Of #FastTailedGirls and Freedom
When Hood Feminism started the #FastTailedGirls tag on Twitter Saturday, thousands of women came together in an outpouring of emotion. Like a lot of others, I was a “fast-tailed girl” before I really understood what those words meant. It’s one of those colloquialisms you hear as a child in certain communities that is half warning, half pejorative. For those who weren’t raised in the same cultural context, to be a fast-tailed girl is to be sexually precocious in some way. You are warned not to be a fast-tailed girl, and also not to associate with fast-tailed girls. Sometimes it is shortened to “fast,” but either way it is presented as a bad thing. Often the elders who use the term are attempting to protect young women from being perceived as Jezebels. When you consider the long history of sexual violence perpetrated against Black women in the United States, the roots of this particular aspect of respectability politics are easy to grasp.
Research from the past decade by the Black Women’s Blueprint and the Black Women’s Health Imperative shows that some 40 to 60 percent of U.S. Black girls are sexually abused before age 18. Those girls are likely to be labeled fast-tailed retroactively by people who need to believe that what happened to them was their fault; they must have done something to entice a man’s interest, so abusers get a free pass. This was evident when R&B singer R. Kelly, who when he was 27 married the then-15-year-old performing artist Aaliyah, was allegedly caught on film urinating on another teenager; his subsequent trial on child pornography charges wasn’t enough to end his career, much less affect his freedom. Kelly’s ability to avoid consequences is unsurprising. Often it is easier for communities to focus on the girls in such cases than on potential predators.