Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Could Black Women Get Away With Producing Something Like Jezebel.Com?

I have come across Jezebel.com from time to time, but never really had much interest in regularly reading it. The site reminded me too much of my college days, where everything revolved around a white girl's view of the world, her idea of what was funny, what was enraging, what was sad, and of course, what was most important to care or talk about. As I learned in college, this point of view often times regularly and strongly excluded most things that I as a black women was interested in or cared about.

I do admire the site's concept and their editors fierce determination to create a space for young women to be themselves and discuss adult topics without being judged. I love how they cover a multitude of issues and stories over the course of one day. Anyone who claims there is nothing interesting to read at Jezebel is a damn liar.

I also love how they confront the daily if not hourly demands and standards that all women face in society, with stories spanning from the horrors of menstrual cycles to will I die alone? to does this outfit make my butt look big? to does it make me a whore to sleep with two different men in the same week? Jezebel.com must be credited with challenging conventional thinking for women. It slays me that in the 21st century, it is still shocking to folks that women enjoy a good drink, a good meal, and good sex, and sometimes all in the same evening! Jezebel.com helps shatter many of the stereotypes about what women want and believe.

Looking at the site this weekend, I began to have one of my rhetorical musings about whether or not black women could have produced something like Jezebel.com. As soon as the idea popped into my head, my thoughts were immediately filled with a shrieking "hell no!" I was instantly reminded of how a few weeks ago, I dared to diss the Sex In The City movie and black women descended on that post taking me to task about bashing the series and the movie. Yet, when I raised the point about whether or not there could ever be a black version of SITC, those same women that defended the show, all passionately answered "hell no!"

This kind of debate remains an interesting conundrum for me. The belief that black women can only be participants in the ongoing dialogue of women in society, but never the leading voice. When I look at the above picture of the editors of Jezebel.com, I don't see anything special or different from when my friends or sorority sisters get together to talk trash about everything from politics to sex. These group of women are no different than others, but I am hard pressed to believe that there would be the same excitement or interest in Jezebel.com if the site's editors had six black women and just one white woman.

Would white women view black women as the trendsetters of fashion, sexuality, beauty, and style? Would thousands of young white women flock to a site written and produced by black women? Could a black woman get away with a blog pen name of "slut machine"? Considering how the word Jezebel has been used against black women, could we even name the site that? And since most white women struggle mightily to even discover the numerous blogs written by black women, I doubt that they would even find anyway. I still run into white women who are shocked that Essence magazine exists.

And it's not that Jezebel doesn't try to appeal to black women or women of color. And the site surely does not shy away from creating or reporting stories about black women or women of color. Unfortunately, most of the stories about black women come off as voyeuristic observations of white women that don't know any black women or misunderstanding that what white women may find funny, black women do not.

For example, recently, two of the editors of Jezebel.com had a minor media dust-up after appearing on the show, Thinking And Drinking, (another thing that black women could never get away with), where it is now an on-going debate about whether or not the two women joked about rape. I watched the clips and read the comments and there is clearly a fine line being tread during their appearance, but I was still disturbed by their comments period.

Considering many black women's feelings about the gang rape at Dunbar Village, the acquittal of R. Kelly, and the Genarlow Wilson case, black women would never find anything about the crime of rape anything to joke about. And since when is it progressive or empowering for women to joke about rape? It doesn't matter their intention, sometimes you need to be responsible for what you say, particularly when being recorded. Some things are just not funny.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking Jezebel. I was just struck at the difference of freedom of expression and the on-going rules of oppression. White women can say or do virtually whatever they want, black women and women of color must still be careful. It's a burden of inequity that is becoming truly troublesome.


iman July 8, 2008 at 11:28 AM  

This is great post. I was actually one of the women who said Sex and the City wouldn’t work with an all black cast. Not because I don’t believe black women have the right to be individuals, but because from a practical standpoint, the backlash from certain segments of the black community would cripple it. People only like to hear black women discuss sex frankly when they’re subordinate to men (i.e. Lil Kim). And some people are not interested in hearing black women discuss sex frankly period.

It’s not an illusion that black women are inundated with sexual stereotypes in the mainstream media and were justifiably frustrated. So if a show or website like this existed w/ black women, it is not unreasonable to assume that the knee jerk reaction would be to dismiss it. I think because we have so many uncreative, ill conceived and exploitative depictions of black women out there, the ones that are intelligent, risqué and genuinely proactive sometimes get lumped in with the rest. I would imagine this being the fate for a black jezebel or sex and the city.
Black artist always had the added responsibility of “representing their race”. It’s an unfair responsibility and it’s one I don’t subscribe to, but it is real whether people acknowledge it or not. The same week some black women I know were asking why there are no black characters on Sex and the City; they were bashing Serena Williams for her Ebony cover. I think there’s always going to be a conflict between what some people find acceptable, but I think the ultimate goal is to create an environment where all black women can express themselves freely with out corporate or community manipulation.

