Mammies & Matriarchs

In “Mammies, Matriarchs, and Other Controlling Images,” by Patricia Hill Collins. We see the different stereotypical roles given to African American women by society. Per Collins stereotypes do one of two things, “They can serve to hide or to normalize oppression by making it seem something that the oppressed person wants to do or something that comes from the oppressed person’s nature.” Or “They can serve to coerce people into acting in certain ways.” These stereotypes function as a generalized “reality” to people.


The “mammy” figure locks African American women into narrow conceptions that hamper them in and that symbolize an image that according to Collins is that of the “faithful, obedient, domestic servant”. It dates back to the time in which African American women were slaves, and took care of their White children in more of a nurturing and caring way than they take care of their own family. Collins says that the mammy figure “aims to influence black maternal behavior…” which in turn helps to reinforce this image to black women who later teach this to their children. “The mammy acts as the face that white people want African women to undertake” and it helps to hide the fact that black women are being exploited by white families. This stereotype implements the fact that black labor is being controlled by white families and in turn locks African American women into notions that restrain them.

Also In the article Collins portrays the “mammy” as desexualized/ asexualized in that she is harmless and unable to do harm because of her all giving nature. She is a surrogate mother who is devoted to her White family and committed to her job. The jezebel or hoochie on the other hand is seen as a “sexual freak”. They were forced to work as “wet nurses” and hence seen as having “excessive sexual appetites”. They are also illustrated as being very sexually aggressive symbolizes deviant female sexuality.

The Matriarch is another stereotypical image for African American women that take on a different approach. Rather than aiming for maternal behavior the Matriarch symbolizes the assertive Black woman who is looked upon as a bad mother. “As overly aggressive un feminine women, Black Matriarchs allegedly emasculated their lovers and husbands”. and she is an unsuccessful mother because she is always away working. The point of the Matriarch is to punish black women’s’ assertiveness and to show that this is the only thing they will become if they don’t follow other norms. “From the dominant group’s perspective, the matriarch represented a failed mammy, a negative stigma applied to African American women who dared reject the image of submissive, hardworking servant”. The “dominant group” being in reference to whites. The Matriarch makes it seem as though Black women are more “masculine” than others. Black women who are not feminine and do not act as the “mammy” or “jezebel” are threatened to turn into the Matriarch. We often see this figure in the movies which in turn helps to establish this belief.

On the other hand we also see the “Welfare Mother”. The problem with this stereotype is that the mother does not work and spends too much time with her children. The “Welfare Mother” can be looked upon by some as a failed mammy. “Relying on the public dole, Black welfare queens are content to take the hard-earned money of tax paying Americans and remain married to the state”. This is referring to the fact that the welfare mother does not have a husband to provide for her and is therefore relying on the government.

Black women are caught in a double bind. If they act too feminine and nurturing they will be judged as the Mammy. If they act too assertive they will be labeled the Matriarch, if they stay with their kids they will be called a “Welfare Mother” and if they act too sexual they will be judged as a “hoochie” or jezebel. In this sense I feel as though society has put extra constrain on how African American women are viewed. I also feel like Collins is being biased in the sense that she limits the African-American Woman’s titles to being only of those that she mentioned.

Stereotypes have made us develop many social constructs within different groups of people. Stereotypes spread from racism which still goes on to this day. There remains a large gap between nonracial America and society in this current day.

Click to access CollinsMammies.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.