Our bodies are not your toy
Cosmo. Vogue. Glamor. Seventeen. These are some of the most popular magazines in pop culture. Every issue is targeted at women’s issues, or what society thinks are women’s issues, because of course we all need to know “101 ways to drive him wild” and “how to get the perfect butt in 28 days”. Behind these so-called tips, however, lies a much more upsetting background: the female of color wearing just a shirt and jacket with no pants looking seductively at the camera. By no means is this a criticism of women owning their sexuality, in fact I believe we must encourage that, it is simply an example of hyper-sexualization of women, but more specifically of women of color, and the funny thing is that the main topic of the issue claims to empower the women for their professional achievements. Where does one connect with the other? Doesn’t seem to. Instead what is shown are hyper-sexualized images along with highly suggestive language. In fact, the vast majority of magazine covers with women of color meet this criteria, a criteria which commodifies human beings for their gender and their “exotic” race.
This is just one example of the ways in which women of color have been subjected to sexualization of their bodies and races, although it is the most positive example. Throughout history, women of color have been victims of gender/race intersectional sexual violence. Starting with colonization and wars following it, Native American women were known to be taken as prisoners of war to be raped and/or otherwise physically abused. In fact, according to statistics, Native American women have the highest numbers of sexual violence, and likely will remain so.
Another highly affected group is that of African American women, who were abused as slaves during early American history, and have been (and continue to be) abused as free women. As shown by Kimberle Crenshaw in the article “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”, women of color are affected from different points when it comes to violence. They are at risk for being women, as well as for being of a different race. From being seen as lesser and therefore “rapeable” beings to being blamed and hyper-sexualized for wearing clothes that cling to the “black girl booty”.
There is a feminist academic, Moya Bailey, who sums up the reasoning behind this kind of behavior which leads to black women being targeted: Mysogynoir. This term describes the hatred shown towards Black women by the patriarchy. It is now used by various people on social media to bring awareness to the problem that is presented by the intersection between being a woman and being of color, specifically black. Although there have been advancements as result from social right movements it is important to remember that the fight continues and we must find new ways to help those who are affected by this kind of violence-causing commodification.