CMN 3104 Chapter Notes - Chapter 7: Saartjie Baartman, True Women, Close Reading
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Music and New Media
7.6 GENDER AND RACE AS MEANING SYSTEMS: UNDERSTANDING
THEORETICAL, HISTORICAL, AND INSTITUTIONAL IMPLICATIONS
OF SEXUALIZED IMAGERY IN RAP MUSIC: Kiana Cox
•!The author analyzes the songs on Billboard’s “Hot Rap Singles”
charts, and explores implications of the sexualization of African
American women in rap music.
The author explores some theoretical, historical, and policy implications of
the sexualization of African American women in rap.
The article considers the historic roots of the imagery seen in contemporary
rap music videos; the ways in which gendered, racialized, and even sexist
meanings have been attached to African American women’s bodies; how
these meanings show up in institutions that actually affect many aspects of
African American women’s daily lives; and ultimately, how media play a role
in reflecting, constructing, and maintaining these systems of meaning.
HEGEMONIC FEMININITY AND SEXUAL REPRESENTATIONS OF
AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN
•!Aside form being axes of stratification that differentially affect
people’s life chances, race and gender are also systems of
meanings that are applied to bodies and actions.
•!These systems of meaning are not random sets of race and gender
•!Rather they are organized components of hegemonic ideologies.
•!Collins advances a theory of hegemonic femininity which will serve
as the theoretical foundation for this article.
•!Hegemonic femininity is a set of characteristics, behaviours, and
interactions that represent the totality of “normal” womanhood.
•!These characteristics, behaviours, and interactions are standards
against which the femininity of all women is measured.
•!They are hegemonic in that only particular women can achieve
them, though all women tend to deem them normal and accurate.
•!In the US, “normal” femininity is fully embodied in the form of
white, middle-class, heterosexual womanhood.
•!In the history of African American women’s representations, there
are two aspects of hegemonic femininity that are at the forefront:
physical characteristics and sexual uses of the body.
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•!Within the context of hegemonic femininity, physical characteristics
serve as a primary marker for proper womanhood.
•!True women should not be mistaken for men, and therefore should
have visible breasts, hips, and round butts.
•!Beauty is also a very imp physical aspect of hegemonic femininity.
•!The epitome of a beautiful woman in this hegemonic system of
femininity is a young and slim white woman.
•!Therefore, a woman’s level of beauty is highly contingent upon her
body type and race.
•!Hegemonic femininity also sets the boundaries for acceptable
actions of the body, specifically how the body is used sexually and
how the woman acts in relation to men.
•!Overall, a woman’s actions in relation to men are more feminine if
she is submissive and deferential (respectful) to male authority.
•!This also includes sex, in which a truly feminine woman only allows
heterosexual men access to her body and that access must occur
within the confines of marriage.
•!Historically, stereotypical images have depicted women of African
descent as violating these tenets of normal femininity.
•!The European Hottentot Venus and the American Jezebel are
specific sexualized representations of women of African descent
that were used to juxtapose (compare) normal and deviant notions
of femininity and sexuality.
•!The Hottentot Venus is the coalescing of myths and facts about
•!In ancient times anyone who was native to Africa was assumed to
be overtly sexual.
•!The term “Hottentot” was used to describe groups of Africans who
were claimed to have a “savage and wild” sexual appetite.
•!European explorers cited physical characteristics such as the large
buttocks of certain African women, as proof of their wild and
•!In Europe, Saartjie Baartman was the real-life embodiment of racist
and sexist notions of physical difference.
•!Her body represents a violation of hegemonic femininity in that it is
too feminine – her breasts, hips, and buttocks are too large.
•!However, the American controlling image of Jezebel is also a
deviation from “normal” femininity.
•!In addition to prescribing how the body should look, hegemonic
femininity also sets the boundaries for acceptable actions of the
body, specifically how the body is used sexually and how the
woman acts in relation to men.
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