“Girls” and the Black Sexuality Double Standard

by Britni Danielle

We’ve talked a lot about the HBO series “Girls” around these parts, so much so that many of you are tired of discussing it. But rock with me for a spell.

After its debut, the web lit up with talk about the lack of diversity on the show, which follows four twenty-something friends as they try to figure out their lives. While many have hailed the show as the best of the year, others have bemoaned the fact that none of the girls are black, brown, or anything other than white.

The show’s creator and star Lena Dunham mentioned that she wrote the series from her experience, which explained the lack of diversity, but Dunham promised to add to the cast during its second season.

As the season progressed, all the “Girls” talk seemed to fade, but a new post by one of my favorite blogs Very Smart Brothas explains why there could never be a black version of the show — and it’s not why you think.

Aside from the fact that black and white women often times have different cultural experiences, Damon Young says there’s one glaring reason why a black “Girls” would not fly: Folks are uncomfortable with black sex.

He explains:

These are just three of the dozens of times sex is shown, discussed, alluded to, made light of, seen, and overheard on “Girls.” Don’t get me wrong. The show isn’t just about sex, but it would be near impossible to have a (somewhat) realistic depiction of contemporary young people — even the ones not having sex — without sex just, well, being there.

None of this could happen with a black show. Sure, young black people find themselves in the same type of situations, but if black people were shown having the same type of sex (and having the same type of sex-related discussions) the characters on “Girls” regularly do, it goes from being thought of as “real” and “gritty” and “truly naked” to “nasty” and “pornographic.” 

We — and “we” in this case is “Americans” — have a strange relationship with black sex and sexuality, too strange for me to even begin to expound on today. Interestingly enough, this is true for both white and black America. As much as we complain about the lack of real black shows on TV, we’d be just as weirded out by real black sex. Can you imagine how many petitions would be made if a popular black show had a black female character asking to put her finger in a black male character’s butt during sex?

Young goes onto to explain that the show’s main character (played by Dunham) could never have a black equivalent because of her unremarkably average looks.

He surmises:

Well, if this black “Girls” is a mirror of the white “Girls,” the main character would be an average looking woman. Not “Hollywood average,” but average average. Aggressively average. “Looks exactly like the woman handing out chicken sausage at Trader Joe’s” average.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being average looking. Average has a low standard deviation as most people — myself included — fall somewhere within the mean. But, while there are a ton of average-looking working white actresses, I challenge you to name ONE relevant black actress under 40 who’d be considered average. Not Hollywood average, but “she looks like this chick who works at the DMV” average. 

My point? As talented as (“Girls” creator and star) Lena Dunham is, there’s no way in hell her black equivalent would be able to be the lead character on a show. Not just an HBO show, either. Any show and any movie.

While I’m not particularly interested in discussing “Girls” at length yet again, Young’s idea — that people (including black folks) wouldn’t embrace black sexuality on screen — is an interesting one.

Despite black people engaging in all sorts of sex, our willingness to talk about it, view it, and be open to the idea of black sexuality is still somewhat taboo. While our white counterparts participate in slut walks and embrace their sexual liberty, black women are often held to different standards by our communities (and others who ascribe certain stereotypes to us) that force many of us to keep our sexual histories, activity, and fantasies to ourselves.

But what do you think? Is our aversion to seeing black sexuality onscreen one reason why we’ll never have a black ‘Girls’ or ‘Sex in the City’? 

  • jamesfrmphilly

    is it possible for black people to create our own shows and not imitate what white people do?

  • http://www.myblackfriendsays.com myblackfriendsays

    I think they make some good points. If there was a lot of frank sexual discussion with black characters, I could see people complaining that it was just feeding into a “hypersexualized black people” stereotype.

