So pleased to bring you a guest blog today from the awesome A. Rochaun Meadows-Fernandez. She is a diversity content specialist who produces materials relating to mental and physical health, sociology, and parenting.
Women and non-binary individuals are often objectified. However, people who are along both racial and gender margins—particularly black women—get a multilayered dose of abuse. These experiences have a substantial effect of our sense of body ownership as well as our healthy sexual development.
Recently, I had a small encounter that solidified that fact for me. I'd gone to the local grocery store to get supplies to cook dinner for my family. As I turned to put away my cart, I passed an elderly man on a bicycle.
I moved out of his way, apologetically, giving him permission to pass before I returned my cart. What happened next shocked me. In a matter of moments, his expression went from warm and welcoming to menacing and predatory. And the subsequent comments about my body made me feel gross.
Going to the grocery story shouldn’t require vulnerability. But any public mix gendered gathering gives me anxiety. For me, men regardless of race or age come with a risk. To be a woman is to live life with the knowledge sexual assault is everywhere. However, for women of color, especially Black women, verbal advances often comes with an increased risk for physical violence. Much is this is because history has spread the lie that Black women’s bodies are community property and accessible to all with interest.
Growing up in Dallas Texas, I'd become accustomed varying degrees of sexual harassment. But for some reason, this time felt different. I had on “safe clothes” and hadn’t gone to a high-risk environment. But none of those things should ever matter. My guard was down because my respect for elders allowed it. Yet, I was met with objectification, and it took everything in me not to cry. It triggered me and resurfaced all the experiences I had as a young black girl with men making inappropriate advances toward me. It was one of the first times that I realized, over the course of the last 25 years, that sexism and objectification had removed my sense of bodily autonomy.
That grocery store parking lot experience served as a reminder of the many barriers that have stood in the way of my having a sense of ownership over my body and my sexuality. I was sexually assaulted at a very young age and continue to have negative verbal and sexual experiences through adulthood.
Each instance was tattooed into my brain as something I'd caused by being too friendly, dressing a certain way, or being in the wrong place. Unfortunately, that is a very common sentiment in my community—and it’s wrong. It also limits the sexual and emotional expression of many folks of color. Throughout history, no one has come to save Black women. When we were being raped during slavery, our men could not save us.
Historically, figures like Recy Taylor, who was raped by six white men during a walk home in the 1940s, remind Black women that the legal system rarely sees Black women as worthy victims who deserve justice. And even now, during the #metoo movement, Black women and non-binary individuals do not receive the same indignation as abused white women—despite the fact that a Black woman having started the movement 10 years prior.
We are taught, from birth, that Black and brown bodies are for public consumption. Society shows Black women as insatiable jezebels or asexual caretakers. But all we want is to exist in the reality of being sexual beings and discerning participants of sexual encounters.
As a post-puberty adolescent, I was taught to expect men to speak, touch, and demand things from me without my permission. Having this level of awareness as a child was a burden and it caused me to stand at the crossroads of powerlessness and responsibility more often than was comfortable. To cope, Black women are taught to disassociate from the past, present, and future abuses that our bodies experience and we internalize responsibility.
Despite all of this, I am making a conscious effort to own my body and my sexuality. For me, that means learning to enjoy sex instead of participating with guilt. That also means realizing that I am not responsible for the inappropriate comments and glances that males send my way. Black women and non-binary individuals have spent too long at the bottom of the priority pyramid. However, one of the first steps toward equality is unlearning the scripts I’ve been fed on who controls my body.
I hope with time that more social programs will educate men of all backgrounds on how to interact with gender minorities without objectification. I don't have all the answers, but I know I can’t continue to intertwine my sense of self with others’ abuse. They may have caused my pain, but they don't control my healing.
There are times, like my recent encounter, that I think of ways I could have prevented objectification. But I’m reminding myself daily that I did not create the system of oppression that marginalizes me, and it isn’t fair for me to carry the burden of fixing it. I should not be responsible for shedding the chains that have been imposed upon me and those who came before me.