Essay Title: London based black men perception of black women sexuality
Black women are generally perceived differently from white women by black men in the London metropolitan area. A number of factors, including colonialism and cultural background, may well have influenced the way these men perceive black women sexuality (Bell-Scott, 1994). This study seeks to analyse the various ways in which black men in London perceive black women sexuality. It will explore the various reasons that have helped to shape existing perceptions over the years. This topic is important because there has been a great deal of academic work that seeks to explore the difference between black and white women as perceived by various segments of the population (Bell-Scott, 1994). Further, it has been quite difficult over the years to clearly establish a universally accepted way in which people perceive black women: studies have come up with different answers to this same question. This is why it is important to carry out this study so as to throw more light on this sensitive issue of identity (Hall & du Gay, 1996). The topic is important when we look at the issue of racism today, and perceptions of difference in our diverse society.
Even though much has been done to combat racism across Europe, it is disappointing to learn that there are still traits of racism and racial practices and attitudes, though to be fair, perhaps no less so than elsewhere in the world. The most common arena where racism has been expressed in recent times is at football matches across Europe. This study will attempt give a different perspective on the issue of black women sexuality. However, the only difference this time will be that the subject will be analysed as seen by black men in the London area. This will give some fresh contribution to the existing knowledge on this topic. This topic is relevant in the field of anthropology because the discipline involves a study of humanity. Given that anthropology studies the historical behaviour of mankind, this topic is relevant as it sets out to study black women sexuality.
Academic scholars have been intrigued by female sexuality over the decades and have carried out multiple studies to unfold some of the mysteries of this subject. Most of these studies have been driven by curiosity on the part on males as well as heterosexual fascinations (Collins, 1990). Most of the investigators researching this topic do so with some hopes of being able to better predict female sexual behaviour. There has been an ever growing desire to better understand and predict sexual behaviour on the part of women by men. Black men in London’s perception on black women’s sexuality have perhaps been greatly influenced by previous portrayals and stereotypes as detailed in research carried out on the subject. This research identified a number of stereotypes about black women’s sexuality (Collins, 1990). In order to better understand black female sexuality, it is important to look at how existing stereotypes have influenced studies on the subject. Some of the questions to be considered include the following: ways in which stereotypes have helped to shape the outcome of previous studies on black women sexuality. The aim of this paper is to analyse the various ways in which western culture has influenced black men in their perception of black women sexuality.
In the 1990s, there were many conferences around the globe that sought to tackle the issue of discrimination against women and the role of women especially in the developing countries (Cox, 1993), and gender studies has been a popular field of study. In order to better understand black female sexuality, it is good to attempt to generally understand what female sexual development involves. Female sexual development is an entire process that changes from one stage to the next; from childhood to adulthood, just like that for the male. The way in which this transformation occurs can significantly influence a woman’s sexual behaviour in her adult life (Staples, 1972). The process of female sexual development involves much more than development in the physical female body; it also includes psychosocial development. It is a combination of both processes that help to develop a woman’s sexuality from childhood to adulthood. The various ways in which this development occurs can influence a woman’s sexual behaviour in future (Collins, 1990). A woman who grows up in a slum is likely to have a sexuality that is different from that of another woman who grew up in a working class family and grew up in a white dominated neighbourhood. This is because the level of promiscuity in the slums is higher than in most other residential areas. As such, younger women who grow up in slums are more exposed to sexual risks.
Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is amongst the leading theories that explain personality development. Like Sigmund Freud, Erikson states that one’s personality is developed though a number of stages. These stages are predetermined. However, Freud’s theory omits the role of social experience through the development process. Erikson’s theory holds that the various stages of human development are affected by an individual’s social experiences (Cox, 1993). The underlying element in Erikson’s theory is the development of our ego identity. Ego identity refers to that conscious sense of self and it is developed as a result of an individual’s social interaction. This identity is constantly changing as a result of the new information and experiences which humans gather in the course of the interactions with others in the society. The theory also stresses the importance of competence or mastery of the different areas of life in which development is occurring (Collins, 1990). When there is such mastery, the individual becomes confident and is more likely to develop faster than he or she would have otherwise done if he/she lacked such knowledge. This competence is sometimes referred to as ego strength. The more ego strength an individual possesses; the faster that individual is likely to develop (Fullilove & Reynolds, 1984). This is because the development process includes time and personal efforts. The more one is informed about a particular aspect of life such as sex education, the more likely it is that individual’s sexual life going to develop faster and better than another individual who is less informed on the subject.
