The Story of Jezebel: On the Revolutionary Act of Black Womxn's Sexual Liberation by Thokozani Mbwana
THE STORY OF JEZEBEL: ON THE REVOLUTIONARY ACT OF BLACK WOMXN’S SEXUAL LIBERATION.
THOKOZANI MBWANA, ARTIST/EDUCATOR, UNIVERSITY OF SURREY (2015).
Over the course of history, since the birth of the slave trade and colonialism, black womxn’s bodies have been dissected, rearranged and put on display to fit a mould that has suited multiple narratives, none of which are our own. One of the stereotypes that has stood the test of time and has seeped into our everyday lives is that of Jezebel. Jezebel is a colonial creation, portrayed as a predatory, lustful womxn with an insatiable sexual appetite. The narrative of Jezebel had multiple functions. Firstly, she was used to create a contrast to the purity of white femininity. If black womxn were licentious, white womxn were modest. The creation of Jezebel erased any type of sexual autonomy and freedom black womxn had. Her lustfulness was portrayed as an innate and uncontrollable trait which colonialists justified as something that needed to be shaped, policed and regulated by them. Secondly, it perpetuated the dehumanization of black womxn. By labelling black womxn as sexual predators and innately promiscuous, it enabled male colonialists to justify the rape and sexual violence done to black womxn and girls by arguing that they were seduced into their violence. The message that has been fed to us through the use of Jezebel is that black womxn’s bodies are only for consumption by others and that our sexualities should
be dictated to us and regulated for the benefit of the white and male gaze. Jezebel is alive and well, in the way media often portrays black womxn today. She finds herself rapped about and sung about in hip hop. She’s overtly present in the Ebony categories in porn. We see glimpses of her mixed in with other stereotypes such as the Strong Black Womxn in TV characters like Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder and Kerry Washington in Scandal. No matter how you present as a black womxn, according to society, there’s always a little bit of Jezebel in all of us. Sometimes she’s subtle, sometimes she’s explicit, but she’s always there in some way or another. When we, black womxn reclaim our bodies and our sexualities, it becomes a revolutionary act. Despite the attempts to separate us from our own bodies, we continue to fight against it. As with all revolution, black womxn have faced an overwhelming amount of backlash. Modesty is prudish, wearing revealing outfits is hoeish and LGBTQ+ people are a transgression from heteronormativity that benefits the male gaze. The uproar that surrounds black womxn’s body love- something we see regularly with black womxn artists in all forms- is because we have chosen how we express ourselves sexually. We have been taught throughout history that our black bodies do not belong
to us and yet here we are choosing how we express ourselves for our own enjoyment. The reclamation of our bodies and sexualities means that the Jezebel narrative no longer serves its intended purpose on our psyches. Black womxn’s sexualities are not one dimensional. We can be feminine, masculine, non-binary, soft, sexual, kind, loving, domestic, kinky, all in between and many at once. You can be of traditional familial values, stay celibate until marriage and be twerking to Nicki Minaj in the club on a Friday night. You can be a degree having, self-proclaimed hoe who enjoys church on Sundays. We are complex beings, not Jezebels even though we know Jezebel will always and forever exist. We don’t have a choice in how the world chooses to perceive our bodies, but ultimately what we do with our bodies and our sexualities is our choice, and that is where our power lies.