As a child, I was always taught to be a dainty young lady. I can recall countless instances of instruction from my elders on what to wear, what to say and how to carry myself overall in order to project an appropriate image to the world. Trusting in their words, I never questioned these ideals and in fact still hold some of them very dear to my heart even today. However, as I grew older and became influenced by external factors like pop culture, I slowly began to stray away from the traditions that had been ingrained in me as a child. When I entered college, I had complete autonomy over my body and was unafraid to venture into this new realm of uninhibited self-presentation. Throughout college, I wore different, sometimes more revealing, clothing and took complete advantage of presenting myself in the way that I saw fit. I cannot deny though that there were times when I felt genuinely conflicted. There were times when I questioned my appearance and seriously deliberated about whether I should go in accordance with the teachings of my family or simply move forward in my evolution. Looking back as a senior and aspiring journalist, I am still very much interested in the representation of the black female body. There is a specific stigma attached to being an African American woman. I want the United States to be a place where I can comfortably exhibit my sexuality and body without feeling stigmatized. While there has been some progress, black women have yet to be liberated from the sexual stereotypes that have hindered their growth and prevented them from being embraced by not just white but all of society.
It is this journey in my thinking that has led to my Independent Study thesis. My research delves into both sides of a sexuality binary that exists for modern day black women. These sides, which I have identified as black women either being portrayed as 1) sexually conservative or 2) extremely hypersexual, ultimately limit the way black women are able to share their sexuality with the world. Such confinement prevents black women from fully sharing their experiences for fear that they will be judged for their choices and also denounces the sexual identity of those who do not fit within these categories. Overall, it is necessary for society to develop a more sex positive attitude as this is what will allow black women who exhibit their sexuality in conservative ways, liberal ways and in between to all be and feel more respected.
I also imagine my Independent Study serving as a teaching aid for community center mentors or perhaps high school teachers. The teaching aid would target minority students of color (specifically young African American women) aged between 15 and 18 and allow educators to introduce sexuality stereotypes plaguing black women. Students could learn much about this topic prior to their entry into college or other forms of higher education. By showing my students both canonical literature and pop culture texts, side by side, I will be modeling a type of interdisciplinary learning. The integration of contemporary and literary works will generate engaging, yet important conversations that are accessible to students and create a more concrete understanding of the material.
This teaching aid will not only help minority students; non-students of color (specifically female students who are not of color) will be able to benefit from my teachings by understanding their role in the perpetuation or dismantling of these stereotypes. As privileged students who may not directly encounter the repercussions of sexuality stereotypes, Caucasian women can use their privilege as a platform to address the harm that these stereotypes bring black women. A thorough comprehension of sex positivity will allow for the acceptance of the black female body by those with body privilege, but more importantly urge these same individuals to not passively ignore stereotypes when they see them. To further equip students with the most useful information, I have included a glossary encompassing terms/works mentioned throughout the text. Most high school students will not have in-depth discussions surrounding these terms until their entry into college. Introducing these terms to students early on in their education will establish a framework that can create more sophisticated dialogue later in their college careers. A physical record of the terminologies used would also be handy for students who want to later refer back to these terms for further clarification or to reference during other discussions.
Wallace, Ashanti, "Fifty-One Shades of Grey: New Readings of the Black Female Body in Literature, Pop Culture and Film" (2016). Senior Independent Study Theses. Paper 7142.
Bachelor of Arts
Senior Independent Study Thesis
© Copyright 2016 Ashanti Wallace