Scholars have been advancing a number of distinctions between white and black women sexuality, but, unfortunately, most of these distinctions are based on already existing stereotypes (Collins, 1990), though to be fair, all stereotypes are based on truth, however partial. Even when such studies rely on questionnaires to gather first hand information from respondents, the information gathered is not always a hundred percent accurate. This is because the respondents are equally influenced by the existing stereotypes out there and their cultural context. Furthermore, for the most part, they tend to give answers which the interviewer expects in order not to appear weird in the face of the interviewer (Collins, 1990). These practices have made it difficult to come up with genuine results that can explain sexuality in women. Both black and white women have a different sexuality that has been constructed by the society, and it would take a great deal of time to get the truth about everything. Moreover, there may well be genetic and innate differences in sexuality: black children enter puberty about a year earlier than whites, for example.
Sexuality can also be viewed from a wider perspective that considers not just physical developments but psychological and social aspects (Chilman, 1983). These various aspects are capable of influencing the way a woman’s sexuality develops. During the process of sexual development, individuals are challenged with some tasks that need to be resolved in order to for them to accurately understand their sexuality (Fraser & Greco, 2005). Chilman’s analysis focuses on female sexuality in the light of managing sex and preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. According to the study conducted by Chilman, black women are more exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies (Chilman, 1983).
There are a lot of myths about black women sexuality that need, perhaps, to be debunked. Psychological scholars have long established that people’s sense of themselves is largely influenced by the way others perceive them. The same is true for women. Most women’s sense of themselves is arguably shaped by society’s perception about them as well as biology and evolutionary instinct. Black women are not an exception to the norm (Fullilove & Reynolds, 1984) and there are many black women whose sexuality has been influenced by society. Their sexual behaviour is perhaps consistent with society’s expectations from them. In this light therefore, before attempting to understand the sexuality of black women, it is important to first look at the sexual identities that society has placed on these women (Staples, 1972). Otherwise, our understanding of black women sexuality could be shallow (Gutiérrez, 1990). This is because it is difficult to separate the sexual identity ascribed to these women from their sexuality. These women are likely to adopt the kind of sexual behaviour that society has ascribed onto them: to ‘play up’ to the image, like black boys playing the ‘gansta’. Sexuality literature has three major identities for the black woman. These include the following (Gutiérrez, 1990):-
i.) the sexless but nurturing woman
ii.) The sexually loose woman
iii.) An emasculating sapphire.
All these stereotypes have defined the way society perceives black women when it comes to sexuality (Lykes, 1983). No matter which of the above three ways black women are considered, it has been documented that black women sexuality has been influenced by a number of historical factors. These include the sexual exploitation propagated by the white colonial master during the colonial era (Lykes, 1983), though there was great exploitation of blacks by blacks well before that period. There was a prevalence of white supremacy at the time and white men who set out on colonisation missions often exploited beautiful black women (Staples, 1972), (though traditionally many Asian and African cultures value fair skin in females, as did the Arab slave traders who targeted women and children, and the Arab Barbary pirates who are estimated to have stolen one million whites, mostly women, from Europe from the 14th to 18th centuries). This attitude was later passed down from generation to generation and has helped to influence contemporary black women sexuality (Lykes, 1983). It is not as if the women were interested in having sex with their white colonial masters for the sake of love. Instead, these impoverished women were lured into the beds of these white men who offered them small gifts (Lykes, 1983). In some cases, the colonial masters offered special favours to the families of these innocent black women (Lykes, 1983). This arguably helped to shape the current sexual behaviour of black women: their identity has affected their way of life in a way that no one expected (Woodward, 1997). The fact that they are black has expose them to some risks that they would not have otherwise been exposed to if they had been born white (Woodward, 1997), though one must remember that most white people were exploited by the ruling classes in history too! To begin with, most of them have relatively low levels of education and find it hard to get good jobs, so they are left with no option but to turn to the other pleasures of life to gain consolation. These distractions include alcohol, drugs and sex. Children who grow up in decent families and gain good education are less likely to involve themselves in such risky behaviours. It is worth remembering that most immigrants to Britain from Jamaica and Africa have been from the lower social classes, however, and so it would be wrong to blame British society for their failure to succeed.