  • Marisa

    Of course theres a double standard thats just black life in America whites they can do whatever and behave however and it just doesnt become seem to stick to them and become all of who they are not us. One person antics becomes something the entire black community answers for. I will say this though its not just white media that is not comfortable with black sex alot of our community isnt comfortable with black sex. Our sexuality is not honestly discussed because Mama and Grandmamma dont want Pastor Johnson and Greater Mt Zion/Tabernacle/Ebenezor/Episcopalian/Baptist to look at them strange. Thats right the strangle hold of church doesnt help either. Which is one of the reasons why generations of kids have ZERO discussions on sexual education. Til its too late and the babies, STD’s are already here, I’m 35 and during my formative years the only discussion about sex was dont let boys touch you there. Thank goodness for those sex ed classes. I swear we as a community are hampered by white society and our own, when I’m with my home girls and sex comes up its a lil racy but not vulgar I see nothing wrong with sistas having shows that discusses sexuality.

  • The Comment

    Of course it can be done by doing the following:
    1. No rap music or any interest in trying to be a singer/producer.
    2. No weed smoking
    3. No hair salons.

  • http://stylishthought.com Stylish Thought

    Totally think that a show with a similar premise featuring 4 black women could be made. It’s our hesitation that keeps shows off the air. Black women deserve to see themselves & their stories portrayed in a real light. Not glorified.

  • Heaven

    Just wondering why black folk always want to participate in white folk stuff… Seem like we suffer from a mild no not mild but heavy case of cognitive dissonance. Sort of remind me how all the black blog and magazines so happy the Southern Baptist have a Black President. Oh my we have Black President for real. Stil have deal with white racist *hit! Don’t you get we dealing with the masters Children them folks have not change. Revolutiona is neve going to take place until we change our thinking and stop focusing on there media, lifestyles, etc… my life style is nothing like white folks honestly.

  • Nina

    Please watch ‘A good day to be black and sexy’. If I remember correctly, there is a black female character asking to put her finger in a black male character’s butt during sex. Very good movie and hilarious at time. Black characters comfy having sex and discussing sex and no, it’s not porn. OK, this is a film and not TV but still. Now the director of this film has 2 webseries on the net. (‘The couple’ and ‘The number’) Thank God for the Internet and webseries.

  • MK

    I am not really sure about it, but it is an interesting thought.

  • http://gravatar.com/nuttbutterfly Heaven

    It is very possible I work in television post production mostly for Public Broadcasting and independent film producers. I’m telling you it’s so sad even when you have the black documentary on Africans/or the so Call African American it’s white person telling our story. However, yeah we could do it if we stop wasting our time in colleges studying psychology and sociology.

  • conswello

    What about the show, “Girlfriends”. Beautiful Black Sisters, diversity in relationships, business and lifestyles. The answer is a absolute yes, Black women could and have possessed the ability to style decently, and success on a show, and or Movie.

  • BFDuster

    Have you considered that if you no one talked, no one would have ideas? Or at least, very little ideas at all? That, not everyone is talented or has resources? That some people just want to watch others create?

    Just saying… because you should never attempt to shut down discussion just because you’tr tired of it. Maybe you should just, y’know, not read articles with subjects you claim to be over. Huh.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    “thank God for Issa Rae” : a black women who choses a white man is not anything to be thankful for

  • jamesfrmphilly

    “Our sexuality is not honestly discussed because Mama and Grand mamma don’t want Pastor Johnson and Greater Mt Zion/Tabernacle/Ebenezor/Episcopalian/Baptist to look at them strange”

    as some one who is olde enough to have gone out with mamma and grand ma too i can say that they were stone cold freaks in their time. most of them lied like a rug to their daughters.
    sorry.

  • Jessica

    James, why do black women have an obligation to chose Black men and Black men only?

  • cancan

    Didn’t we already have the black version of ‘Girls’ in ‘Girlfriends’? I wish we could bring that show back, it was truly amazing.

  • mary mary

    yup, “girlfriends” and “living single” also. the character of max was always made fun of for being a freak, and they had an arc showing her relationship with kyle.

