Latinas in the Media: Reclaiming Sexual Agency

Amaris E. Rodriguez , Opinions Editor

Latinas: we are strong, intellectual, powerful…and trying to reclaim our sexuality in the media.

The concept of an over sexualized Latina is very common in the media, despite many women trying to combat the stereotype. We don’t have to do much digging in Hollywood to think of big household names of Latina celebrities that have been sexualized in the media.

In the early 2000’s, American pop culture saw a great influx of Latin artists, referred to the “Latin Explosion.” We had artists Jennifer Lopez and Shakira in music videos, often portrayed in barely-there-clothing and showing off what some would deem “provocative” dance moves.

But artists were only feeding into a stigma that had been developed through the years and who could blame them. When you are in the business you are always trying to make it big and in our capitalist society, sex sells.

A 2016 study conducted by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that focused on racial, ethnic and gender diversity on screen and behind cameras found that Latinos lack speaking roles in media. The study discovered that out of 11,000 speaking roles analyzed, only 5.8 percent were Latino. If there aren’t many roles available, actors and actresses will take on the roles that are written for Latinos.

The over sexualization of Latinas has been occurring on the screen for years. The most common roles offered where the maid, often sexualized, a stripper or a prostitute. This helped heightened the stereotype.

In recent years many Latina’s in the media have been vocal about the over sexualization and trying to get better roles. Actress such as American Ferrera and Gina Rodriguez are now portraying lead characters with strong plot dynamics.

But that is not the only way Latina’s are able to reclaim their image. While some are aiming for roles that push away from the over sexualized persona, others are using it to push forward the idea that women can be empowered through sexuality.

Crossover musical sensation, Becky G, falls under that category. The Mexican-American singer, whose collaboration with Natti Natasha on “Sin Pijama” reached the Top 10 on the Latin Song charts, often uses explicit sexual lyrics in her popular songs. The video for “Sin Pijama,” shows both singers in lingerie, playing up the stereotype, which worked.

In an interview with Miami radio station “El Zol,” Becky G defended her explicit lyrics when one of the hosts states that some men don’t like it when women express themselves sexually. She brings up comparison with other Latin artists such as Enrique Iglesias to point out how men use sexuality explicit lyrics with double meanings and don’t face criticism.

When the host brought up that women should have respect for themselves, Becky G says “Every woman has a right to do whatever she wants to do. For me it’s more to respect. If a woman has confidence and they own something and are proud of it, you can’t bring that down.”  

Every woman has an option on how to reclaim their sexual agency and how they are portrayed. For some, the over sexualization is a problem that needs to be address, for others its empowerment. The answer is complicated and personal. Women need to respect each other and each other’s decision, because without that,  we can’t expect men and society as a whole to do it. If a Latina wants to aim to not be seen as oversexualized that is her prerogative. If a Latina wants to dress in tight fitting leggings and express her sexuality openly, more power to her. The only way we fully reclaim our sexual agency is through acting on our own decision.