Once upon a time, there was a young girl who met a boy, a boy who made her very happy. The girl was so happy that when the boy suggested that they get married because they were in love, despite the fact that she was only 18 and he was only 20, the girl said yes. The girl said yes because she felt deep shame over the fact that she and the boy had been doing sexual things. She was the daughter of a man who was strict and in the process of becoming a minister, she knew sexual things were bad, very bad…at least that is what she was told. So the girl ran off and married the boy, they were so broke that they didn’t even have enough money to live together. They spent the first two months of their marriage living at home with their respective parental units and didn’t tell anyone they were married. Finally the secret was too much to hide and they told their parents and the boy’s mother let the young couple live at her house until they could save enough money to get their own place. By this time, the girl realized maybe marriage had been a bad idea after all. Unfortunately just as the girl realized this, she also realized she was pregnant. In the end the marriage barely lasted two years, though it did produce a son who is now a magnificent young man.
After that marriage ended, the young girl spent a few years doing things that young adults tend to do and once again she lived in a state of angst because it was deeply ingrained in her that having sex with anyone other than a husband was just wrong. Eventually the young girl would marry again and unlearn all the rules of respectability that made pleasure seem so wrong. Now the young girl is a not so middle aged woman who thinks that the appearance of respectability is a great way to keep women from being in touch with their true nature.
In case ya didn’t figure it out, that young girl is yours truly. Today’s post was inspired by this piece, which is well worth the read. It does a great job of explaining the whys of why Black women are not likely any time too soon to claim the mantle of sluttiness. Or as I would rather say openly embracing and claiming our sexuality, I am not a fan of the word slut because historically it has been used as a pejorative.
Speaking as a Black woman, I will say that the politics of respectability run deep in the middle class Black community. To quote a piece from Bitch Magazine that sums up the game of respectability politics “Respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems “respectable.” The approach emerged in reaction to white racism that labeled blackness as “other”—degenerate and substandard—with roots in an assimilationist narrative that prevailed in the late-19th-century United States. Black activists and allies believed that acceptance and respect for African-Americans would come by showing the majority culture “we are just like you.”
All of this need for respectability means that more than a few Black women grew up with certain notions around sex and for many of us we carry those notions into adulthood. Even certain sexual acts in the Black community carry the connotation that only certain types of women do those things. As a result many of us live our lives at half capacity when it comes to our sexual selves because in many ways the cost to embrace our full sexual selves and fly our freak flags is too damn high.
A few years ago, I wrote a few pieces about polyamory and non-monogamy which I admit is a fascinating concept to me since truth be told, most us just aren’t winning at the monogamy game. Almost immediately I had several Black women question me on why I would write such a piece, after all that is just nasty. Really? Says who. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea and while I admit the logistics seem pretty hard to navigate in my head, it does seem to work for some.
By the same token there are more than a few white women who are openly living non-monogamous lifestyles and even earning a living sharing their tales with others. It seems not a week passes where a piece isn’t making the rounds talking about non-monogamy in one form or another. The media portrayal of these women is hardly salacious but when a Black woman openly embraces a non-standard and/or open sexual life style she is portrayed as off, or put in one of the boxes only reserved for Black women. We aren’t allowed to be multi-dimensional women in general and when it comes to sexual matters it seems the only boxes that exist for us are uptight or other…and no one wants to be put in the other box.
However the gift of having spent a few years on this dusty rock is that I have learned that begging others for acceptance and denying oneself is a great recipe for regret and bitterness. Like the author of the Racialicious piece, I want Black women to have the same freedom for sexual experimentation that white women have. However I don’t think that will happen until we make that choice for ourselves. Audre Lorde once said “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”