Black Female Sexuality in Passing by Deborah E. McDowell

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In Deborah E. McDowell’s essay Black Female Sexuality in Passing she writes about the sexual repression of women seen in Nella Larsen‘s writings during the Harlem Renaissance, where black women had difficulty expressing their sexuality. In her essay, she writes about topics affecting the sexuality of women such as, religion, marriage, and male dominated societies. In Toni Morrison’s short story, “Recitatif” there are examples of women who struggle to express their sexuality. The people in society judge women based off their appearance, and society holds back women from expressing themselves due to society wanting them to dress/act a certain way.

Religion is one point McDowell brings forth in her essay, during the Jazz era she stated that singers such as Bessie Smith, Gertrude Rainey, and Victoria Spivey sung about sexual feelings in their songs. Women during this Jazz era were freer about their sexuality, but due to this freeness, an article called “Negro Womanhood’s Greatest Need” criticized the sexuality of Black women. In this article, the writers criticized Black women of the Jazz era; one part stated “…“speed and disgust” of the Jazz Age which created women “less discreet and less cautious than their sisters in the years gone by”. These “new” women, she continued, rebelling against the laws of God and man” (p.368). Women showing expressing their sexuality is not only an act against God, but also against men.

In Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” Twyla’s mother Marry had no problem expressing her sexuality because she was a stripper, who danced all night, she wore a fur jack and green slacks to a chapel to meet her daughter Twyla. Her clothing was inappropriate especially to Roberta’s mother who was symbolic of God. Roberta’...

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...heir mother presence, they were happy, but still resented their mothers. Resenting their mothers for not being able to take care of them, they both ended up in an opposite appearance compared to their mothers. Roberta’s mother being religious and conservative led her to being freer about her sexuality. While Twyla’s mother being more open led her to be more conservative, working a regular job, and having a normal family. Problems for women or anyone being able to express their sexuality can come from their upbringing; whether

your parents are strict of more free can be a determining factor. During one part of the story Twyla, mention Roberta having a nice shape head and hair, but later in the story she said she never wanted to have her hands in her hair. When expressing her sexuality racist thoughts from her mother blocked off her expressing her true feelings.
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