  • http://changecomesslow.wordpress.com Nikesha

    I don’t think that black sex is why black people have an aversion to girls or why their could never be a black “girls” or black SaTC… the success of Girlfriends and Living Single prove that four Black women friends can have the same kind of lives as four White women friends in the same city for one of these shows. the only difference was the network.

    i think the problem with re-imagining girls with color is that while Black women may make similar friendship connections and be all the way raw and real when discussing their sexuality i don’t know many black women who look at having HPV as adventurous or being sexually harassed as a cue to go bang your boss. the awkward situations these girls get in in the black community may happen but probably is not a relatable experience for many of the young go getter 20-something set.

  • Ravi

    I’m not sure if the guy theorizing about black sexuality on television just doesn’t watch a lot of television, but I’m not sure how he isn’t aware of the numerous instances of black sexuality on television. On nearly every network you can find tons of examples. Watch a few episodes of almost any showtime or hbo series save Girls, and you will see quite a bit.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    any black person with self knowledge and self love will have no interest in a white partner..

  • Jane

    @ James I’m curious why are you so obsessed with things young black women like. Did you seriously watch the entire Awkward Girl series just to become upset when she chose a white guy? I still haven’t even had a chance to watch it all!

  • Jane

    max on living single was such an entertaining character. they would try to make her look like a misfit “freak” at first, but soon had to accept that she was clearly the best one on the show. the others were just a supporting cast at best, how ironic!

  • jamesfrmphilly

    @ James I’m curious why are you so obsessed with things young black women like.

    i ride the # 23 bus through north philly. young black people need all the help they can get.

  • SDL

    Very provocative article and comments. I agree with one of the comments regarding the church and perception. Many older women flat-out refuse to talk about sex and sexuality with their daughters. I was very fortunate with my mom. She refused to let crackpot phys. ed. teacher provide a sketchy detailing of the birds and the bees, and has always been very open when sharing her experiences- good, bad, and make-you-wanna-cry ugly. There is nothing shameful or disgusting about sex. It’s a natural act that most will experience at some point since it is the primary form of procreation. I am glad that ladies like Issa Rae and the ladies of Girlfriends are challenging the norm.

  • BFDuster

    Uh does this apply asexual/lesbian/bisexual Black women too? >___>;

  • Keiko

    Anyone with self knowledge and self love wouldn’t choose a partner who has nothing to offer either. And quite frankly, a lot of Black men have very little to offer. Some of us aren’t even attracted to Black men.

  • http://twitter.com/ZenMamaPolitic Alisha M.Gray (@ZenMamaPolitic)

    Your article was great; however it denies the true portion of what is wrong with discussing Black Women’s sexuality~ ‘The Danger’. Black women are still horribly objectified by men,White men in particular. Sure, we’d love to embrace our sexuality..but their maturity levels quite often interfere. It has affected both our present relationships; as well as our future engagements. There seems to be an ‘Elephant in the room’. On one hand..we need shows which express our ‘real’ views’, but on the other..I don’t wish for White men (still like that in the South, and other places)..to get the impression that it’s okay to automatically join in the conversation, without measure. This issue of Black women’s sexual exploitation has been around since Hottentot, and still remains today the reason why there will never be another Black woman waiting for a chance at a White ‘Bachelor’ on that awful Reality TV show, of the same name. We have to handle the issue of exploitation first, and are nowhere near Post Racial. In other words…I don’t think that we honestly feel uncomfortable with our sexuality. It is others that do,and envy Black Women’s confidence. It is that fear of jealousy and exploitation that binds us. Some people simply do not know how to respect Black women enough yet. If we do have a program..it should be by our own demands, show our own diversity, and explore ‘real’ issues in Black women’s life, such as in ‘For Colored Girls’. ‘Nuff Said.

