While white women's sexuality is celebrated in movies and magazines, Black women acting out the same behavior are relegated to the ranks of whoredom. This gross double standard is rooted in slavery and super-exploitation of Black females, who were made prey to white male lust and depicted as sexually animalistic, in addition to bearing the burden of unremunerated labor. Conversely, "even at her most licentious," a white woman "is made to appear innocent, wholesome and strangely virginal."
A ‘Ho' By Any Other Color: The History and Economics of Black Female Sexual Exploitation
Dr. Edward Rhymes
Don Imus in his "apology" went on to say that the term "ho" didn't originate in the white community, but rather in the Black community. As the term "ho" is a variation of the word "whore" (a word not foreign to the American lexicon and indeed has been used with great frequency in the white community), that assertion does not hold water. So once again, what is endemic in American society is viewed as a specific "Black" identifier or just a "Black thing." That would be the equivalent of saying that the first person to call the television a TV undeniably invented it or the individual who first referred to the automobile as a car, now holds the patent to the creation. However, let it be understood, this truth does not excuse or exonerate sexist hip-hop from its shameful contribution to the debasement of women.
In regard to gender, there have been two, pronounced, conflicting and unjust narratives concerning female sexuality in America. Although all women who were viewed or accused as loose or promiscuous faced the ire and consternation of a (predominantly white) male-dominated society, there has always been this duplicitous racial application of the penalties incurred for committing perceived "moral" crimes against society. Historically, White women, as a category, have been portrayed as examples of self-respect, self-control, and modesty - even sexual purity - but Black women were often (and still are) portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory. I would like to focus on the various ways White female sexual promiscuity has been viewed, recognized and oft-times celebrated in today's media and in popular culture.
In her publication, "Female Chauvinist Pigs," New York magazine writer Ariel Levy argues that the recent trend for soft-porn styling in everything from music videos to popular TV is reducing female sexuality to its basest levels. In short: "A tawdry, tarty, cartoon-like version of female sexuality has become so ubiquitous, it no longer seems particular."
Kathleen Parker in her article, "Girls Gone Ridiculous," further elaborates this point: "...the message to girls the past 20 years or so has been that they can be and do anything they please. Being a stripper or a porn star is just another option among many. In some feminist circles, porn is seen as the ultimate feminist expression - women exercising autonomy over their bodies, profiting from men's desire, rather than merely being objectified by it. Self-exploitation has become the raised middle finger of women's sexual freedom." And that "raised middle-finger" in popular culture, rap videos aside, has largely been a white one.
Society, by and large, has deracialized white female sexual explicitness while at the same time strongly accentuating what is perceived as Black female promiscuity and immodesty. That message has been communicated to us time and time again on the pages of Maxim, FHM, Playboy, Penthouse and Sports Illustrated - and this list goes on. Although these mags have, in the past 10 years, featured more women of color, they are still (overwhelmingly) a celebration of white female sexual explicitness.
The ultra-celebrity accorded to white female sexual explicitness burst on the scene in the person of Marilyn Monroe. Can anyone argue that Monroe was more recognized for her acting talents than for her "natural assets?" Yet, she is regarded as a legend. The celebrity that has been granted to white women such as Anna Nicole Smith, Pamela Anderson, Carmen Elecktra, Paris Hilton and a whole host of others, is also given based upon sexual assets and not upon talent. This theme is consistent in today's raunch-infested society, but the raunchiness, once again, is deracialized when the practitioners are white. WWE women's wrestling has increased in popularity in the past few years with its predominantly white roster of sex-kittens and their highly sexualized plots and subplots. Even current and former white porn stars such as Ginger Lynn, Traci Lords and Jenna Jameson are made the topics of E! Hollywood True Stories exposes, thus giving them a place of prominence and legitimacy and without ever linking their promiscuity to her whiteness. While, in contrast, one would be hard-pressed to name as many Black women (or any other women of color) - absent of talent - who enjoy the same level of celebrity and success.
Even in, seemingly light-hearted (at least that is the impression that we've been given), popular movies we see this phenomenon played out. Risky Business, the film that introduced Tom Cruise to mainstream America, was about a young man (with the help of a spunky prostitute fleeing her pimp, played by Rebecca De Mornay) who opened up a brothel in his parent's home while they were away on vacation. Pretty Woman, the film that made Julia Roberts a megastar, essentially is a remake of the children's classic Cinderella, except this time Cinderella is a hooker. The Woody Allen (that alone gives it legitimacy) film The Mighty Aphrodite stars Mira Sorvino in the "acceptable" prostitute role (for which she won an Oscar). In the recent film, The Girl Next Door (featuring another rising star, Elisha Cuthbert) the movie centers on the relationship between an accomplished high school senior and his 19 year-old porn star (Cuthbert) neighbor. In the descriptions of the main characters in these films (the women) words such as, free-spirited, spunky, playful, spontaneous were used. I tried imagining these same films with Black main characters and I could not envision the same light-hearted response by the American public-at-large. There has yet to be a critically-acclaimed or commercially successful film, where a central character was a Black prostitute. So even when the "textbook" requirements of what constitutes being promiscuous is met, her whiteness saves the day. Even at her most licentious, she is made to appear innocent, wholesome and strangely virginal.
These movies were huge box office successes, and if one subscribes to the theory that the lyrics contained in some hip-hop songs desensitizes individuals to misogyny and normalizes sexism, then that same ethos would have to applied to the films that have essentially "deified" and normalized white female explicitness and promiscuity. So when the same messages that are being demonized in hip-hop are also found in these popular films and white-dominated music genres (but couched in the safety and familiarity of whiteness), what society is essentially telling us is that it is better PR that hip-hop needs, not a lessening of sexist themes in their music and videos.
So it has to be understood that racism is at the heart of this current debate regarding misogyny and sexism. America continues to prove (day in and day out) that it has absolutely no problem with sexual promiscuity. So what is their problem with hip-hop? It is the sheer "Blackness" of it. Historically (as well as now), there has been a fear of Black (especially Black male) sexuality. This irrational and racist fear was repeatedly used in the countless lynchings of Black men in the history of this nation (which often included castration as well). Black equals dangerous; Black equals savage; Black equals barbaric; Black equals forbidden, infected and inferior. Therefore hip-hop, like Blackness, is something that society should be, must be, protected from. It is from this context that ALL things Black have been realized and it is from this context that white female sexual explicitness has been sanitized.