She Gotta Have It and Black Female Sexuality
Source: Godisable Jacob
I haven’t watched ‘She Gotta Have It’, but when I did first see the advertisement I cringed. Nola looked beautiful, stunning, but here was another film revolving around the sexualisation of the black woman portrayed as sexual liberation. A narrow-minded perspective which assumes that having multiple partners on the go, goes hand in hand with sexual choice.
When I heard this was a remake I knew there would be some feminist commentary. Bell Hooks argued the show is a patriarchal response to female sexuality, exemplifying old norms. For Hooks, the whole premise of Nola’s character concerns S-E-X. Now, I haven’t watched the series so I can’t verify whether Hooks claims are true. However, I can say that the series has gone with the whole ‘Sex Sells’ advertising technique. Every advert I’ve come across has reiterated in my mind that in this series I will get a certain dosage of sex. But maybe I have been quick to judge, could rejecting monogamy be the premise of the series?
Some may say polygamy is a slap in the face to patriarchy. How? This series won’t bring about any social change. The whole perspective has been crafted with a male gaze in mind. Spike Lee, sadly isn’t the most revolutionary person.
The views which the Western world hold around black female sexuality have its roots in slavery, where the Jezebel was a promiscuous sexually hungry black female in contrast to the unattractive Mammy… The Jezebel is still the most dominant portrayal of black females in Western culture. The myth created about black women being sexually loose and promiscuous helped justify their rapes on plantations since these women desired relations with all men. The Jezebel image has continued to hold strength over the decades and is constantly proliferated through television.
But surely Spike Lee would never play into this narrative. In the 1996 adaption of She Gotta Have It, there is a rape scene where Nola protests being raped and then ends up enjoying the sexual act midway. Spike Lee has since gone on to say that he regrets the scene saying ‘It was just totally….stupid‘. Since he has made a remake, I can only presume he thinks he will be making some sort of change. I don’t buy it, whilst Spike Lee might have good intentions, I believe this just recreates a dominant and distorted view of black female sexuality.
Not to forget, I wonder if Spike Lee is just interested in making some quick dollars. Chewing Gum has been a great success, and there we see Tracey Gordon struggle to lose her virginity. Now we can watch She Gotta Have It, where a black woman sets boundaries with her numerous sexual partners. We have it all, other than the black woman freely choosing in a sexual world not to have sex.
Of course, there are black women who engage in hooking up with multiple men. There are women of all races who are hooking up with multiple men. For the purpose of this article hooking up will be defined as a temporary connection, often involving intimacy sexual or erotic. Seidman (2014) argues the hook-up emerged out of college culture, and that there is a certain level of pressure to participate.
We should not exaggerate the prevalence of hookups. Research seems to suggest that about 40 percent of college women have hookups by their senior year, but only three or fewer times. Another 40 percent of women report between four and nine hookup episodes by their senior year. Despite media images of erotic abandon, some 20 percent of all college women surveyed report not having vaginal intercourse (Seidman, 2014). So sadly, the narrative Spike Lee’s putting forward isn’t so revolutionary. Even within the community where hook-ups are most frequent 20 percent of females completely opt out of vaginal intercourse.
As a black woman, I crave true diversity of representation. With research highlighting the pressure individuals feel to participate in the hook-up culture. It would have been more revolutionary for Spike Lee to have directed a series about a woman navigating the struggles of choosing not just to hook up. But what does it matter, the series has been released, the images are out there, Spike Lee and Netflix are set to profit, and the image of the Jezebel has found its newest manifestation.
By Shaneka Knight
Facebook: Shaneka Knight