As one of the people who tuned in to BET Tuesday night expecting the return of BET Uncut, I was successfully Punk'd. While the show was advertised as being the answer to viewers' requests, featuring clips from previous music videos and new red carpet celebrity commentary, it all turned out to be a prank for viewers to tune in to the first season of BET Punk'd.
After a 9-year cancellation following a 5-year run, the uncensored music videos with scantily clad women dancing to sexually-charged lyrics were welcomed back with open arms by some. However, what wasn't considered by that portion of the community, but thankfully was by BET, was how this particular program would set African-Americans back in terms of black women's imagery and sexuality.
Black women have fought against the Jezebel stereotype for centuries, a trope that was popularized in American media by white male directors and later perpetuated by black male music artists, especially in hip hop. Today, male and female artists alike capitalize on the sexual exploitation of women. Images such as those in Uncut define black women's sexuality in terms of objectification and degradation rather than agency and respect. When women are relegated to being props and described in lyrical content as sexually desirable, willing, and disposable, it is problematic in several ways.
When women are framed as sexual objects to be conquered, both men and women are taught that a woman's value comes from her body and sex appeal rather than her intelligence or character. With a majority of black women being misrepresented in media today, one would hope that BET would be a safe space for imagery that provides women with dignity and depth. Women work to prove themselves in multiple arenas, particularly the workforce and education, where they are faced with sexual harassment and fewer opportunities for advancement. Objectification asserts that women's roles are not ones of power, but ones of sexual pleasure and entertainment.
The images and content of programs like Uncut also contribute to the continuing prevalence of rape culture on behalf of mass media. Black women are 10 percent more likely to face sexual assault than their white counterparts, and more often than not, they are considered unlikely victims due to the imagery surrounding their sexuality in American society. When portrayed as inherently willing participants in sexual encounters, this places the accountability of sexual violence on women rather than communicating the importance of respect and choice to men.
Finally, the concept that women are disposable after a sexual encounter largely undermines their sexual agency and self-respect. Some branches of feminism have worked diligently to empower women in their sexual decisions and health with partners, and the assumption that a woman inherently loses value upon having sex with an individual completely undermines that self-determination. A woman's worth, contrary to popular belief, is not tied to her sexual availability or experience, and the double standard that degrades women yet honors men in that regard should not be maintained in our culture.
Every individual has a responsibility to know right from wrong and demonstrate respect for other human beings, but when Americans watch television 34 hours per week, we can not ignore the influence that it has on how we view other people and the way of the world.
As a network previously charged with giving African-Americans a platform for their social and political problems as well as control over their own imagery and art, the decision to revive BET Uncut would be largely counterproductive for the African-American community. However, BET made both a wise and humorous decision to tease viewers this week, and certainly grasps the concept of making progress when it comes to the portrayal and empowerment of black women everywhere.