Monday, March 29, 2010

On "Booty"

A few weeks ago I read this post on Shakesville. With all of my education in sexuality and gender studies, I can honestly say I had no idea that “punk” had such a long and complex history. When I was teaching high school I would hear my students referring to each other (or their step father, in one case) as punks and I thought it was amusing because I pictured this:

which is especially amusing when you consider that both high schools I have worked at were predominantly African American. Now I realize that that is not what they were saying at all and I am sorry I missed the opportunity to talk with them about it and use it as a teaching moment especially as we spent several weeks talking about sex and gender.

This week on the bus I have been re-reading Gloria AnzaldĂșa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. As I was reading, I noticed that AnzaldĂșa refers to colonized women as “booty” for the victorious nation during times of war and imperialism. Of course, I know what booty means and have heard it many times before, but since reading that Shakesville post I started to think about the ways in which “booty” has been used in our current vernacular. I wonder how “booty” came to mean buttocks: specifically female buttocks. When one considers its original meaning, the correlation starts to seem too insidious to be a coincidence. “Booty,” a term for the possessions gained through violently overtaking a group of people and co-opting their culture, is used today as a description of the female buttocks, suggesting that women themselves are possessions to be won through whatever means necessary. This implies that women are owned by the men of their own culture and can be stolen by men of another culture. It is especially disconcerting if we consider that "booty" is generally used to describe the backsides of black women whose bodies have a long history of being literally objectified and owned by white culture. If we look at the popular culture use of the term this does not seem like a far fetched or radical hypothesis.

There is, evidently, such a thing as booty hip hop.

Booty is sometimes what we call sex.

It is a movie.

It is a song.

Or two.

Beyond that, Rachael and Ross sang Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” to their newborn on Friends and I once heard my baby cousin referred to his mother’s bottom as ‘booty’ when he was under one year old! The term "booty" is deeply entrenched in our language to the point that it is completely normal for anyone to say, much like "punk."

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