On Tuesday, we brought you Part One of this in-depth look at women and sexuality in hip hop. Get ready for Part Two below:
“Azealia liked it, and we thought it would be fun and suited her because she’s a strong, provocative character.”
“I knew this cover would be talked about, but didn’t expect a confident, young woman posing with an inflated condom to cause this much fuss.”
Rod Stanley, editor of Dazed and Confused, gave those statements to the Daily Mail. Stanley’s naïve claim about Banks’ controversial pose in Dazed and Confused‘s September issue has that recognizable scent of a cattle farm — pure bullshit. There were other pictures of Banks in the magazine that were less sexual. Why weren’t one of those pictures used on the cover? What’s more, Azealia Banks is only 21 years old. She’s still young, considering 21 is the legal age of alcohol consumption in the States. Why would Stanley assume this young woman with an abusive childhood would enjoy a photo shoot where she has a condom to her mouth? Why would he think it ‘would be fun, and suited her’? Oh yeah, because she’s a “strong, provocative character”, like all the black female artists who, with their consent, have been sexualized in the media.
Stanley’s presumptuous attitude confirms my belief that the sexual exploitation of black women is a socialized phenomenon. Black female artists have come to expect their bodies to be displayed, because historically, a black woman’s body has always been a highlight in the media. In the 1920’s to the 30’s, it was
dancer Josephine Baker and her seductive moves. Baker never became successful until she left the US for Paris for an opportunity at La Revue Nègre. According to The Official Site of Josephine Baker:
“ ..[La Revue Nègre] proved to be a turning point in her career. Amongst a compilation of acts, Josephine and dance partner Joe Alex captivated the audience with the Danse Sauvage. Everything about the routine was new and exotic, and Josephine, boldly dressed in nothing but a feather skirt, worked the audience into frenzy with her uninhibited movements. She was an overnight sensation.”
Years later, Pam Grier became the new Josephine Baker. In the 1970’s, actress Pam Grier, the original Foxy Brown and ‘Queen of Blaxploitation’ films, became a sensation due to her roles. Grier is renowned for roles such as: ‘Coffy’ and ‘Foxy Brown’. In both films she played an undercover agent. In the latter, she posed as a high class prostitute. Needless to say, the AIP films required a lot of nudity and violence. This, alongside Grier’s cover on Ms. and Playboy, was enough to make Grier an icon, and the fantasy of every man who has ever watched her films.
Then there were Lola Falana, Dorothy Dandridge and let’s not forget, Halle Berry. Despite numerous movies casting Berry as a versatile and excellent actor, she won her first and only, Oscar award for her role in Monster’s Ball in 2001. Though she played her part well, I can’t help but think that it was the 4 minute sex scene that got her recognized by the Academy.
All of these examples of black women from various entertainment sectors show that sexual exploitation is natural. It’s almost a prerequisite to success. What separates women of the past from the ones today however, are the opportunities available. Unlike black women who were ‘forced’ to fill roles that objectified them in order to be successful, black women today are choosing to objectify themselves.
The revealing outfits; raunchy lyrics; and scandalous poses for album covers, magazine features, or music videos aren’t being forced upon them. Female artists believe that overt sexuality will bring them attention and propel them to stardom.
But when will they realize that it’s not supposed to be about their body, but their craft? At what point will female artists realize that objectifying themselves is a systemized, institutionalized, and legal way of auctioning themselves in the media?
I’m going to end part 2 on that note. Stay tuned for final part of the series!