You Can’t Sit With Us: The Mandate and Enforcement of Respectability Politics

I’m starting to notice a theme here….and I’m not talking about the titles of my post. I’ve always been a slightly awkward person, and a residual side effect is that sometimes I tend to watch how other people interact versus actually interacting with them. Almost like a little alien keeping a journal on human socialization patterns  anthropologist. I’ve written about the phenomenon of others commenting on the love lives – or lack there of – of those in their social circle. I would like to explore a new topic: Us ladies and our need to be over vigilant about the preference of another.


Don’t be an unfriendly black (or white, yellow, brown, purple, blue) hottie

Before you ask, there was no personal interaction that lead to the decision to write this. My thought process literally went something like this: Oh my tattoo is cute…I wanna get another one…when though….tattoos are great….is there such a thing as too many tattoos…well maybe for me but it might work for other people….why do some people feel the need to dictate what’s acceptable for me to do with my body….and then I heard a siren and thought about  the idea of policing others for this post and here we are. If you managed to get through that and make sense congratulations! That’s how my brain operates 90% of the time.

The point of this isn’t to cast blame or judgement. These are just the musings of my mind. These are just questions I have and hopefully, some insight can be provided.

So before we really dive in, what is respectability politics? Well in a short answer, they are set of rules imposed by society that are used to keep people in their place. For the long answer, you can go here; it’s very informative and helpful. Many groups have a code of politics that they use to keep their members in line; everyone has that auntie who asks when they’re gonna “do something with that nappy head”.  They mean well but what they’re really doing is enforcing an antiquated and usually depreciating view onto an oft younger generation.

I could spend hours talking about the respectability politics that the black community tries to enforce on one another (how many times have we been told that dark-skinned girls shouldn’t wear certain shades of lipstick?) but today, I would just like to focus on the ways that women police each other.

“Once I stopped being a ho, my life got so much better” “I stopped hanging out with her and the glo up was real.” Ladies (and gentlemen), we have got to remember that just because a choice isn’t for us, doesn’t mean it gives us reign to condemn them.

Why do we feel the need to constantly tear other women down based on superfluous things like style or sexuality-especially sexuality. I have my suspicions. Most times, it’s coming from a place of love. We want to see others happy and in our minds, the only path to happiness is one that we chose. “Once I stopped being a ho, my life got so much better” “I stopped hanging out with her and the glo up was real.” Ladies (and gentlemen), we have got to remember that just because a choice isn’t for us, doesn’t mean it gives us reign to condemn them. Remember that thing about throwing stones, while living in glass houses? Yeah that applies here too.

One of the biggest areas that women police each other on is sexuality. Can I please just say: Stop! Stop it! Sexuality is a part of the human experience. Does someone become a less valued or productive member of society based on how much they enjoy sex? This has always baffled me? Why are so puritanical about this? Enjoying sex does not stop someone being a good person. If anything, they’re probably a lot less stressed because they’re out enjoying themselves. Trust me, there are worse vices that people could have.

Ladies, I’m gonna let you on to a little secret here: owning that s*** is powerful as hell.

And what’s worse is that this only seems to be a one-sided issue. It’s expected that men will enjoy sex. But heaven forbid a woman actually own and take pride in her sexuality. Ladies, I’m gonna let you on to a little secret here: owning that s*** is powerful as hell. Despite the passage of time, this emboldened stance is always seen as revolutionary. Why?


Ms. Lauper wasn’t telling me anything new; girls been wanting to have fun

The minute I began to embrace my sexuality is the minute that I felt a fire light inside of me. And that doesn’t mean that I went out and made everyday hump day – that just doesn’t work for me. But I became more self-assured. And what’s wrong with a woman being self assured? There are so many factors and agents at work trying to tear us down….what’s wrong with being your own advocate? As long as you’re being safe and educated, do whatever the hell you want. It’s not my place to judge.

