In the United States, Black women’s bodies have been commodified, controlled, and surveilled for the benefit of others denying them sexual citizenship or control of one’s sex life. The denial of sexual citizenship impacts reproductive choices, approach to pleasure, and experiences of sexual objectification. Black feminist, womanist, and reproductive justice scholars and activists acknowledge the ways in which Black women’s bodies have experienced oppression in different systems, in particular reproductive healthcare. From Blues music to hip hop, Black women have been the most expressive on topics relating to their feelings, trauma, and healing.
Rapper, Texas Southern University alumna and Texas native, Megan “Thee Stallion” Pete, released “Hot Girl Summer” (HGS) featuring rapper Nicki Minaj and singer Ty Dolla Sign, on August 9, 2019. This song followed Pete and others using hot girl and HGS when referring to activities and way of thinking that supported being a hot girl. Pete defines a hot girl as “being unapologetically YOU, having fun, being confident, living YOUR truth, being the life of the party.” The Hot Girl Summer praxis gives Black women and femmes the permission to unapologetically access their best lives through pleasures by refusing to continue to allow the fear of harm while simultaneously respecting multi-faceted representation in public platforms. It is an initiation originally considered for Black women. It can be applicable to other sexually marginalized groups movement towards their sexual liberation. In my work, I define sexual liberation as having bodily autonomy, sexual agency, and sexual pleasure. Black women are developing ways to move towards sexual liberation in the social movements of Pleasure Activism and Hot Girl Summer.
Pleasure Activism responds to Black women’s intersectional experiences in the United States. In 2019, adrienne maree brown published book, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good, which she credits Keith Cylar, harm reductionist and co-founder of Housing Works, as the one to coin the term. Author and activist, brown defines Pleasure Activism as atransformative justice work to reclaim “whole, happy, and satisfiable selves from the impacts, delusions, and limitations of oppression and/or supremacy…to cultivate our interest in radical love and pleasure, and to nourish the orgasmic yes in each of us.”
In 2020, Pete wrote an op-ed for the New York Times sharing her perspective on protecting Black women,
“We [Black women] deserve to be protected as human beings. And we are entitled to our anger about a laundry list of mistreatment and neglect that we suffer…I choose what I wear, not because I am trying to appeal to men, but because I am showing pride in my appearance, and a positive body image is central to who I am as a woman and a performer…Remarks about how I choose to present myself have often been judgmental and cruel, with many assuming that I’m dressing and performing for the male gaze. When women choose to capitalize on our sexuality, to reclaim our own power, like I have, we are vilified and disrespected…”Megan “Thee Stallion” Pete
House of Representatives member, Maxine Waters, responded to Megan Thee Stallion’s op-ed applauding her courage to speak on Black women’s lived experiences and assured that she has her back. Later, Pete and Waters had a public conversation online discussing mentorship, the role of hip hop to movements,and the “audacity” of Black artists, such as Megan Thee Stallion, unapologetically expressing themselves in their music.
The value of the Hot Girl Summer Movement, in conjunction with Pleasure Activism, has empowered Black women, including myself, to address and heal from shame, fear, and trauma via these dual movements. A Hot Girl Movement callsfor aspiring allies, activists, and artists to protect, respect, and center the pleasure of Black women. The Pleasure Activism and the Hot Girl Summer movements exist today because of our foremothers who fight for Black women’s rights and empowerment, such as Harriot Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Fannie Lou Hamer, Audre Lorde and so many others who continue to fight for civil rights without the respect, protection, and freedom as a Black woman. A traditional African saying, “I am because we are” rings true for this movement. As a Black woman whose work is undeniably personal, I recognize the Black women’s pursuit of sexual liberation is a radical act: a real hot girl shift.
Dr. Clarissa Francis is a Hot Girl Movement scholar-activist and AASECT certified sexuality educator who focuses her work primarily on Black women’s sexual liberation. She currently teaches college courses on race, gender, and sexuality and continues to develop safe spaces for Black women and marginalized groups to participate in unrestricted dialogue, unpacking intergenerational trauma, and sexual healing.
Brown, a. m. (2019). Pleasure Activism: The politics of feeling good. AK Press.
Francis, C. E. (2021). A Real Hot Girl Movement: A Social History of Pleasure Activism in Atlanta, Georgia [Doctoral dissertation, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Megan Thee Stallion. (2019). Hot Girl Summer [Song]. 300 Entertainment.Megan Thee Stallion. (2020c, October 13). Why I speak up for Black women. The New York Times.