Defining Black Womanhood and Sexuality Under State Gaze

Angela Davis and Anita Hill were hypersexualized in both of their respective engagements with the State, both of which could be called political trials, in order to delegitimize their voices as well as to define and represent both in ways that would be beneficial to the white heteropatriarchal state. This is no way should imply that either of their lives are based around these two points in their lives, but it is focused on in this piece because it is a clear connection of white men using state power to make an example of what happens when black women assert themselves or how black women are used as an end for white supremacy. Within this context, both Davis and Hill were able to define themselves and give themselves agency over their own narrative. Even though Hill’s and Davis’ situations are starkly different legally, they were also very similar in certain violence that they both experienced as enforced by the state. Both faced death threats — Davis’ as the prospect of death row and Hill’s from anonymous messages. I also think it is important to talk about Hill and Davis as they had very different politics at the time of their trials, and cannot and should not be conflated as the same story. This will include a discussion of sexual violence against black women.

Both Davis and Hill’s trials consisted of white men defining who they were through creating the image and promoting the negative stereotype of the promiscuous black woman, or the Jezebel. Sexual scripts, as described by psychologist Bryana H. French, are a conceptual framework theorized by Sociologists Simon and Gagnon, which places sexual behavior within culture, interpersonal, and intrapsychic forces. The Jezebel is the representation of black women, which includes the sexually promiscuous, the insatiable, and the unrapable as a way to justify the sexual exploitation of black women. Black women are also represented as asexual, a sexual script French calls the Sister Savior. This dichotomy leaves very little room for black women to express and represent their sexuality outside of these two opposing sexual scripts.

In researching the accusations against the accused, Davis and Hill, I found that both were resilient in to accusations of promiscuity and unreliability. While both were very much defined by the media in their perspective argument with white males, they both found a way to define themselves within these confines of white male defining techniques of captivity and the state gaze. I wanted to write about Angela Davis and Anita Hill, not just because both are hypervisible black women who were in the media’s spotlight for a long time, but also because they both had very different political engagements. Although the time-periods are two decades apart and their political positions very different, they both experienced the effects of sexual scripts affecting their lives in very real ways. White men used sexual scripts because it was both what they understand and because it was the best means to an end (the end being to delegitimize and dehumanize both women).

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