Anonymiss July 8, 2008 at 12:48 PM  

To add to Iman's comment, we're also not seen as universal. We have trouble getting over the monolith hump. A lot of times that monolith hump is placed by non-free-thinking Black ppl.

I used to enjoy Jezebel but they turned me off with this piece.

Anonymous,  July 8, 2008 at 4:11 PM  

This is the first time I've ever heard of the Jezebel site. Honestly, I don't think that I could ever be into it. I believe that getting into any type of Jezebel or SITC image might work against black women at the moment. America just isn't restrained enough when it comes to black women. For example, white women can get away with Girls Gone Wild and the like. But for black women, that might become a license to rape.

At any rate, I am happy to witness the explosion of blogs and sites geared toward black women that have nothing to do with sexual degradation.

Mari-Djata July 8, 2008 at 6:59 PM  

Sex and the City did survive with an all black cast --its name was Living Single!


Renee July 9, 2008 at 10:28 AM  

I think rather asking could we produce a Jezebel or sex in the city the question really is should we. I am sorry if I am an odd ball but I don't think that those are necessarily the best examples of the agency of women. I think we can and should do better. There are not a lot of stories of black women in print or in the media, but some the examples of us loving and sharing each others lives are beautiful and I would never want it reduced to what I see at sex in the city. Think of some of the characters created by Alice Walker, or Toni Morrisson...this is how we love each other.

Nairobi July 14, 2008 at 3:48 PM  

I think that there needs to be venues and outlets for women to express themselves in all ways....and of course that includes sexually, so I think that there needs to be a space where Black women are allowed to articulately and intelligently open up about sexuality, without being degrading.

As far as the backlash that could come with having a Black "Jezebel" or "SITC", does anyone remember when Grilfriends first premiered? There was so much flack about the portrayl of Black Women (especially the Toni character), and much of it came from Black women, even though we ALL know a Toni, or Mya, or Lynn, or Joan. Black women dismissed the show because they felt it didn't "represent" Black women, but we've never talked about what we represent, what we are. Instead of looking at the show and seeing what part of ourselves are in those characters, we immediately rallied against it. We didn't want to face the facts that, yes, some of us are scared that we'll never get married, and YES, some of us are only interested in big money and big cars, and YES, some of us were teenage mothers and wives, and YES some of don't like what color we are (for whatever reason) and we'll only date brothers that are lighter than us. This is who we are, it's not a bad thing, but until we at least acknowledge all of our "selves" we won't be able to fix the issues.

We as Black women try so hard to not embarass our race, we don't take into account that we are secretly silencing ourslevs in the process. Until we can ensure that our sexuality is in our hands, and not used as a marketing tool, we'll always have this tug-of-war with ourselves and our sexuality.

Jill July 14, 2008 at 3:54 PM  

I am totally not the Jezebel demographic, and I'm probably not exactly your blog's either, Prof. Tracey. But here are a couple of thoughts:

First - I'd heard of Jezebel but never read it until that dust up re: Drinking and Thinking. It (the behavior of the two central women) is appalling, it's wrong, I've written about my feelings related to it several times over at Pandagon though I did not take time to write about it at my blog (yet - I'm one of those writers who keeps literally 100s of tabs open in Firefox, AND Safari AND Camino until my computer crashes - I always think I'll get time to write about everything). But also, I know there's been a lot of piling on about their behavior, even though some bloggers seem more understanding. I'm not exactly one of those.

Second, I'm one of those white women who has tried for the last few months to gather names, links to and RSS feeds for WOC blogs and, compared to where I was before April of this year, I'm getting there.

But what I want to say about that is: I LOVE the WOC blogs I read. I go to those feeds before I read pretty much anythign else - I'm absolutely not kidding.

And I'm not looking for pats on the back or anything.

It is the writing, it is the issues, it is the feelings, it is the honesty, it is the getting perspectives I will never hear anywhere else (for better or worse, because of where I live and how I live currently) and so much more that has made me addicted to reading the WOC blogs I've been reading.

So - I might be weird, unique - I don't know. But at least I'm one specimen who really appreciates that WOC blogs are different and would say hell no to both SATC (which I haven't seen and don't expect to see) and the Jezebel stuff.

Thank YOU for taking the time to write.

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