Why Is There a Price to Pay?: The Objectification and Oversexualization of Black Women in America

“And this b!%$# had the nerve to say she didn’t want to f*&k! Bet I won’t take her to Red Lobster again.”
*eyes pop out of my head*
            I overheard the statement above while riding on our campus bus just a few days ago. Two male-bodied individuals who I assert as Black were seated directly in front of me. They were sharing a “private” exchange that was only meant to be heard by them, and yet I had the wonderful misfortune to overhear this one line loud and clear. As I fought back the urge to smack both of them in the back of their heads, I began to reflect upon the misogynist undertones that were nefariously evident within this young male’s angry words.
So, my dear young male…
1.     You called this young woman who decided to go on a date with you a “b%&$.” If I ever heard this word exploding from my younger brother’s mouth, he would certainly regret it.
2.     You assumed that purchasing dinner for this young woman would result in your receiving sex from her as an exchange of goods.
3.     You essentially believed that this young woman’s body was worth roundabout $20. That amount of money doesn’t even buy you a full tank of gas nowadays.  
4.     You plan to restrict what you consider as gifts or indulgences from this young woman in the future unless she decides to offer her body to you for these things.

“And she better be glad she has a fat a$$ with her Black self.”
*face palm*
            And like magic, the substantive value of a Black woman’s body has once again been reduced to the pronouncement and fullness of her body parts. Thankfully, for everyone’s sake, this dynamic pair of men got off the bus at the very next stop. As a Black woman, it infuriates me to think that some of my male counterparts would prefer to literally strip me of my education, my love of family, my spirituality, my assertiveness, my leadership roles, and other personal characteristics that I hold dear to me, and place my ultimate value on the roundness of my lips. My thighs. My butt. My breasts. And while I innately embrace my body, my sexuality, and wish that all women experienced an environment in which they felt empowered to do the same, it pains me when my body image and my sexuality, which is just ONE part of my identity, is magnified to encompass my entire being.
            That emotionally-laden bus ride stirred within me a curiosity that I had not previously allowed within my soul, mostly because, well, truth hurts. Especially when I have to live day to day with the present-day repercussions of past wrongdoings of my homeland against people who look like me. What role does the history of Black people in the United States play in this modern-day oversexualization of the Black woman? No need to think too hard. You can rewind history to just 150 years ago to find a painful glimpse of the sexual objectification of African American women in our country’s history.

            Ahhhhhh yes. Slavery. Let’s keep in mind that the picture shown above is still very modest. Narrative accounts by former slaves and slave owners of this time have documented that typically Black women who were on the auction block to be sold to the highest bidder were stripped naked so that potential buyers could thoroughly examine their goods before making an offer. Poking. Prodding. Pulling. Any dignity that remained was thrown out of the window. Then ding ding ding! She was sold to the man with the most money to spend. This slave woman, whose life has been given a price, whose worth has been diminished to the perceived productivity emanating from her back, her legs, her arms, her bones, her soul, is now expected to do whatever this man asks because she has been paid for in full. Let us not forget that noncompliance with her owner’s wishes inevitably resulted in punishment, whether that be a verbal whipping, physical beating, rape, or death.

            The image is a caricature of Saartje “Sarah” Baartman, also known as the “Hottentot Venus.” Sarah Baartman was of Khoikhoi descent and was born in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Baartman was originally a slave to a Dutch farmer near Cape Town, South Africa. In 1810, Baartman was found by a British commander and then sent to London to work as a freak show attraction. During her time in Europe, Baartman was under the supervision of animal trainers and was widely exhibited in Great Britain and France for her large buttocks and her elongated labia, a common attribute among many Khoikhoi women.
            Animal trainers. Freak show. Considered a novelty, a commodity, because of her natural physical attributes. Expected to perform, to strut around like a creature, because she had been paid for. “I bought you, now you must do whatever I ask. If you don’t, you risk being yelled at, beaten, raped, or worse.”
Now let’s return to the 21st century. A person does not have to search far to find the modern-day oversexualization and objectification of Black women on their nearest TV music channels or radio stations.

            Black women continue to be devalued within mainstream American culture and predominantly through the mode of music videos. The modern-day slave woman’s auction block is now called a “stripper pole” and you can find a plethora of Sarah Baartman’s in the sultry, painted faces and curvaceous bodies of any rapper’s video vixens. In his song, “Buy You a Drink,” rapper T-Pain croons “I’ma buy you a drink, then I’ma take you home with me.” Throughout history, this particular message regarding the worthiness of Black women in society has been made to be very clear. We are property. We are to be at the sexual disposal of any man who “invests” in us. “I took you to dinner, therefore you must have sex with me. I bought you a drink, therefore you must have sex with me. I helped you pay your light bill, therefore you must have sex with me.” And if you refuse to finish this transaction, this trading of goods, then you are potentially subjecting yourself to…

How much longer will we allow misogyny-induced fear control the physical representation of Black women within the media and within our homes? How do we go about destroying the assumption that a person is entitled to treat a Black woman in whichever way they please as long as they have paid some type of “price” for her “goods?” And to my Black women, in what ways can we solidify a positive and cohesive front in denying our placement on our modern-day auction blocks, take back our sexuality, and hold firm to the fact that we are more than our butts and thighs?

Written by Ciera V. Scott


  1. Thankyou. You beautiful, strong, intelligent woan--thankyou.

  2. Forgive the previous spelling error-intelligent woman

  3. Thank you for your positive affirmation of this article! Please feel free to share our blog with others so that we can spread awareness regarding this topic and others that are so important to feminist psychology.

  4. Woah. This is thought provoking. Thank you for writing this.

  5. Thank YOU for reading!

  6. Excellent piece. Needed to be said and I completely agree and reject these false standards...

  7. From my perspective it seems that today all woman are objectified and oversexualized. I see misogynist tones regarding black women in hip hop but is that because hip hop is dominated by black males? I don't mean to be ignorant; I'm just a teen trying to learn how presently black woman specifically are being oversexualized. Thank you!

  8. Thought provoking and beautifully written piece!