Speaking of judging, can we stop judging each other based on appearances? I know that is probably the most basic sentence you will ever read on here, but it has to be said. We live the age of social media where we just as much time fabricating a life to present to other people as we do living an actual life. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

If someone asked you to pick the most ladylike out of the two of these photos, you would easily probably pick the one on the right. Why can’t they be two sides of the same coin? It has always baffled me why the idea of a woman celebrating her body is seen as problematic. Some groups of feminists will lament the fact that the woman on the left has not been freed of from the grip of the male gaze (admittedly a Playboy cover is not the best example in this comparison but you get my point) while other women might say that she needs to cover up and be more modest.

To quote Ms. Norbury, calling each other b****** and hos only gives guys to call you b****** and hos.

I have nothing against modesty at all. Some of my favorite outfits go well below my knees. Ladies, we need to give each other a break. Sometimes we dress for ourselves, not for the approval of others or for men. A woman choosing to dress more modestly than another doesn’t mean she’s better than her. She just has a different set of beliefs. And frankly as long of both sets of beliefs lead to both women being good people – you know, not murdering and robbing and what not – then what does it matter how they dress? That’s not to say that there aren’t certain moments when presentation matters. But in those moments, if you see a fellow sister struggling  (some women literally only have club wear in their closets or they were never shown the proper way to dress for a job interview), then let’s help her out, not tear her down. You’re going to make a much better impact if you come from a loving place than from a place of judgement.

We’ve got to stop. To quote Ms. Norbury, calling each other b****** and hos only gives guys to call you b****** and hos. And true while we’ve grown out of the high school phase of name calling, we still do it with the way we describe each other. Let’s not limit our prospects. We have to build each other up. What do we get out of tearing each other down? If we constantly act like crabs in a barrel, we will never get out of the barrel. Ladies, if we feel the need to critique or criticize another woman for their life choice, let’s stop and think about where the need to do so is coming from. There’s plenty of room at the table for all of us, don’t you think?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments and be sure to like and follow!



13 thoughts on “You Can’t Sit With Us: The Mandate and Enforcement of Respectability Politics

  1. tiarasandtantrums says:

    I think from a young age, especially in my generation’s group, we have been programmed to “sit here”, “don’t speak” “mind your manners” “listen to adults” — that is is just inevitable. I do teach some of these things to my own children to some degree – but I also let them say what is on their minds, and this was never allowed when I was growing up. It’s nice to see things changing.


    • jailynsherell says:

      Yes, it definitely changes from group to group. And it’s very interesting to see this type of things at play in intergenerational relationships


  2. Eric || The Bucket List Project says:

    whew had to hold on as you took us on this ride. Though I am a Cuban man it may be hard to relate to the black community or female perspective. I think this can cross many lines on self respect and owning your true identity. As for the being you and not allowing others to influence you with their rules or ideals I think that is a trained habit that parents need to instill in their children. I was lucky that my parents taught me to be respectful but always be free and independent and ultimately do what I feel was right for me


  3. Joscelyn says:

    I agree whole-heartedly. We need to build each other up. This is such an important message. Thank you for the reminder and sharing your thoughts!


  4. Lalie says:

    People in my moms generation seemed to be programmed to think a women are suppose to look a certain way all the time. I’m glad my mom didn’t try to make me grow up to those ideas of how woman should look. I love when people dress or act how they want to and we can all learn so,thing from each other. Live your life how you want if it makes you happy.


  5. Aubree Rivera says:

    I love that this is just your opinion and not that you had to tell your story but really you told 2 because you kind of showed both sides of the world. Thank You for writing.


  6. Prerna Garg Agarwal says:

    From our childhood, we’ve been brought up conform with how our society thinks. If someone doesn’t, he/she’s termed a rebel. ‘Behave like a lady,’ ‘men don’t cry,’ ‘don’t cry like a girl,’ ‘you are strong for a girl,’ are some of the usual.


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