Omi's Note: Before you read this piece, I urge you to read Sister Toldja's post: http://thebeautifulstruggler.com/2010/03/from-the-window-to-the-back-seat.html
I normally avoid writing about the latest "news" in the blogosphere. I enjoy sitting back and marinating in it all and then posting a reply way after the "news" becomes "old news." However, Erykah Badu's latest video for the song "Window Seat" is an ideal opportunity to discuss sexism, male privilege, and the black women's body.
Being the father of a young daughter has been a tremendously eye opening experience. Not just as a father but as a man. Before I even heard of the word, I became aware of male privilege but could not name it as I watched my daughter grow. I immediately began to think: am I going to raise her under the same social mores that dictate outdated gender roles? Will I teach her how to play baseball? Will I teach her how to knife fight or throw the hands? Will I implement stricter curfews then I do with my sons? I am so thankful for having a wife to sit down and discuss these issues. My wife has also pointed out my male privilege.
Coming from a Pan Africanist/Black consciousness point of view, I automatically assumed that like my wife, my daughter would wear 3/4's of cloth. You know, she would be covered. Again, my wife pointed out the fallacy of that ideology. While there is nothing wrong with modesty, the rules come from men and women are rarely asked their opinion. This fact my wife pointed out quickly. While men tend to set up a uniform code for women and their morality, almost no rules are placed on men.
Growing up, I often hear menfolk talk about particular women. The ones we considered modest we set aside and stamped them "the ones we bring home to momma" while the rest we placed in a hierarchy of good girls and bad girls. Of course, the bad girls were the ones we considered to dress like whores. Very short skirts, high heels, and showing cleavage were the uniform of whores. We treated these women with contempt and used them as if they were play things. However, most of us learned very early that one should not judge a book by its cover or as we used to say in the Loisada, "don't sleep on the Catholic school girls..."
As I traveled around the world, I continued to learn that rule. Just because someone wears a nicely pressed three piece suit doesn't mean that person is morally upright. Just because a young lady shows some cleavage and much more hips than one expects doesn't mean she is going to an interview to become a prostitute. Some of the most immoral and vile people I met were those who dress modestly.
One lesson I did learn when my daughter was born was that from the moment of birth, I began to see my daughter in every woman. Yes, even the crack whore on the corner. I no longer saw death in her eyes but I saw the big brown eyes of my daughter looking back. It was tremendously sobering. I began to realize how we menfolk have total rule over our women's bodies. A woman will be abused on any level no matter what she is wearing. Just because a woman chooses to wear pun pun shorts does not mean that she deserves to be treated as a subhuman. I am ashamed to hear men imply that women who dress a particular way are less than anyone else. No matter what we wear, we are human beings.
I heard much of this banter when discussing Erykah Badu's lastest video. I am a huge fan of hers. My daughter is a huge fan. She was literally born to her music. My wife gave birth while listening to "Mama's Gun." When I think aloud and say "I wonder what to get _______ for his/her born day," my daughter replies, "Get him/her an Erykah Badu cd." In our household Badu can do no wrong. In her latest video, Badu again pushes the envelope. No glamor, no make up, no glitz, no expensive lighting or cool graphics. It's just Badu right down to the flesh. I love it.
Even before this video I heard quite a few brothers grumble about her children with several men. While I admit its a bit much but who am I to talk? I have children with two different women as do several of my peers (especially the ones who are grumbling). Heck most of the men who are doing the grumbling aren't even married! Yet for some reason, they feel justified in questioning the morality of Badu. I have even read articles about this! Yet, no one puts folks like Mos Def and other artists who father children with several woman and also claim to be trying to uplift our consciousness (One forgets that even the mighty Che Guevara and Mahatma Ganghi neglected their children -- no one brings that up!). This is a sexist double standard. So when Badu shoots this video all of a sudden she is not "righteous" (something she never claimed to be) or "conscious enough" or "falling off."
It's Badu's body to do what she wants to do with it. Who are we to tell her what to wear or how to make a video? If the song was lackluster, which it isn't, we have every right as fans to be critical of her work. She is a musician. That she has claimed over and over. Yet questioning her morality or stance as a "Queen" (which is a term we throw around too loosely and place on women to attain sometimes impossible standards -- but that is a post for another day) is what we are doing as if we are the Iranian police who walk around and make sure everyone is being an obedient muslim. It's totally and utterly hogwash.
Some might argue, "well what is the difference between what she did and what Lil' Kim or Foxy Brown did?" Simple. What Lil' Kim and Foxxy did was maintain a particulary male patriarchy in the pimp/gangsta motif. Instead of claiming a particular concept whether new or old, they instead chose to mimic. Lil' Kim's earlier work was written by the late Biggie Smalls. Foxy Brown rode the coattails of some of her male counterparts. Badu stands alone and calls the shots. THAT's the difference. Beyonce is known for her body and ass shaking not her talent. Beyonce also adheres to Eurocentric standards of beauty. Badu again calls the shots (note: she wore a do rag in the video...).
In the end, it is about power and male privilege. Unfortunately, it is the black women's body we are attempting to control when it isn't even ours. It's theirs. Women have the right to self determination when it comes to their bodies. Men don't. My daughter and wife are not my property. I am sure my daughter will make the right decisions. I am not worried about that. I am worried however about how my fellow men will percieve her and treat her. That's where the trouble lies.
Dan Tres Omi