Blogging the Theoretical

The conceptualization of Power through pornography by Olivia McManus

September 24, 2011 · 1 Comment




Although Patricia Hill Collins discusses the intrinsic relationship between Black Women’s oppression and power, I wish to specifically focus on her argument concerning the exploitation of Black Female sexuality and its relationship to the power dynamics of oppression. Although sexuality can be interpreted among other oppressors, such as race, class, or gender, Hill Collins argues, that instead of standing alone, it is the “conceptual glue that binds intersecting oppressions together” (145). Thus, sexuality becomes connected to every aspect of oppression that is present within the three categories listed previously. More specifically, Hill Collins argues, that pornography represented and still represents the apex of sexual oppression towards Black Female Sexuality. Porn stands as the conceptualization of power in opposition to Black female sexual freedom.

Hill Collins argues, that the origin of pornography actually began with the sexual exploitation of Black women in the 19th century. The bodies of slaves were put on display representing objects of desire for the rich white male. The most well know example of this phenomenon is the exhibition of Sarah Bartmann, the “Hottenton Venus”. She was often shown at “fashionable parties” wearing little clothing as a form of entertainment. She came to represent sexual deviance. She was not the norm, and exploited by her owner to show off her “different” sexuality. She was reduced to nothing more than her genitalia (148). This form of power over Black Female sexuality was orchestrated by the domineering white male.

In addition to the exploitation of Bartmann, we must examine the creation and continued existence of controlling images. Hill Collins specifics six concrete representations of the Black Female, all of which can be interpreted as negative categories of Black Female sexuality. Lets begin with the criticisms of a lack of sexuality and a disruption of the heterosexual norm: Mammy, Middle Class Professional, and the Black welfare mother. The Mammy is represented as an asexual servant to those whom she works for. She represents a mothering figure of sort, and has no connection to sexual urges. The Middle Class Professional is commonly associated with the image of the male-eating Black lesbian. One who is so career driven, that she has pushed all the men away. She exists outside this norm of heterosexual passivity. Lastly, the welfare mother is commonly seen to be a single mother “using the countries resources”, because she is single she also breaks with the heterosexual norms of marriage and bonding. The last three are objectified due to their supposed “hyper-sexuality”: Jezebel, Hooche, and the Matriarch. The Jezebel is represented as the extreme hyper sexualized monster. This ideology regulates “all black women to the category of sexually aggressive …” (Collins 89). The Hooche is criticized for her aggressive sexual appetites, where at best is misbehaved and at worst a criminal. Lastly, the Matriarch is criticized for being a “bad black mother”. She has let men walk all over her and is in the position she resides, because of her lack of physical and mental defense against men. However, this is not their fault, but hers (Collins 83-84).

Each controlling image casts a negative shadow on the sexuality of Black women. They cannot be strong without being a lesbian, enjoy sex without being a Hooche or a jezebel, or be their own woman without being called a bad mother. Although many of these images were created during slavery, their existence persists into our society, and their continual existence, maintains the power dynamic in which Black women’s sexuality is placed firmly at the bottom. Hill Collins goes on to conclude, that this has not changed, she views this aspect of power to have merged and morphed into 21st century pornography.

According to Hill Collins, the role of the Black Woman in pornography is completely dependent on the hyper-sexualized controlling images created during slavery. She argues, that these depictions are seen in modern day porn, animalizing the Black Female. Either they are depicted as extremely sexually aggressive, or they are reduced to their sexual organs, paraded around as animals or treated as a mule (Collins, 150). Thus, porn reconceptualizes power over the Black female, in relation to the continued existence of controlling images.

However, according to Nash, this view of the power of pornography is incorrect in some senses. Nash looks to disconnect the reading of modern pornography through the lens of 19th century oppression. She believes that Hill Collins fails to acknowledge the change in society, technology, culture, and the sexual power of the black female. By viewing porn though the exploitative experiences of Sarah Bartmann, we come to define all black women’s sexualities through these lenses. In addition, we fail to understand that there exists a possibility for Black women, and women in general to not be exploited by this “power porn”.  Also, it erases all potential for pleasure in viewing from any queer sexualities, or non-white spectatorship, and it silences a diversity of viewing pleasure.

Nash argues for a taking back of this viewing pleasure, and to reclaim sexual power through self-representation. The viewing lenses of 19th century slavery and sexuality are shadowing the desire for self-representation today. The opinions of Black Feminists, and Antipornography Feminists, are in turn casting a negative power structure back onto the sexuality of Black women, instead of breaking down the oppression that still exists.

Although Nash calls for a rising for new terms of self-representation, one must ask, whether this is a possibility? Here in lies the crux of Black women’s sexuality. Although the thoughts of Black feminists, and antipornography feminists are more restrictive than freeing, how are Black women allowed to create self-representation of their sexualities, without being influenced by the oppression that controls the lenses, in which their sexualities are interpreted in the first places. So is power in the sense of controlling sexualities unavoidable, or are Black women truly in an age in which they can control their own sexual agency?


Categories: Group Two · Olivia

1 response so far ↓

  •   ogmcma08 // Sep 24th 2011 at 8:15 am

    Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge Classics, 2009.

    Nash, Jennifer C. “Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminism and Antipornography Feminism.” Social Text. 26.4 (2008): 51-70.

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