Beats by Dre Presents: Powerbeats2 Wireless - Nothing Stops Serena
This is a really cool commercial for Serena; until this one, Richard Sherman had my favorite Beats by Dre commercial. (I track commercials that I like that feature Black girls/Black women.)
What interests me most about this commercial is Serena’s presentation. Here is an incredibly talented and powerful athlete, just won the 2014 U.S. Open and her skill, her head game, her intellect on the court and her athletic prowess cannot be denied. And because of this skill and the hypervisibility of her body as a dark skinned Black woman, in the context of how misogynoir manifests in both the media and society itself, she is regularly referred to as a “man.” As in, despite her being cisgender, because of anti-Blackness and misogynoir, her womanhood is regularly challenged and denied, in often transmisogynistic ways, similarly to how White “feminist icon” Joan Rivers did to Michelle Obama, who is also cisgender. The “strong Black woman” archetype against Serena and “angry Black woman” archetype against Michelle Obama operates not just as ableist and racist, but specifically misogynoiristic; it’s about denying their womanhood as Black women. This is not a suggestion that cis privilege doesn’t exist for Black women, especially when examining the experiences of cis Black women and Black trans women; it’s complicating the way privilege is discussed with an intersectional perspective versus a linear one shaped by White academic discourse on oppression, which usually co-opts intersectionality in an epistemically violent way to center Whiteness, while simultaneously denying White privilege.
Serena is so femme in this commercial and in her appearance in general. Her sculpted eyebrows, her eye shadow, her makeup, her pink tank top, her jewelry, her manicured nails, her hair. All femme presentation. Her body (and her dark skin)—regularly the site which people use deny her womanhood—is one that is powerful and strong but incredibly curvy. And “curvy” is not required to be a woman (nor is femme presentation), but it is interesting how “womanly” it is considered to be when that curvy body is not Black and especially not dark skinned if Black. The athletic appearance of strength in her body becomes a place to deny her womanhood. Strength for women—which in the media is usually typed as the thin cis White woman “kicking ass”—is considered an asset to womanhood and “empowerment" as long as that "empowerment" rests on denying Black women’s womanhood through degradation of our bodies. (Oh and such "empowerment" also rests on denying Black women’s identification as "feminists" since "feminist" and "human" are used interchangeably, as a form of epistemic violence, since White womanhood is automatically considered “feminist” just for existing.)
This does not mean that White women do not experience misogyny and body shaming. What it does mean is that while misogyny is something that all women experience, reclamation for empowerment for women’s bodies usually means reclamation for thin cis White women’s bodies at the cost of Black women’s bodies, fat women’s bodies, disabled women’s bodies, trans women’s bodies (and bodies with many of these identities intersecting) etc. In this case, I look at it through a lens critiquing colourism, anti-Blackness, misogynoir and transmisogyny in regards to Serena and Black women, in general. And because of anti-Blackness and the history of degradation of Black bodies into non-human chattel and still treated as such, Black women’s bodies require its own conversation.
Serena is 32; I am 35. I have grown up hearing the anti-Black, misogynoiristic, transmisogynistic slander of her body and her appearance. I tire of it. Deeply. Thus, I see this commercial as a celebration of her own interior life (as in, her own thought process, preparation etc. existing independently of the White Gaze’s validation in this commercial), her head game, her skill, her body, her skin, her beauty, her life. I like it a lot. ❤