A wise Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Freedom is never given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed (King 1)." For as long as men and women have shared the planet, sexism has been a universal issue in civilization. In a social justice context, American society has found ways to oppress people for centuries. The Oxford Dictionary defines sexism as a "prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex ("sexism")." Voting rights in America were established in 1790, but it took years of petitioning at various women's rights conventions before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution stating "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex" was passed in 1920 ("Nineteenth Amendment"). Traditionally, men were supposed to be the strong, decisive, driven, courageous, money-making breed, while women were expected to be the nurturing, affectionate, weak subordinates. Today, we find men and women working in careers previously linked with sexism; men as nurses and teachers, women as CEOs and factory workers. Statistics show that today there are an increasing number of women providing the financial support in their families. As with sexism, people also have been oppressed by racism for centuries. According to The Oxford Dictionary, racism is defined as a "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior ("racism")." It has been argued that African Americans have been one of the most oppressed groups in America. Even after they were emancipated in 1865, it was nearly one hundred years later that their rights were protected with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Before the act's passing, African Americans were denied equal education, employment, housing property, and a political voice. My interest in this topic was peaked right around the same time I became interested in performing on the musical theatre stage. I got my start in local community theatres, and up until college, was the only African American cast in the productions. I started playing multiple ensemble roles per show, and throughout the years advanced myself to "supporting character" but never the lead. Admittedly, there were times when I wasn't as talented as the women who snagged the leading roles, but many a time when I was just as talented or more qualified for the role, it went to another woman - most times of Caucasian descent. What did they have that I didnâ€™t have? When I got accepted into The University of Central Florida as a BFA Musical Theatre student, I auditioned for the plays and musicals every semester, and each season I began to see the same patterns of who was cast for each show. Roles I thought I would get often went to White actors. I felt victimized in this modern-day example of racism. But racism goes beyond black and White. Internal racism between the light-skinned and dark-skinned African American women I was competing with became a factor as well. There were many times when an audition notice called for an African American woman; however, an unsettling trend became very apparent to me; if the casting description was for a maid, or something of that nature, larger, dark-skinned women would get the majority of the callbacks, which would lead to them getting cast. On the flip side, if an audition notice called for an African American ingÃ©nue type, more of the slimmer, lighter-skinned women were called back and later cast. Has American society cast a racial stigma for African American beauty?
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Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
Arts and Humanities -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Humanities
Length of Campus-only Access
Honors in the Major Thesis
Owens, Kelli, "The Oppression and Sexism of African-American Women: Then and Now: Substantial Contributions to the History of Musical Theatre" (2014). HIM 1990-2015. 1609.