  • http://twitter.com/ZenMamaPolitic Alisha M.Gray (@ZenMamaPolitic)

    Your article was great; however it denies the true portion of what is wrong with discussing Black Women’s sexuality~ ‘The Danger’. Black women are still horribly objectified by men,White men in particular. Sure, we’d love to embrace our sexuality..but their maturity levels quite often interfere. It has affected both our present relationships; as well as our future engagements. There seems to be an ‘Elephant in the Room’. On one hand..we need shows which express our ‘real’ views, but on the other..I don’t wish for White men (still like that in the South, and other places)..to get the impression that it’s okay to automatically join in the conversation, w/out measure. This issue of Black women’s sexual exploitation has been around since Hottentot, & still remains today. We have to handle the issue of exploitation first, and are nowhere near Post Racial. In other words…I don’t think that we honestly feel uncomfortable with our sexuality. It is others that do,and envy Black Women’s confidence. It is that fear of jealousy and exploitation that holds us. Some people simply do not know how to respect Black women enough yet. If we do have a program..it should be by our own demands, show our own diversity, and explore ‘real’ issues in Black women’s life, such as in ‘For Colored Girls’. ‘Nuff Said.

  • http://twitter.com/ZenMamaPolitic Alisha M.Gray (@ZenMamaPolitic)

    Your article was great; however it denies the true portion of what is wrong with discussing Black Women’s sexuality~ ‘The Danger’. Black women are still horribly objectified by men,White men in particular. Sure, we’d love to embrace our sexuality..but their maturity levels quite often interfere. It has affected both our present relationships; as well as our future engagements. There seems to be an ‘Elephant in the room’. On one hand..we need shows which express our ‘real’ views’, but on the other..I don’t wish for Wh. men (still like that in the South, and other places)..to get the impression that it’s okay to automatically join in the conversation, w/out invite. We have to handle the issue of exploitation first, and are nowhere near Post Racial. In other words…I don’t think that we honestly feel uncomfortable with our sexuality. It is others that do,and envy Black Women’s confidence. It is that fear of jealousy & exploitation which holds us. Some people simply do not know how to respect Black women enough yet. If we do have a program..it should be by our own demands, show our own diversity, and explore ‘real’ issues in Black women’s lives. ‘Nuff Said.

  • http://twitter.com/ZenMamaPolitic Alisha M.Gray (@ZenMamaPolitic)

    Your article was great; however it denies the true portion of what is wrong with discussing Black Women’s sexuality~ ‘The Danger’. Black women are still horribly objectified by men,White men in particular. Sure, we’d love to embrace our sexuality..but their maturity levels quite often interfere. It has affected both our present relationships; as well as our future engagements. There seems to be an ‘Elephant in the room’. On one hand..we need shows which express our ‘real’ views’, but on the other..I don’t wish for White men (still like that in the South, & other places)..to get the impression that it’s okay to automatically join in the conversation, without measure. We have to handle the issue of exploitation first, and are nowhere near Post Racial.

  • chnyere

    wonderful article

  • zeevy

    Single Ladies shows black women embracing their sex lives.

  • my_reply

    @jamesfrmphilly – Really? It’s 2012 not the 1960s many people black, white, brown, yellow, purple or green have many of the same experiences. Black people are not trying to imitate white people. In case you haven’t heard, black people have sex too. Are black people only sexing it up to imitate white people? Any show based outside of inner city ghettos with middle class black people doing normal things not talking about slavery and the CRM and not speaking Ebonics must be imitating white people to you? I for one like seeing shows with black people doing normal things. Why does everything have to be like ‘The Wire’ or ‘Roots’ for the acting black crew to be happy? When we act dysfunctional we are being real and “acting black.” When we do normal things we are “acting white” and imitating white people.

  • Humanista

    The acting is also awful. …but as for the quality of black televisions–that’s a discussion for another day!

  • http://theogk.wordpress.com Kelly Hawkins

    @Heaven you are so right. Why is a “black equivalent” of this show even necessary. I don’t think I relate to many things white people so why should we try to mimic it on TV. If anything I’m ready for a primetime show depicting early African empires. I’m tired of all these medieval and Roman empire shows. White folks act like that was the beginning of civilization, but that part of history wasn’t even that poppin’.

