Are We Sistering Enough?

by  LaTierra Piphus

Back in the spring of 2013, I was finishing up my final courses for the Bachelor’s degree I was pursuing at a local university which was where I had spent my previous four years unlearning the societal and systematic oppression virtually all womyn of color experience growing up, maturing into my own definition of ‘womanhood’ and expanding my thought-processes on how community is developed among groups of people who have been trained to remain disconnected from one another (i.e. Black womyn).

After taking various gender courses (few of which intersected with race), I was left to ponder on whether we as Black womyn/Feminists/Womynists were doing enough to reach out to help younger womyn/teens/girls navigate society/life or is our support not matching their need for community or validation of their struggle?

No, this question does not come from an assumption that youth/young girls are dependent upon our validation in order to survive. They were doing so before and perhaps are successfully doing so themselves now without our support. This question comes from the understanding that we as people, we as a largely marginalized community and we as Black womyn are interdependent upon one another for community, for support, for healthy-development, for positive relationships, for love. If we anticipate making any change in this world, we need to do more that talk or write about our oppression, but be active in our acts of resistance and anti-oppression. Building community with other Black womyn, or even Black people for that matter is how change is made. We need to get out there and build those connections, sistering, with other black womyn/girls/teens/etc. that may benefit from our testimonies or witnessing us overcome our struggles.

So to elaborate on my original question with more clarifying questions:

Is the understanding of intersecting oppressions being passed on to those coming after us so that they may have context and a deeper comprehension on why ‘they should be able to dress or dance how they want to without any instigation from others or explanation to others’, not just because they can, but because their freedom is an act of anti-oppression and resistance of Respectability Politics which may bind them in ways they don’t quite understand now, but know are wrong?

Are we equipping them with the understanding on why they deserve to take up space on this earth regardless of how many societal or media messages convince them otherwise?

Are we sharing our stories on how we have or are currently overcoming the same issues they are just now facing?
Initially, what caused me to pose these questions were various Facebook photos and memes I would see floating around social media depicting younger womyn of color (usually Black) dancing or posing “provocatively” with captions attached like “ratchet”, “hoe” or “she’ll be pregnant before she’s 16”. All being obvious forms of slut-shaming (and various oppressions) coming from complete strangers attempting to enforce Respectability Politics on the bodies of these young womyn.

As ‘sisters’ to these other womyn/girls/teens, shouldn’t we be the first to scream TIME OUT when we witness other womyn being disrespected, shamed or stereotyped? Especially when it’s young womyn/teens/girls who may not have developed the vocabulary to counter harsh-statements that devalue them yet or to (verbally) fight back and assert themselves or to be so at-peace with themselves that slick remarks and wide-eyes don’t even phase them?

It makes my blood boil just thinking of someone telling my 16 year old sister that she shouldn’t exercise her own sexuality on the dance floor while performing in front of a crowd or at a house party in the comfort of family and friends. She has every right to assert and express herself however she deems necessary and so does every other girl out there.

This issue makes me so apprehensive because I have been on the receiving end of comments, stares and snickers when I am simply trying to “do me”. Experiencing slut-shaming since youth has a way of consciously manipulating girls to shrink into themselves for fear of being ridiculed.

[Insert Intervention Here] 

Had I had someone to advocate for me or someone I could relate to who would simply explain to me how this society works [against me]; to validate my expression or my acts resistance and rebellion against the Responsibility Politics and oppression that bound me to shame as a pre-teen/teen/young adult, life as a “Black girl livin’ in the hood” would have been just a tad bit easier to swallow.

“Sweet Memories”

I recall as early as 5 experiencing people notifying me or adults around me that I should be “ashamed to move my body like that” and I was too “fast” for my own good during the most tender years of my precious childhood. Yes, I know how it feels to have your sexuality or perceived sexual intent under a microscope and how it feels to receive disapproving comments either directly or “over-my-head” as a young girl.

In one of my go-to books I use to help me contextualize this long-standing war on Black womyn’s bodies, Wish to Live: The Hip-hop Feminism Pedagogy reader, Jessica Robinson uses her chapter "Can We Be For Black Girls and Against Their Sexuality? A Soundtrack" to examine how we as a society are not allowing black girls to own themselves through their own agency. Using teaching moments are not opportunities to slut-shame, by the way.

Jessica goes on to assert "Black girls can have agency and control over their bodies if we just believe that they are capable of doing so[...]However, if we truly invest in black girls and their well-being, then we must believe that they can have power and agency over their own bodies, decisions, and health."

The long-lasting effects, or PTSD if you will, of those many years of shame are (1) that I no longer dance or attempt to move my body in any sexual way outside of the bedroom even as an adult; (2) I have delve deeper into Feminism in order to unlearn the societal oppression that contributed to my feelings of lost agency, which is by far the best thing that has come out of the entire experience (3) and attempting to reconnect with that natural freedom I felt when my favorite TLC or Aaliyah song came on that enticed my hips into that awkward slow wind I did or assume the position for my infamous “butterfly poppin”. (Think The Puppies- Hey Lil’ Mama video, which incidentally is loaded with slut-shaming as well)

For every moment I spent feeling like ‘my body was not my own’ and ‘I should not do as I please with something that does not belong to me’, I hope to help educate and inform all womyn and girls of how and why they are being shamed and then encourage them to resist and continue to assert their own agency. So please, all other womyn who believe in the freedom, healthy-development and anti-oppression of the girls/teens/younger womyn of our community to reach out to these young sisters. Helping and healing other womyn heals our communities.

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