Justice AND Women's Bodily Autonomy or Else, Mr. Farrakhan

By Briana Perry

With the upcoming rally in D.C. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, Minister Louis Farrakhan has been quite visible in the media lately. He has been featured on a variety of talk shows in the past few months and has done a series of public speaking engagements including one in Memphis, Tenn., on August 20th. In his speeches, Farrakhan has vehemently spoken out against the plight of people of color, focusing on police brutality and the Charleston massacre. Farrakhan is attempting to mobilize individuals nationwide to gather in D.C. this October and demand "Justice or Else."

Interestingly, Farrakhan has focused on the hip-hop community as he has criticized their leadership and called them to action in an attempt to attract young individuals to his agenda. After all, Huey P. Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, once stated, "the revolution has always been in the hands of the young" as they are the ones who "inherit" it. In an interview with E-Money of Hip Hop Since 1987 and Tahirah Akilah on September 10th, Farrakhan was asked to share his thoughts on the Made in America Festival that took place September 5-6. Specifically, he was prompted to address the role of female R&B/ Hip Hop artists such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Beyoncé.

Farrakhan began his analysis by noting that "the woman is everything in the way of building civilization...she is the mother of civilization." He went on to say that today, women are stripped of their clothes and men cannot think straight because the beauty of women, such as Beyoncé, mesmerizes them. Even religious leaders are subject to this distraction when a woman "disrobes" herself; as a result, they lose focus on the Bible or Quran. Farrakhan further suggested that when a woman is stripped of her clothing, a man becomes a dog on the prowl. They make a man treat them like an object of sex rather than the creative geniuses that they are.

When I viewed Farrakhan's interview, I was completely disgusted by his remarks. Overall, his comments mimic the antiquated saying that "a man will not respect a woman unless she respects herself." What this really means is that a man will disrespect a woman if she doesn't adhere to his conception of "the ideal woman." This ideal woman dresses conservatively, is a virgin, and should never hint at sexual pleasures. If she acts otherwise, then she automatically loses the respect of men because she has somehow now disrespected herself. David Banner expressed similar sentiments back in April when he tweeted how women should present themselves in a way that demands the respect of men, i.e. women surrender autonomy, including bodily autonomy, to gain validation from men.

Such remarks treat women as objects and imply that women's bodies only exist for the male gaze. Never mind women deserving respect because they are human beings, regardless of presentation. Never mind how women view their own bodies and the reclamation of bodily autonomy that Black women are trying to gain. Farrakhan falsely assumes that women seek attention and validation from men. He does not recognize that women can have agency in their presentation; this is evident when he proposes that we appeal to female entertainers' managers such as Jay Z.

Furthermore, Farrakhan's remarks contribute to rape culture. He is blaming women for the way that men engage with them. He suggests this when he continuously states that men are made into dogs by a woman's presentation of herself. The onus is on the woman for men gawking at her appearance and uttering sexual remarks. When a woman dresses in a way that is "revealing," she has made men treat her like a sexual object. I have never been able to wrap my head around the notion that women "make" men harass them, but Farrakhan's comments reflect the classic justification for harassment and assault: If she wasn't wearing that article of clothing (or lack thereof), then she wouldn't have been attacked. Though this logic is absurd, Farrakhan affirms this belief in his interview.

It seems that someone is always policing how Black women present themselves. When Beyoncé declared that she was a feminist, she was policed by Black and mainstream feminists; she was stamped a "bad feminist" for dressing in sexy leotards and using Ronda Rousey's speech in performances. Nicki Minaj has been policed for her choice of style in music videos, such as "Anaconda," and speaking out against the injustices that Black women experience in the entertainment industry. Amber Rose has received a significant amount of backlash because of her former career as a stripper and most recently for wearing a bodysuit to the VMAs painted with epithets including slut, whore, and bitch.

Some may argue that Farrakhan's comments were women-friendly since he says throughout the interview that women are smart beings and are more than sexual conquests. He also addresses the abuse that women endure at the hands of male relatives in his discussion. I can appreciate his attempt at trying to express that women should be loved, but he does so while egregiously upholding respectability politics. He seems to suggest that women are deserving of love as long as they are covered, and men should want their women covered. Jay Z should want Beyoncé to be fully clothed in public presentations because he is her husband. Does this then mean that husband is synonymous with dictator? In order to maintain a happy and healthy relationship, shouldn't Beyoncé possess some autonomy in this marriage, Minister Farrakhan? As a society, we have to start acknowledging that sexual politics are not demeaning, and that intelligence and sexual agency are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement each other.

Photo: Scott McIntyre

I am a graduate student at Vanderbilt Peabody College. My interests include storytelling, reproductive justice, and education reform. I can be reached at bperry1373@gmail.com.

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