  • Eboni Strickland

    I dnt agree with this article….It really shldn’t say tht we cnt have a show like tht, especially because have we actually tried? I dnt ever remember anyone trying. Maybe I shld. We cnt get mad at tht show for something like tht. All different type of ppl watched Sex and the City. At first they didn’t have any blks on the show. It took them a while. I say if we really wanted to have a show similar lets at least try before we say we cnt. I think tht’s whts wrong with a lot of black ppl sometimes very simple minded always thinking we cnt do something b4 we even try. I love this show it hilarious. And as far as the main character she is very basic and awkward. Also the show comes on HBO. While they are showing a lot of stuff on regular cable now it does make a difference tht its on a station such as HBO because ppl expect behavior like tht. I feel if the script is done right it will be a great show for black ppl.I actually like this show. Ive seen every episode and thought it was very funny…And we shldn’t just be looking at tht black actresses tht have already had a great career it shld be actresses you are young and trying to make a name for themselves…fresh faces. Dnt knock it to you try it is a very true statement…

  • Eboni Strickland

    @jamesfrmphilly u r ignorant and the reason why a lot blks use can’t. No matter the color you shld be able to date,sex,befriend whomever u feel is worthy of your time. pls get it together u look to old for such behavior!!!! I use my full name because I speak truth and facts and want ppl to know exactly where my truth come from..my soul.

  • iQgraphics

    what about soul food, the series?

  • iQgraphics

    what about Soul Food?

  • http://twitter.com/Echidiime @echidiime (@Echidiime)

    I thought “Girlfriends” was the black, but yet more wholesome, alternative to Sex in the City. Admittedly all the women on Girlfriends were abnormally gorgeous while SITC women were blah or even downright unappealing.

  • gmarie

    Black people kind of put these sexual restriction on themselves though don’t you think? We could be as sexually liberated as we want to be if we really wanted to be.

  • Keiko

    I disagree. Just look at how many Black celebrity women get called whores and sluts for even associating with more than one man.

  • The Comment

    @gmarie

    I soo agree with you. Non blacks don’t pay attention to us. We restrict ourselves. When I go on a black fashion blog it is black women that are quick to call Amber, Draya Michele or Evelyn all manner of vulgar names. A director, who happens to be black, should tell the story from his/her perspective. Generalizations of black people sexing will either be non existent or hyper ghetto. I say just copy the love sceen in Jason’s Lyric with Jada Pinket and the other dude. You can copy that till the end of time cause that was perfect. Making love in a flowery meadow next to a creek at noon day in the summer. It was a hella of a run on sentence but if you saw the sceen you know what I means.

  • Chah

    @jamesfrmphilly your comments on this thread are truly misogynistic, fueled less by your concern for young Black women than your (self) loathing. please have this whole front row of seats.

  • iQgraphics

    I cannot.
    Are we still talking about this show by and for pasty white people?
    This show is wack! We don’t need a black version of wackness!

    ugh!

  • gwaan gyal

    Interesting topic. I actually dont have tv and have not seen this show..but I haven seen her indie film online, Tiny Furniture. I watched it b/c I love indie films..however, I was a bit uncomfortable with her nudity and sexuality in the film. I understand that this could possibly be b/c I have been conditioned to seeing trim/in shape attractive ppl on screen doing those types of things…in Tiny Furniture, she was very disheveled and heavier..I dont even think it was heavy part that turned me off..it was the disheveled hair and unproportioned body that did it. No offense to heavy ppl…then she was also very spoiled and cursed at her mom and stole money from her…so that just made her more unattractive..however I did like the fact that the film was different and she did it at a young age..an also had her real life sister and monther play those characters.

  • Dionne

    L.M.A.O!!!!!

  • http://gravatar.com/ohyeaohyea Me

    I don’t understand this article b/c it’s not true. The show ‘Girlfriends’ is simply ‘Girls’ with a laugh track. I think the people who aren’t comfortable w/ black sex are in the minority. Frankly, as much porn (multi-cultural) as there is online, I wouldn’t think many ppl would be uncomfortable with anything.