During the slave trade era, black women were the sexual victims of slave traders who singled out beautiful black women and used them for their sexual satisfaction (Fullilove & Reynolds, 1984) – but, of course, most slave-catchers and slave-traders were, in fact, black Africans who exploited these women too and always had. These men repeatedly had sex with these women as it pleased them; the women had no choice. It was all about exploitation by slave traders who had power. Once these slaves were sold to their masters, they also took their turn to sexually exploit these women (Lykes, 1983). Out of fear, and the wish to be considered, these women gave in to sex with these men. This behaviour perhaps helped to shape current day black women sexuality, because this attitude was passed down from one generation to the next (Fullilove & Reynolds, 1984). And at some point, black women began looking at sex as a mere action with little emotional attachments. If black women are “sexually loose” today, it is maybe because they have been trained to be like that as a result of some of the historical experiences they have gone through especially during the slave trade and later in the colonial era (Murry & Long, 1993). On the other hand, it is maybe because that is their culture and the slave trade excuse is just yet another example of playing the ‘race card’ to justify bad black behaviour. Plenty of people of all races have been exploited in history, after all. Arguably, though, it take just one little thing to influence a chain of events and for them to have a completely different outcome. In the case of black female sexuality, colonialism and the slave trade contributed enormously to the prevailing sexual behaviour of black women today – even if only because they allow their perceptions of themselves been formed by the incessant focus on slavery by blacks. Even their sometimes aggressive nature can be linked to the fact that these black women are oppressed for their gender while in their communities by sexist black men, and they are the perhaps racially discriminated against when they come into contact with whites.
Currently, there is much talk about the high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies within the black female population (Smith & Moore, 1993). This is perhaps partially caused by the relatively lower standard of living that exists within this segment of the population (Smith & Moore, 1993), though not all poor people are promiscuous! Black girls, however, can start puberty much earlier than whites or Orientals, so have sex earlier – as, indeed, girls often do min countries like Jamaica. Black women experience a relatively higher level of unemployment and consequently poverty when compared to their white counterparts (Rappaport, 1985). Consequently, these women are more tempted to indulge into sexual activity as they are idle and have nothing to occupy themselves with. When there is poverty, there are more chances that these women would involve themselves in promiscuity and risky behaviour that most often ends up in unwanted pregnancies, teenage abortion and sexually transmitted diseases (Smith & Moore, 1993). When there is employment, women are busy and have many other things to think about other than having fun and sex. Such women concentrate much of their efforts on their career and how to improve on their personal life and health. They generally have less time for men. The same can be said of men, of course: poor uneducated men are often the fathers of the children these black girls give birth to.
Black women have been somewhat mute when it comes to their sexuality. This is because black women have a relatively lower level of exposure when compared to their white counterparts. Lower exposure means lower levels of sexual education and it is difficult to talk about things that you are not current about, exacerbated by a typically conservative and religious black family culture. Meanwhile, white women tend to be relatively more conscious of their sexuality and have control over themselves (Murry & Long, 1993) – (though this is a massive generalisation in the UK where over 90% of people are white: not all white are the same!). This is because there is relatively more poverty amongst black women. As such, they are some times desperate and are ready to give in to sex with whoever they think can protect them and provide them with their basic necessities even for a day (Murry & Long, 1993). In this light, therefore, it is accurate to say that poverty has helped to shape contemporary black women sexuality. When women are able to provide for themselves, they tend to be less dependent on men and can exercise greater sexual control (Staples, 1972). The same is true of whites. Under such circumstances, sex becomes a thing of emotion and not economic bargaining. Men are always conscious of these weaknesses and are willing to take advantage of women who find themselves in a tight corner as a result of poverty (Staples, 1972), just as women are ready to exploit well-off men. There are many black women who live with men because these men provide them with food and accommodation. In reality, they would not move in if they had a job and could provide for themselves, but this is mere evoli=utionary behaviour and survival, and will never change, therefore.
