Blogging the Theoretical

Feminism in the words of Collins and Nash (Final)

September 23, 2011 · No Comments


When it comes to Feminism, there is no specific definition. There are only theories as to what Feminism is. Some figure that feminism has risen into its nature because of oppression suppressed by all women when it comes to certain humane rights. These produced systems of oppression have led to the feminist theory of intersectionality. Intersectionality is in fact due to the way in which the economy, segregation, and certain ideologies have shaped this oppressive theory, leaving a distinctive perspective on this theory. However, this does not mean that this theory cannot be altered or perceived through a different lens. Even though there are controlled images of a certain race or gender, it does mean that one has to perceive themselves within that controlled image. For instance, if a black woman is stereotyped as a ‘golddigger’ or ‘hoochie’, it does not mean that she has to level herself to that standard. She can look past the controlling images of society and find a job and buy her own things.

Controlling images, which would have been stereotypical images of Black womanhood, were designed to make racism, sexism, poverty and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of everyday life (77). These images were those that kept Black women suppressed and under control of the dominate discourse. These images shape the normality within society which kept the whites as the upper class and any other race as the less unfortunate lower class. A controlling image that was displayed to a U.S. Black woman was the concept of mammy- the faithful, obedient domestic servant. This image symbolizes the dominant group’s perception of the ideal Black female relationship to elite white male power because it supports the racial superiority of White employers (80). These controlling images have even reached a point where it has affected schools, the news media, and government. For example, in schools, during social science research, the Black woman’s sexuality has been influenced by assumptions of the jezebel. Two topics both deemed as social problems were the results in which Black woman’s sexuality appears within AIDS research on adolescent pregnancy. With the growing influence of media display – radio, movies, videos, CDs and internet- the controlled image of Black women has ambushed and circulated at a higher rate and speed. With pop culture being quick to promote sexual images of Black women, there has also been trouble with the way these women have been portrayed through Black hip-hop music videos (93). The fact that they are seen as exploiting themselves puts an even denser effect on the controlled image perspective.

In her book, Black Feminism Thought, Patricia Hill Collins, discusses Black Feminism and the oppressions that many Black women struggled through. One way she describes Black feminism is “as being a racial, class, gender, and sexual constitute mutually constructing systems of oppression” (246). This idea of Black feminism is the standpoint behind the developed concept of controlling images that many women have been trying to overshadow since the World war era and etc. During the 1900s, many Black women were enslaved and positioned as domestic servants. They worked on plantations, where they were seen as the “Aunt Jemima’s” or “mammy’s” because they stayed within a particular work field…which was domesticity and tending to others. Today, some would say that many Black women have strayed away from these domestic duties or any particular job description that tends to exploit them within the domestic work field. However, some theorists like, Omolade point out that Black women have not in deed strayed away from historic domestic duties, such as care taking for white families or maintenance duties. In fact, they have taken new forms, such as working in nursing homes, day care centers, dry cleaners and etc (44).  The positions that these Black women held within the domestic sphere were influenced by the controlling images they were first suppressed by. These controlling images, in due to feminism, have regarded in positioning Black women in another suppressed state due to the controlling image of the ‘Jezebel’. This is where the Black women’s sexual desires come into play. Collins discusses the history of the 19th century conception, the white imagery of female black body and its sexuality. She goes onto distinguish the ways Black women have been portrayal and the social enslavement they have endured due to the dominant race. The ‘Jezebel’ image is this portrayal and sort of “social enslavement” because of the fact that her sexual appetite is inappropriate and insatiable, which labels her as a “freak” (91).  This image is also seen as one side of the normal/deviant binary which gives black women a bad representation.

Jennifer Nash’s article entitled “Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminism and Antipornography Feminism” critiques Patricia Collins and her view of controlling images. According to Nash, “Collins describes ‘controlling images’ as dominate representations that produce and entrench racial-sexual mythologies. These images depict black women as licentious, animalistic, libidinous jezebels; …Collins envisions these images as serving a social purpose: providing justification for the states continued disciplining of the black female body” (57). However, Nash states that one cannot presume a particular view in race because of the systems that have oppressed certain women due to race, class, poverty and inequality. Within her article, Nash declares that she has a problem in which anti-pornography displays and exploits race. Nash vows for the theory of self representation and stands to the claim that images should not be controlled substance for a certain race or class. She holds on to the idea that there should be choice on whether a woman wants to be seen a certain lens. She argues so that sexual desire or pleasure does not limit a woman, for the thought that a woman should be labeled based on her own terms and interpretations and she wants women to drift away from controlling images.

While, Nash focuses more on the Anti-pornographic view, Collins goes against the exploitation or objectification of women within the stages of oppression on a historical stance. Nash’s concept of sexual exploitation through pornography shows how black women’s bodies and black women, especially those with big butts, are perceived. Black women tend to be racialized and sexualized more than white women because of their appearance and curves. They are seen as sex objects and as affordable. For example, since white women are on a higher rank then black women, they are untouchable or unreachable as compared to a black woman who is at a lower rank and is more likely to comply with demands for a means of societal approval. A white woman does not need approval of her beauty or rank because she is dominant race. Nash describes racialization when she states that “while white women are pictured as pillow-soft pussy willows, the stereotype of the Black ‘dominatrix’ portrays the Black woman as ugly, sadistic and animalistic, undeserving of human attention.” (54-55). She also states and explains that “black feminism has become steeped in an ‘epistemological respectability’, producing an intellectual formation that tends to avoid questions about black women’s sexual desires, black queer subjectivities, and the various forms of black women’s pleasures” (53). This can be seen in the way pornography oppresses women and subordinates them on a different spectrum based on their racial rank. The fact that they are Black women it makes them more suitable for the sexual position or pornographic position in which they are exploited in because they are not white, and for both races, this is the norm of society.

Based on Nash’s depiction, feminism has filtered some components from Black women. Their sexual desires and preferences have been controlled by images that have been labeled by society and not black women themselves. However, not many know that sexual desire and pleasure is an important aspect of feminism and dominance. Many link pleasure and liberation but where is the pleasure in being controlled by images of society? Nash describes the ways in which pleasure is depicted through ‘black female subjectivity’ and how sexual desire through the porn industry is not always beneficial for the black woman who is being exploited. Will there be a time where sexuality portrayed by black women will be seen as something more than the dominant cycle? What would be seen as challenging their sexual integrity? As we consider the answer to these questions we are left wondering whether controlled images have evolved elapsed or have they taken shapes in new forms.


Patricia Hill Collins (2008) Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge

Categories: Group Two · Jennifer R

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