    Futhermore, I must agree with what another poster said above, some actions of white ppl or ppl in general SHOULD NOT be emulated. The Native American population were the firsts to get on board with the so-called ‘environmentalist’ movement. It took white ppl hundreds of years to realize that industrializtion wasn’t a good thing.

  • simplyme

    I think the Black version of Girls = Awkward Black Girl… Awkward sexual encounters….”average” looking girl… “average” job…”average” life… It may not be on TV but has become wildely popular online with Black people and none black folks alike. Her first season garnered millions of views and won a webbie award. So although I pretty much agree with his point, I think we’re starting to push past this era of being uncomfortable with black sexuality in its most banal form thanks to it being 2012 and thanks to awesome people like Issa Rae who are willing to create the things they want to see.

  • Paul

    Totally disagree with this nonsense

    My discomfort about a show depicting black sexuality (as our is different to everyone elses) wouldn’t be to do with not wanting to see black people as sexual beings.

    It’s that sex seems to be our leading preoccupation.

    A show depicting blacks sexual lives would be superflous. It would just be a show about what the stupidest blacks spend most of their time talking and thinking about – and that’s where my discomfort would come from.

    You know like – why can’t we find black writers who can write human stories for blacks casts where romance and race are merely incidental, rather the central issue of the story.

    I think the reason is simple. Very few so called black writers have lead the kind of lives or read the kinds of books that fuel that kind of creativity. All they’ve ever done is date and have sex so that’s what they write about.

    I mean check it – everyone one of those dumb web-shows is about romance.

    How effing tedious.

    Gonna have to write the s hit myself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tlcarr08 Terri Carr

    I just can’t stop laughing at “chicken sausage at Trader Joe’s” average! Anyway, I’d like to know who says that we are “uncomfortable” with Black sex? Where was that ever reiterated since the 60s or 70s even?? I’m sure we have progressed enough to warrant the consideration as to our tolerance, intelligence, and ability to discern who and what we would like to see on screen. I loved Love Jones. And to me, that was the epitome of Black love at it’s finest and that has yet to be recreated on screen.

    And I do think there are some average looking Black female actresses in Hollywood under 40… like Ke Ke Palmer.

  • Erin

    Solid point. Well said.

  • kayla

    It’s amazing to me that people would be offended that Girls only portrays a group of white females. I was just having this discussion with a few coworkers of mine at Dish and they felt the same way! The show’s plotline is based directly off Lena Dunham, the creator, and her other over-privileged, white, young, female friends. I think it would be even worse to feature a character for no other value than their race, which kind of sounds like what they are planning to do in season two. At the same time, there has been such uproar on the subject that I don’t blame the creators for appeasing the audience. When I first watched the season, the debate hadn’t even crossed my mind. I’m going to watch it again just in case there are any hidden innuendos I did not catch. Luckily, I have the Hopper DVR box that includes a massive amount of memory, so I know I still have the shows saved somewhere. I don’t even know why anyone would be offended for not being associated with these girls anyway. They are not the most intelligent bunch.

  • Eclectikmystery

    I agree with Kayla’s comments, and quite frankly I’m perplexed because so often I hear lack of diversity comments from black folk who if they looked at their own social networks wouldn’t see a racially diverse assortment of cohesive friendships. In our most intimate of relationships most of the country is still very racially polarized. Lena is right to write the show from her own perspective–and it’s a damn good show.

    I’d also back up the comments of “Me”, Girlfriends was a widely successful show and was very well written. I don’t think we were uncomfortable with black sex at all. There is lots of porn out there as well, and if you look at it increasingly it’s interracial porn out there. Ever turned on BET or MTV or watched a hip hop or R&B music video? We are not a country that doesn’t want to deal with “black sex.” Sure we make speak in muted tones about it, but black sex is throughout our culture and I don’t think it’s the reason why there could never be a black “Girls.” The reason it would be tough to get a black show that’s different on the air is that far too often we aren’t creative in the stories we tell. Is it any wonder why Awkward Black Girl is so well received? It’s because it’s a show that is relevant and doesn’t recycle old stories! Writers should take the lead.

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