Damned Either Way: Women of Color and Sexualized Desexualization

Author’s Note: Because I am white and do not identify as a person of color (POC), the majority of this post will consist of excerpts from POC writers supplemented by my connections between them.

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

This old phrase perfectly sums up this posts’s topic: sexualized desexualization. Now, I know that you’re thinking. How can someone be sexualized and desexualized?

Sexualized desexualization means that people have been desexualized by stripping away all forms of desirability but “they also have been sexualized in that all of their worth and value in society is based on their desirability” (Tory). Phrased another way, this means that women of color, for example, are inherently seen as desexualized people and, thus, worthless. But when they are valued, it is only because of their desirability as sexual objects. This contributes to what is called hypersexualization.

The hypersexualization of women of color is rooted in colonialist discourse. Shantyana C. Lledin’s post, “I’m Not Your Spicy Latina,” describes this progression of events by saying, “Colonizing land usually also meant colonizing the women inhabiting that land. They were described as uncivilized, hypersexualized, sexually inferior, and savage” (Lledin). In the context of the United States, this colonialist influence in the history of Black hypersexualization roots itself in this country’s history of slavery:

Slavery existed as a sexual economy, and that black bodies have always been…erotic–kind of illicit erotic commodities in an economy that is built upon our labor. And one of the ways in which black communities try to deal with that is through kind of this culture of dissemblance or scholars discuss it…disidentifying with sexuality…in order to protect their selves from that kind of symbolic and actual threat that…being hypersexual posed. (Chideya)

The existence of hypersexualized desexualization causes women of color to be constantly aware of how they are being perceived and how they are expressing their sexuality. Chideya touches on this hyperawareness when they discuss how Black communities misidentify from sexuality in order to protect themselves from being perceived as a threat. In a personal interview with Shawn+, who identifies as a queer, transmasucline, second-generation Cuban immigrant, they brought up how hyper sexualization impacted them. “I was socialized as a Hispanic female and there is tons of sexualization to ‘live up to,’” Shawn said. “The bodies of women of color have a long history of being highly objectified and sexualized, so when I began exploring my gender identity, I received much backlash” (Anonymous).

Sexualized desexualization also creates a layer of invisibility. Women of color are not only subject to the hypersexualized gaze of, primarily, white men but are also impacted by the invisibility of desexualization. Zoya Haroon’s article, “Growing Up Brown: Desexualized and Hyper-sexualized,” critically examines the white male gaze:

You’re not beautiful, you’re not desirable, but at the same time you’re somehow overly sexual.You don’t have any power over your body—it does what it likes. Sexuality does not originate from your body, but the possibility of strange men’s sexuality is constantly in your mind, policing what you wear and how you perceive yourself. (Haroon)

White people commonly perceive people of color as the “other” in a predominantly white space. Particularly in dating, women of color are desexualized and made invisible, according to Chaya Babus’ article, “Walking the Tightrope: Good Indian Girls, Race, and Bad Sexuality”:

Women of color were mostly unseen as partner options. And if we landed in the purview somehow, it was, at best, to be mentioned as perhaps pretty and then quickly dismissed (you know, the “Wow, you’re pretty for an Indian girl” line) or, at worst, to be ridiculed for our ugliness. I undoubtedly stood out in this context – ashy knees in the winter, unruly mane of thick, black hair in a sea of pale midriffs and near-ubiquitous gold or platinum highlights – but I was also invisible. And that external gaze is powerful: the invisibility desexualized me. (Babu)

Rather than, “Damned if you do, damned it you don’t,” think about sexualized desexualization as, “Sexualized if you’re seen, desexualized if you’re not.”

Up next, a look at desexualized sexualization and submission of South Asian and East Asian women.

+ Name has been changed.

References

Anonymous. Personal Interview. 11 Nov. 2015.

Babu, Chaya. “Walking the Tightrope: Good Indian Girls, Race, and Bad Sexuality.” The Feminist Wire. The Feminist Wire, 2013. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Chideya, Farai. “Sex Stereotypes of African Americans Have Long History.” NPR. NPR, 2007. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.

Haroon, Zoya. “Growing Up Brown: Desexualized and Hyper-sexualized.” Feminspire. Feminspire Media Network, LLC, 2013. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Lledin, Shantyana C. “I’m Not Your Spicy Latina.” The Feminist Wire. The Feminist Wire, 2012. Web. 2 Jan. 2015.

Tory. “Let’s Talk About Sexualized Desexualization.” You Have the Right to Remain Right Here with Me. Tumblr, Inc., 2014. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

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