Serena Williams (or Slut Shaming, Stalker Excusing & Deals with the Devil)

The photo above was described by Lisa Wade over at Sociological Images as such:

This month’s celebrity gossip included a scandal over a photo Serena Williams tweeted of herself that was quickly taken down.  The photo was of Williams in a bra and panties behind what appears to be a curtain; you can see her silhouette and some fuzzy details of what she is wearing.  It was timed to correlate with the release of the World Tennis Association’s Strong is Beautiful campaign, featuring Williams of course.

Williams took the photo down after other news groups, complained.  Not because she was naked.  Or that she was sexy.  The problem was that she was naked and sexy and because of that a man had tried to stalker and the she shouldn’t be enticing these crazy, enraged, engorged and uncontrollable men out here and if she is stalked again it will be okay because it is her fault because she put herself out there…..

Wait….what?????????

“It’s a sexy photo, she looks great and it’s not pornographic. To be honest, I would actually find it to be somewhat artistic if it weren’t for the serious business of stalking women,’  Greg Couch of The Sporting News wrote.

‘What was her message anyway? What was she trying to say? Just this: Look at me. Instead, what she was saying was this: Peep at me, but don’t stalk me. Huh?

‘Someone must have gotten to her and suggested something about common sense and hypocrisy.’”

WHAT?

Yes, please.  Let’s slut shame.  Let’s blame the victim.  Let’s give stalkers, rapists, abusers all the excuses in the world to claim that I/she was “asking for it,” is a “hypocrite,” is “irresponsible.”

“Peep at me, but don’t stalk me.”

That’s right.  Let’s remind women that they don’t have the right to be present in themselves and their bodies, to be beautiful, to be naked, to walk around all the way naked if they want to, without enflaming some man to violence that really isn’t violence after all because why were you naked anyway?

This on the heels of Kanazawa’s eugenic bullshit, is just a bit much.

But wait.  There’s more.

Wade goes on to describe the “patriarchal bargain” Williams is making when she chooses to subscribe to the standards of beauty & sex that continue to circumscribe women’s choices in a male-dominated society:

Of course, selling one’s own sex appeal is more or less required for any female athlete who wants to reach the pinnacle of her career without being called a “dog” and a “dyke” at every turn.  So Williams isn’t breaking the rules, she’s playing the game.  And, yet, when she plays the game she gets, in return, not only stalkers, but criticism that suggests that, were she to be stalked again, she was asking for it.  This is an excellent example of the ugly truth about the patriarchal bargain.

A patriarchal bargain is a decision to accept gender rules that disadvantage women in exchange for whatever power one can wrest from the system. It is an individual strategy designed to manipulate the system to one’s best advantage, but one that leaves the system itself intact.  Williams is making a patriarchal bargain, exchanging her sex appeal for the heightened degree of fame and greater earning power we give to women who play by these rules (e.g., Kim Kardashian).  Don’t be too quick to judge; nearly 100% of women do this to some degree.

But once women appear to have acquiesced to the idea that their bodies are public property, their bodies are treated as public property.  Others, then, feel that they have the right to comment on, evaluate, and even control their bodies.  Williams made her body public, the logic goes, therefore anything that happens to it is her fault.  This is why the bargain is patriarchal.  Williams will be excoriated for her unwillingness to defer to the male gaze if she refuses to trade on her sex appeal. But if she does make this trade, she’ll be the first against the wall if anything bad happens to her.

Wait.  WHAT?

I can appreciate what Wade is trying to do.  Yes, patriarchy is all around us.  Yes, we drink the Koolaid every morning when we decide to put on lipstick and curl our hair.  But such simplistic reasoning behind a very complicated image is unworthy of public dissemination.

Where is the analysis of how public outcry intersects with Williams as a woman of color with a body type that is typical and even celebrated among women of color but denigrated within mainstream society?

Where is the analysis of “patriarchal bargains” and how the easy simplicity of buying in or buying out falls short when you consider how black women in particular have been demonized and vilified, rendered unbeautiful by all official standards and that it is these same official standards that give unofficial sanction as our bodies are exploited, trafficked and violated????? 

And how the hell are we comparing Williams to Kim Kardashian?  Williams is famous because she is a championship tennis star!  She is a fucking winner who just so happens to have a black woman’s body and who just so happens to walk and talk and live present in that body.  This #brownbraidedwoman wears clothes that look good on her.  She remains accountable for her own fucking skin and she doesn’t apologize for it.

What the hell has Kim Kardashian done?  Except be rich, famous, white with a big ass and naked at one point with Ray J?

[Moment]

In that one comparison, Wade erased the magnificent athletic and entrepreneurial success of Williams work and put her on the same level as a woman who made a sex tape.

Championship tennis star.  Reality TV show celebrity.

But it’s more than that.  Williams, rendered hyper-sexual above and beyond (appropriate) standards of sexy is deployed in Wade’s “patriarchal bargain” in ways that do no appreciate the intertextuality of that image and all images where Williams appears.  It creates binaries between in and out, “playing the game” and somehow now playing it as though it is all so easy.  And it is not.  And while I love Sociological Images as a site that is constantly troubling the way we visualize society online and in the Flesh, I find Wade’s analysis extremely problematic and damn near racist in its inability to capture how the body, beauty, sex and the labor that women do in this society to survive much less advance in the world is ALWAYS complicated by a history of race that renders binaries completely meaningless.

Why are we still having this conversation?  Why is it still impossible to bring cogent race and gender and sexuality based analyses into conversation with each other and with patriarchy?  Why is it so hard to believe that a patriarchal bargain for one woman may mean that another woman is just trying to live her life in a way that doesn’t force her to suffocate under the assumptions and expectations imposed on her by the people around her?  Why does a black girl with a big ass automatically mean so much sex that the easiest comparison that could be made is with a chick who was an amateur porn star–as opposed to, say, Michelle Obama’s Biceps?  #ThatWouldBeLogical

Come on people!  Let me live, let me live!

*sigh

There is a lot more going on there (including a whole conversation about exhibitionism, BDSM, and shaming in that direction happening in the comments).  Head to the site, check the comments, and join the conversation.  

~*~*~*~*~*~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Kismet Nuñez is one of the Skillsharers of the of the 3rd Annual INCITE! Shawty Got Skillz workshop at the 2011 Allied Media Conference!  Help us get to Detroit!  Click here!

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One thought on “Serena Williams (or Slut Shaming, Stalker Excusing & Deals with the Devil)

  1. Pingback: On Alter Egos and Infinite Literacies, Part I | Nuñez Daughter

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