This study consulted primary and secondary sources. In order to better understand how black men in London perceive black women sexuality, some black men were consulted and their opinions were gathered for this work. Some of my respondents said that black women are more sexually appealing, and even inappropriate than white, when naked. They explained this as a result of the fact that black women are much curvier than white women. Men tend to prefer women with great curves and this seem to be the reason why some of the respondents said black women were more sexually appealing in the study. When I asked the respondents where black and white women would be physically similar, they still repeated that black women were more sexualised again. They did not give any explanation. Instead, all they said was a repetition that black women are curvy. Some of the respondents said white women were not as loud and aggressive as black women. And some other respondents said white women were more likely to open you doors when it comes to business as a result of good contacts. Some black men even had difficulties in understanding some of my questions with regards to their preference between black and white women. Some of these men, especially those from Africa, said that for cultural reasons they preferred black women. And when it comes to marriage, they would like to marry a black woman who comes from the same country and even tribe like themselves. Interesting, of course, if white men said they only liked white women, they might be called racist, though many cultures like to marry ‘in’ and not ‘out’.
Some respondents emphasised that in the case where a black man has a good relationship with his mother, it is more likely that such a man would prefer to get married to a black woman. This is because his culture expects him to get married to a black woman. However, a few respondents said they had no preference for a particular race and would date a woman irrespective of whether she is a black or white. One of these men emphasised a purely sexual relationship. Most of the information gathered for this study was qualitative and not quantitative. As such, there was flexibility in the various types of answers received. The above analyses suggest that black men in London have varying perceptions when it comes to black women sexuality. Some perceive them as sexier than whites while others simply do not care about race when it comes to selecting women.
Most black women are in need of self efficacy. Self efficacy refers to an individual’s perception about her ability to control events in her life. The first step towards achieving this is by fighting for her financial independence (Murry & Long, 1993). Black women need to invest more time and efforts in educating themselves and finding the right jobs that would enable them to be able to take care of themselves and children. Once they are able to achieve that dream, the next thing is that they would be able to take more control of themselves and their sexuality (Murry & Long, 1993). Failure to do so would make them continue to be dependent on others and lack control of their sexuality. They would continue to be sexually exploited by their male counterparts as they would lack the necessary power required to have absolute control of their lives.
Some black women live in appalling situations and have confronted multiple challenges in daily life including the issue of race, gender and class in society (Pinderhughes, 1984). They encounter gender discrimination both within and outside of their communities. They experience racism at one point from both white men and women, and many black men who prefer white women too like famous black role models. A combination of both the racial and gender challenges that these women confront on a day to day basis affects the development of their sexuality in a negative manner. They tend to be treated like inferior beings, something which makes them to lose self esteem – though black girls do much better than black boys at school in the UK these days. As earlier mentioned in this paper, individuals perceive themselves depending on the way they are perceived by the society in which they live (Staples, 1972). When these women are discriminated against from all angles, they tend to look down on themselves and appear helpless even when it comes to taking control of their sexuality, something that that they need no special course or training to take control of. This leads to the loose sexual lives that some – though not all – of these women live. This has many consequences including unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (Smith & Moore, 1993). Black women who manage to educate themselves and get jobs for themselves can be discriminated against and hardly ever find themselves among the top positions of the organisations in which they work – though most whites do not reach the top positions either, and social class is arguably a much more important factor in career success than any perceived racial discrimination. All this tends to give black women the notion that they are weak and dependent human beings.
Black women are more likely to suffer from mental and physical health problems no matter the social status in which they find themselves. This is partly because black women need to be empowered in order to rise up above the problems and barriers that society has created for them (Murry & Long, 1993). But health problems and also innate – blacks have more heart problems, strokes and diabetes for hereditary reasons. There is much talk about gender equality and emancipation of women. Almost everyone is aware that much has been done when it comes to improving on the status of women in general, and black women in particular. However, it is important to admit that no matter how much has been done, there is still more to do. Women still suffer as a result of their race and colour and these women need to be supported. Some women are so discouraged that they relegate themselves to the backgrounds, and as a result, men mostly perceive them in the light of sexuality (Pinderhughes, 1984). Many men have reduced black women to the level of sex instruments and objects; they fail to see that women are much more than a representation of sex. Even when they talk about women, there is very little reference to other issues such as career, education or family. All they focus on is the sexual aspect of the lives of these women and how these women can be domesticated. But then, this is just evolution: a woman’s fertility if the most important thing about her in pure biological terms, and a man’s status will get him more sexual partners and offspring, so status is more important to men, arguably.
