist opinions about teenage pregnancy and it is also this black woman who will be eternally a single mother, with no husband and no morals.

Image taken from the Gilberto Freyre book 'Casa Grande e Senzala em HQ'
Caption: “From this sexual intercourse of white men with slaves resulted in a wide multitude of illegitimate children – often times raised as the legitimate offspring inside of the liberal patriarchalism of the Big Houses; others to the shadows of the religious orders or the ‘circles’ or orphanages” – Taken from the illustrated edition of Gilberto Freyre’s 1933 classic Casa Grande e SenzalaThe image above was taken from the illustrated version of the book entitled Casa Grande e Senzala Em Quadrinhos.

Cultural differences

It would be inconsistent to analyze the sexuality of black women with the same perspective in which we observe the white woman. There are socio-cultural phenomena specific to the black population, especially in context of segregation and social class, as seen in the case of funk, considered “poor music” by the white and rich population. These features can function as both oppressive and empowering for black women.

To take power over their own sexuality, black women can and must act in different ways. Their sexuality does not fit into a mold and neither is it subject to just a text. The nuances are many and the complexity is great. We must expose and talk more about this subject, because the empowerment of black women over their own bodies and sexuality finds a monstrous obstacle: racism. Owning your sexual desire is not an easy task. Only when racism is defeated, there will be space for the black woman to be sexually free.

It is important to remember that when it comes to female sexuality, no women have autonomy granted by patriarchy. The necessity is not to deny the objectification, exploitation and violence committed against the white woman, but to know that there are many contexts. The white woman, the black woman, the indigenous woman, Indian woman, Japanese woman, South Africa woman, etc…Each suffers sexual exploitation, objectification, rape and denial of autonomy, but the way this happens suffers nuances due not only to ethnicity but also religion and socioeconomic class. The most effective way to combat this type of violence is to understand the most important needs of each context and deal directly with the specificities of each. It’s necessary to know more and promote more comprehensive discussions, as well as actions and public policies that achieve the target.

Source: Blogueiras Negras


1. Recently, the American edition of Vogue magazine provoked controversy among African-American women when it suggested that worship of the derriere is now in vogue due to a video by the Latina singer Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea. While American white men have long been thought to appreciate full breasted women, while Latina and African-American communities have long appreciated full-bottomed women. As such, this article was seen as a slap in face as black women have long been associated with this attribute. We saw something similar to this in a Brazilian contest that aimed to choose the woman with the most attractive backside.

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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