To all of those who stopped being “women” after becoming mothers when sexism was not enough… you matter. Not in a molecular mass, purely physical kind of way. Not in the way that led you to become a mother in the first place. But in all of the ways that the human hand could never touch. In all of the ways that broke our hearts when Darius Jackson tweeted “It’s the outfit tho.. you a mom.” In 2023 women are still fighting for womanhood after motherhood what is at the root of this age-old problem?
While the petty side of me responded to Darius’ tweet by thinking “No. It’s the incorrect spelling and incomplete ellipsis… You’re an adult.” The woman in me wondered if there was any place on Earth where #BlackGirlJoy was safe. If not in the presence of our lovers, male & female counterparts, or loved ones… then where? There is a double standard when it comes to our expectations of mothers (regardless of race/ethnicity) versus fathers. This viral moment in the life of Keke Palmer is a great example of intersectional oppression. It demonstrates how patriarchy, sexism, colorism, racism, and the male gaze impact Black women in a unique way.
It’s The Shade For Me:
Alice Walker coined the term “colourism” in 1982. This term wields a duality understood via (1) inter-racial and intra-racial judgments; and (2) perceptions of skin tones (Strmic-Pawl et al. 2011). Thus, colourism can be defined as “The inter and or intra-racial discriminatory treatment of individuals falling within the same social group on the bases of skin color.”
One might ask, how is it possible for Keke Palmer to fall subject to such criticism while Robyn Rihanna Fenty is simultaneously celebrated for walking around practically naked during her second pregnancy? To be clear, all women have the right to dress however they wish without being subject to ridicule. But we should embrace this opportunity to conceptualize the ways in which the male gaze is impacted by colourism. Furthermore, this influences how we uphold (or attack) the motherhood of White/lighter-skinned mothers (Kim Kardashian, Amber Rose, etc.) versus those with darker skin. When was the last time a White/lighter-skinned high-profile woman had to declare “I’m a Motha” in response to backlash regarding their attire?
Rihanna attends the Dior Autumn Winter 2022 show at Paris Fashion Week
The Male Gaze:
Laura Mulvey coined the term “Male Gaze” in 1973 while examining how media “depicts the female body as something for the heterosexual male to watch, conquer, possess and use to further their goals.” Thus empowering men to dictate a woman’s value by robbing her of self-agency. Hence, the woman is merely an extension of a man (her father, her boyfriend, her husband). The male gaze makes it impossible for women to do anything without inviting social scrutiny. So when Darius says,
“We live in a generation where a man of the family doesn’t want the wife & mother of his kids to showcase booty cheeks to please others & he gets told how much of a hater he is. This is my family & my representation. I have standards & morals to what I believe. I rest my case.”
He is perpetuating sexism and the male gaze. For Darius, Keke’s behavior directly impacts his access to self-gratification. Dressing provocatively was ok when Keke was single because he found it attractive. Images of Keke twerking were ok when they were exclusive because they made him the envy of other men. He himself filmed and posted such content. Objectification is so deeply ingrained among men that they often forget the womanhood of their very own mothers. Thus, once Keke became one, she could no longer dress in the manner that both she and Darius had become accustomed to. For this reason, men can be both sexist and misogynistic while claiming to love and respect the women in their families. They’ve created a distinction between the humanity of their mothers and that of those they wish to bed. Despite all of this, Darius lives in a generation where a man can complain about morals after getting his girlfriend pregnant out of wedlock.
Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better:
Sexism is discrimination based on the idea that one sex is better than the other. It celebrates male jezebels (Nick Cannon, NBA Youngboy, Diddy, etc.) for their exorbitant body-counts and “baby mammas” while humbling their female counterparts. It also pits women against other women. Case in point is the weaponization of Winnie Harlow against Keke Palmer. Apparently, Winnie displayed “appropriate behavior” by jumping into her boyfriend’s lap at the Usher concert. But wasn’t the original concern about attire? Winnie’s outfit could arguably be considered more risque than that of Keke’s. So why is Winnie being spared the level of criticism levied against Keke? And therein lies the problem. And for those who feel that Winnie’s attire was appropriate because her man
approved or was by her side. That is paternalism. It incorrectly implies that women innately require guardianship when attempting to employ agency.
Racism – The Trope of A Black Woman:
For Black women, media has been a continual source of dehumanizing stereotypes in which racism and sexism intersect. Three of the most common being that of the Jezebel, the Sapphire, and the Mammy. These tropes dictate that Black women can only be viewed singularly as either a hoe (Jezebel), “backbiting” (angry/aggressive/attitudinal – Sapphire), or completely asexual (Mammy). This makes it impossible for Black women to be romantically desired without fetishization, hyper-sexualization, objectification, possession, or even at all. And one of the reasons that the CDC states, “in comparison to every other U.S. female demographic Black women face significantly higher rates of homicide.”
Patriarchy – The Conclusion:
Racism, colourism, sexism, and the male gaze were all created by men. Society hyper-sexualizes girls and women pressuring them to become jezebels in order to “get chose,” and nuns once chosen. Men can become so married to these ideals that they abandon their self-proclaimed functions (protection and provision) in order to preserve them. Regardless of his intentions, Darius’ words subjected the “mother of his child” to widespread shame and violence. Neither Darius nor Usher has publicly opposed the mass malignment and mistreatment that have ensued. And they probably won’t. While celebrities like Brandon T Jackson have had no problem swooping in to defend Darius Jackson’s right to body shame “his woman.” When you’re a man (*ahem Usher) you can be married, a father, appear onstage shirtless, and completely escape criticism. But if you’re Black and a woman, any expression of self-determination can render you less worthy of your very humanity. And in the words of ‘For Coloured Girls’… my love is too #BIGBOSS to have thrown back in my face! So let the haters click and the heels clack!