She's a Bad Mama Jama : Black Women in the Media in the 1970s
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The essentialist construction of Black womanhood present in the Rolling Stones’ song Brown Sugar is one example of a representation. Within the context of this paper, a representation is a portrayal of Black women constructed for consumption. It is intended to reach people. It is a distillation, sometimes a dishonest one, of a person into a two-dimensional being that has an express purpose. Normative expectations (standards for comportment and behavior that Black women are expected to follow) are often communicated through representations. In the case of the Jezebel, the message was that Black women's sexuality needed to be policed, specifically by white men. In addition to exploring the myth of the Jezebel, this paper will explore other mythologized, one-dimensional representations of Black women in media that were prevalent in the 1970s. The author pays special attention to the 1970s because racial hierarchies were challenged and identities were re-imagined in the 1960s and 1970s. Media produced at the time, including television shows, films (with special attention to Blaxploitation films), magazines, newspapers, academic journal articles, and published works written by Black women all reflect these changes in society. All of these primary sources include depictions of Black womanhood, including the Jezebel. Other depictions include mammies (the maternal, asexual, self-sacrificing, supposedly dim-witted figure), and sapphires (the original incarnation of the angry black woman). Often, writers and media contributors blended aspects of all three to form a hybrid of sorts, such as the "Sassy Supermama," crime-fighting women who were maternal like Mammy, angry and violent like Sapphire, andsensual like the Jezebel.