Recently I was having a conversation with a friend and we were discussing sexuality and the policing of Black girls' bodies. She was saying how she had female friends upward of 40 years old, who had never experienced an orgasm before. I was not surprised by this revelation, as I have met many young Black women who were in the same boat. It caused me to start thinking about my childhood and the ways in which our bodies and sexuality were controlled by everyone but ourselves. The notion of a woman never having an orgasm simply confirmed the idea of a woman’s body not belonging to her, rather something she simply carried with her.
For many, our upbringings taught us that we are the stewards and not the owners of our bodies. We were simply safe keeping them, first for our fathers and if there was no father present, then our brothers and uncles– only to be later handed over to our partners.
Growing up, I was terrified and intrigued by my body and the idea of sex. I grew up with a village of elders, and regardless of relation, they all had the same authority over my body. The boys climbed trees, hopped fences, played video games and so did we. There was never the dichotomy of play that said girls did this and boys did that. But there were always rules that the females in the family had to follow.
From a young age, us girls were both shamed and celebrated at the same time. We were celebrated for having the ability to dance and move our bodies in rhythm with the music. But we were also taught that our bodies could get us into trouble. We were not supposed to dress in a certain manner, because it would cause the unwanted attention of men. We could not stay out past a certain time, because only whores walked the streets at night. Furthermore, we were instructed not to walk with a switch in our hips or we would be seen as being “too grown.”
Girls who did not subscribe to the rules were “fast." Correction: Girls who were rebellious of the rules were, "fast ass little girls." I never wanted to be called that. I never wanted to walk with a switch and I never wanted to do something that would be frowned upon by my elders. It was like placing a scarlet letter around a child’s neck. Imagine telling children as young as 5 years old that you all cannot hang around this cousin because she was “too fast." Never mind the fact that we were simply mimicking how to be women from the ones around us. These lessons taught us many things about how our bodies and behaviors were perceived by the world. It trained us to silence our bodies–and worse, our sexuality.
And once puberty hit and we could no longer hide our curves nor quiet the eager men, it taught us to be ashamed of the attention we received.
The weight of sexuality rests on the female species. The only thing that we were taught about it was that you could get pregnant and that being sexually expressive was wrong. Love never entered the conversation and the idea of sex being a shared experience was not apart of the dialogue. Sex was a male thing. Our male relatives and friends were taught that sex made you a man and multiple sexual partners made you THE man. Meanwhile, it made women the victims of their sexual conquest. I saw my older male cousins and uncles go through women as if they were drinking water, but wanted us to be chaste. It was confusing. While we were being taught to hide our bodies due to it invoking the idea of sex, we were being shown that sex was what bonded a man and a woman. Women were never taught what to look for in a partner and how to value our own bodies. We were just taught that sex for women is wrong, sex is what men want, and a good woman satisfies her man. Sex is more confusing than pleasurable for a woman.
For many of my female relatives, the old folks fears came true. They were having empty sex with men who were just like our uncles, brothers, cousins and for some, our fathers. They were not exempt from the women rotating in and out of our relative’s beds.
These girls were not "fast," they were misled. They simply loved themselves based on how they were loved. We were given tough love, that type of "do what I say or else love." The society I grew up in was more concerned with policing Black girls' bodies rather that fostering their son’s respect of their daughter’s existence. If a Black woman took agency and control over her body, then men were justified in taking power over it. Phrases such as, “She shouldn’t be dressing like that” and “The only things open this late is white castles and legs” permeated our upbringing. It’s funny how patriarchy and supremacy occur in rooms where there are no men, because it is so engrained in society. Our elders, who were mostly women, thought they were protecting us. Notwithstanding some of their multiple husbands and children by different fathers, perhaps they did not want the same things for us. But their way of showing us to respect ourselves was by shaming our womanhood before our conscious minds registered what a woman was. We were never taught what a healthy body image, sexuality or relationship looked or felt like. There is nothing wrong with wanting to protect your children, but by making them enemies of their bodies and other natural processes of life, does more damage than good.
While I may be an idealist, I am not naive. I know the gruesome statistics of single-parent households among Black families. I also understand that the village in which I was raised in no longer exists like it did in the past. However, there are still things that we can do to develop healthy habits in our children.
For starters, we can begin by stopping body-shaming and the negative policing of our daughters' bodies. We must teach her to love every curve of her figure and value every thought in her mind and feeling in her heart. We must teach her that her womb is a bearer of life and not someone’s playground. We must show her that we love her fully, so that she knows how to do the same for herself. We must also teach her to find peace early in life, so that she does not struggle with finding it later on. Take interest in her interest and foster her talents, and teach her that if her partner loves her and wants to be with her, then they will wait for her.
Be honest with her about your mistakes instead of hiding them, for she learns from what she sees in you.
On the other side, we must do the same for our sons. Teach him that his manhood is a carrier of life and not a weapon of war. Teach him that a woman has control of her body and it is not for him to decide how she exercises it. Teach him to be one with his emotions and feelings as opposed to repressing them. We must show our young Black brothers that love does not make him weak, Show him how to find peace early in life, so that he does not struggle to find it later on. Teach him to respect others, as he would have them to respect his mother, more importantly, teach him to love and respect himself.
As a community, we must understand that we cannot shield our children from sexuality. The more we hold back valuable information from our youth regarding this topic, the more they march forward without the proper information to make informed decisions about their bodies. Stop shaming your daughters and start teaching your sons how to take responsibility for their actions. Children will one day become adults and as their elders, you must give them the tools needed to make productive and healthy decisions. The more self-love and worth a child has, the healthier the adult that will become.
A native of St. Louis, Erica Wright (Amari Rene), is a true citizen of the world. While she currently resides in Chicago, she has lived in New York, Washington D.C., Mexico and Ghana. Erica considers herself a social artist. She uses her talents and love of writing, poetry and photography to connect with everyday people around her to tell their stories, through their own unique lens. Having a masters degree in counseling psychology and being a natural humanitarian has given Erica the skills to connect with people on a global level. For more of Erica’s work, visit www.thestooplife.com.