A Fly Girl’s Lament: Young Millennials Reaching for the Erotic When Womanhood Feels Miles Away

by Monique John

I have spent the past year immersed in pornography. Hard nipples and gyrating flesh flashed at me under raining dollar bills in almost every music video. I was uncomfortable, yet I was enticed. I wanted to mimic the kittenish poses and sensual moves of the models and dancers in front of me.

The bodies were everywhere, as Ms. Johnson would say.

More specifically, the stripper body was everywhere. In social media, YouTube, ad campaigns, the hip hop blogs—even the glossy urban magazines perched in the subway newsstands—there was a Georgia Peach hanging from every branch, decorated in neon leggings and denim thongs. Hip hop feminists in academic and activist circles are pushing for theorization of black eroticism as a response to the media’s saturation of pornographic images that frequently sexualize black female bodies. However, I call for my fellow feminists to understand that as we theorize the erotic in black feminism we must also acknowledge the generational differences within the movement—as well as how those differences have impacted our individual paths to adulthood and our relationships with our sexual selves. Acknowledging the connection between our identities as adults and our sexual consciousness can shed light on why some of us find the erotic so difficult to grasp.

As a millennial, my path to accessing pleasure and crafting my own feminist analysis of the erotic is muddied from being positioned between hip hop’s fixation on the pornographic and my status as an “emerging adult.” With headlines from major news sources like “Millennials Have Nothing to Celebrate When it Comes to Employment” and “Millennials Must Stop Advertising Their Insecurity and Incompetence,” it is impossible to shield myself from the fact that my ability to even function as an adult is constantly being challenged (or out rightly denied) by older generations. The financial burdens that come along with being a millennial would probably be easier to bear if they weren’t saddled with the stigmas of being narcissistic, indecisive and entitled.

The irony that millennials are painted as juvenile and hypersexual is that our sexual activity is the ultimate signifier of one’s entrance into adulthood in Western society. This is particularly relevant to us as contemporary young people because we are constantly being bombarded with pornographic images of ourselves in the private-socializing spaces of our smartphones and laptops. Dazzled by the array of images, my millennial sisters and I walk a fine line between sexual positivity and sexual oppression.

We bask in the gains of the first and second waves that earned us the right to have abortions, to say no to our sexual partners, to say yes to our sexual partners and to pursue any career we want for self-sufficiency and gender equality in the workforce. We even have the right to commodify our sexuality for economic opportunity—whether it’s through exotic dancing or (in a certain part of the country) prostitution. Furthermore, social media mobilizes these ideas by amplifying women’s voices and allowing us to distribute unfiltered images of our bodies in response to mainstream media visuals that have been tainted by airbrushing and Photoshop.

Simultaneously, the sounds and images of hip hop (and its accompanying stream of pornographic images within its media products) drown out our voices, reducing us to good girls, bad bitches and then just plain old bitches. Reimagining black women’s sexual history as seen through a lens of pleasure (as opposed to oppression) is difficult for us as millennial hip hop heads because we have become so reliant on pornography that we have pushed conversations and representations of the erotic out of the window. We hunger for and laugh at sexuality as it is represented on a spectrum of power and raunch, yet we shrink away from conversations of sexuality as it relates to love. And we obsess over material things not because we are materialistic, but because we are starved of the material assets that validate our status as grown folk.

Even with what we know about the challenges and stereotypes posed against millennials, maybe this issue of claiming adulthood and fostering one’s comfort and knowledge of the erotic isn’t a generational problem. Maybe it’s just me. Like many of my peers, I was grappling to support myself after college graduation despite my long list of internships and spot on the Dean’s List, hopping around to jobs that were part-time and were below or unrelated to my skill set. Eventually, I snagged a great job with good pay and all of the benefits I could ask for. Still, I struggle with self-doubt over my career because of the dismal projections made regarding my generation’s future.

I want older feminists to understand that I as a young American (and as a sexual being) feel compelled to address this because we as a country place our pride in what we do, what we contribute to society—and the materials possessions we have to show for it. When I feel as though I cannot contribute to my society as an adult, or fear that I won’t earn enough capital to support myself despite the labor I put forth, I question my standing as a woman. When I question my standing as a woman, I wonder just what it is that I can contribute to a relationship in a sexual context, and how it is that I can even own my sexuality in the first place.

The risk I take in writing these words is that I feed into the very negative stereotypes about millennials that I’m trying to debunk. But the reality is that these are the things I feel and think about everyday—and I can’t help but feel that I’m not the only one. As I started thinking more about the erotic, I spent less time looking at porn in music videos and social media. I had woken up from the Internet Dream long enough to realize that the erotic is not posed—it is electric. Embarking on a journey to theorize the erotic meant that I had to feel it, not try to mimic some photos and memes of urban models across the web. However it is that my fellow hip hop feminists and I develop our ideas around the erotic, I say that we shouldn’t take our understanding of adulthood for granted in the process. Discussing sex is how we enter the conversation, yet recognizing how we feel as women is always at the heart of it.

Monique John is a writer and activist for education and women's rights. She loves writing about black culture, sexual politics, feminist theory and media representation. In addition to managing her personal blog and developing VO!CES Magazine, a publication for survivors of sexual abuse, domestic violence and the commercial sex industry, Monique is currently developing "Twerked: The Official Blog for the Poles, Power and the Everyday Woman Project." You can read more of Monique's writing at moniquejohn.com.

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