These ‘stereotypes’ suggest that the black woman’s major role is that of mothering. She has no needs or desires for herself and is contented when all is well with the children. She is unromantic, sexless and can be very aggressive or subordinate at times (Bell-Scott, 1994). This makes it difficult to predict the black woman. The stereotypes also hold that the black woman who has little or no worries about becoming financially independent and having a job (Pinderhughes, 1984). Once her husband can take care of the financial needs of the family, she is there to provide the domestic assistance needed to keep the house in tact. These stereotypes are gradually changing as black women are becoming more ambitious than they have been in the past. However, it is worth remembering that some women, black and white, actually want to be good mothers and wives, and do not want careers; many researchers perhaps forget this fact and assume all women will be like them and aspire to what they want. Black women have high hopes and big dreams to achieve most of the things men dream of (Bell-Scott, 1994). All they need is the required support from their male counterparts. This is because society is more advanced today and there has been a lot of education and media campaigns that have sensitised women in general, and awoken the spirit of emancipation in black women in particular.
To conclude, black men in London have varying perceptions of black women, but most of those consulted in this study prefer black women rather than whites. This would seem to be the opposite of the tastes of famous black men, in the UK at least, most of whom seem to marry white women (e.g. Frank Bruno, Leo Ferdinand, and in the US, Tiger Woods). They believe black women are sexier and some of these men’s decisions are based on their cultural backgrounds, and some cultures in Africa expect men to marry from within the tribe they hail from. Black women have less control of their sexuality as a result of their weak financial power. If these women are capable of achieving their financial independence, they would likely gain more control of their sexuality. Besides, when they have a job, these women would be able to think about themselves and their careers, giving less time to other issues like men and sex (Boyd, 1993). This would reduce the prevalence of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases amongst women (Smith & Moore, 1993). Although there is much talk about the powerlessness of black women, it is rare to come across a black woman who is as powerless as described in most of the existing literature on the sexuality of black women. At least before a black woman will make the decision whether or not to jump into bed with a man, most of the decisions will be made by herself unless in the case of rape. Indeed, very many black women are single and reject the idea of marrying at all, especially black men whose attitude can be sexist and who may not want to get married at all, and most of whom are less educated and of a lower social class than black women. In this light therefore, it is inappropriate to describe black women as powerless when they have some degree of control over their sexuality; black men may well be more powerless; people of all colours from the lowest social classes may well be the most powerless of all, and race may be just a distraction here. Many black women are working harder today than in the past, in an effort to gain more personal control and the ability to impact the lives of those around them. The dream of many of these women is to grow into powerful and influential black women such as Oprah Winfrey and Tyra Banks, global television talk show hosts who have been able to impact the lives of those around them and grow beyond the boundaries society has built for black women through existing stereotypes. There is enough reason for black women to be positive about themselves today because many black women have proven their worth in international sports, music, movie and other industries.
Bell-Scott, P. (Ed.). (1994) Life notes: Personal writings by contemporary Black women. New York: Norton.
Boyd, J. (1993) In the company of my sisters: Black women and self-esteem. New York: Dutton
Chilman, C. (1983) The development of adolescent sexuality. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 16, 16-25
Collins, P. (1990) Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman
Cox, T., Jr. (1993) Cultural diversity in organizations: Theory, research, and practice. San Francisco: Berret-Koehler
Hall, S. and du Gay, P. (eds) (1996) Questions of Identity, London: Sage
Fraser, M. and Greco, M. (ed.)(2005) The Body: A Reader, London: Routledge
Fullilove, M., & Reynolds, T. (1984). Skin color in the development of identity: A biopsychosocial model, Journal of the National Medical Association, 76 (6), 587-591
Gutiérrez, L. (1990) Working with women of color: An empowerment perspective. Social Work, 35 (2), 149-153
Lykes, M. (1983) Discrimination and coping in the lives of Black women. Journal of Social Issues, 39, 79-100
Murry, V. & Long, J. (1993) Thoughts about self-identity and adolescent sexuality, Round table presentation at Groves Conference, Orange Beach, Alabama
Pinderhughes, E. (1984) Teaching empathy: Ethnicity, race, and power at the cross-cultural treatment interface. American Journal of Social Psychiatry, 4 (1), 5-12
Rappaport, J. (1985) The power of empowerment language. Social Policy, 17 (2), 15-21
Smith, D., & Moore, J. (1993) Epidemiology: Manifestations and treatment of HIV infection in women. Unpublished report. Center for Disease Control
Staples, R. (1972) Research on Black sexuality: Its implication for family life, sex education, and public policy. The Family Coordinator, 21 (2), 183-188.
Woodward, K. (ed.) (1997) Identity and Difference, London: Sage