Boss Wives, Boss Chicks: Love & Hip Hop Atlanta’s sexual scripts and binaries

This season of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta was underwhelming to say the least. The character storylines were edited down to the most basic level, relying on petty gender and sexuality binaries (straight/gay, single/married, etc.). And it’s because of these petty nuances that I can always count on LHHATL to provide layer upon layer of gendered material to unpack. For those of you who don’t know, Love & Hip Hop Atlanta is a location specific “docudrama” that follows the lives producers, artists, promoters, and other entertainers – and their partners – in (and I use “in” loosely) the hip hop industry. This season I was particularly interested in how sexuality scripts dictated the construction of certain characters in a good/bad binary, and more importantly how this reading was not always a complete or correct reflection of that character, even within the narrow framing of a reality show.

At the most basic level, viewers of LHHATL are lead to understand female cast members as either bad people, who are whores/side chicks/baby mamas, or good people, who are wives/mothers/girlfriends/monogamous.  This has been the basic setup of LHHATL since its beginning. In the first three seasons, Joseline was the villain. She was an aspiring artist and former stripper with a quick wit and short temper. Her relationship with producer Stevie J. also labeled her the Promiscuous Homewrecker even though she wasn’t actually wrecking any homes. While the show strategically focused on Mimi as the mother of producer Stevie J.’s children and his primary partner, Joseline was portrayed as the parasitic side chick despite evidence in the show that suggested that Stevie and Mimi were no longer romantically involved. But Joseline was legible as “the other woman” because of her sexual past and politics: her history as a sex worker allowed her to fit this role perfectly.

But this season was different: Joseline is Stevie’s wife and undergoing a personal transformation towards being a “better person,” whatever that means. (I’m assuming it’s meant in an Iyanla Vanzant kind of way). She has been rewarded for this shift in the form of televised performances of her music and the creation of a spinoff show starring her and husband Stevie J.

And what did LHHATL do when their favorite villain wasn’t so “bad” anymore? They brought in a new one, Jessica Dime. Another former sex worker, Jessica and Joseline worked together at the same strip club and were intimately involved (while Stevie watched) before they were reality stars. In one episode, Jessica even upped the ante by admitting to accepting money from Joseline for said experiences. The aspiring rapper was easily recognizable by her signature pink hair, really big butt, and fiery personality — all presented similarly to Joseline’s earlier representations as the show’s villain. Just as viewers began to accept Joseline in a new role: as a wife, and newly credible character, Jessica stepped in to even the good vs. bad scale.

Being a wife on Love & Hip Hop Atlanta carries tremendous social capital, even more so if you perform patriarchal, monogamous, heteronormative marriage. If you’re a wife, your actual morals and integrity are often glossed over:  cloaked with the respectability privilege of a loyal wife are not held accountable for their treatment of others. No one rocks this cloak better than Rasheeda, the self proclaimed Boss Chick. I’ve been side eyeing Rasheeda ever since she blatantly accused her then friend K. Michelle of lying about the domestic abuse she faced at the hands of one of Rasheeda’s friends. This season, viewers saw Rasheeda betray more friends, sabotaging the grand opening of Karlie’s store and laughing about Kalenna’s postpartum depression as revenge for a snide remark. Rasheeda has been unfair, disloyal, and mean to other women on LHHATL but still maintained a contradictory air of neutrality and authority vested in her because of her permanent position as a wife and mother. Rasheeda is loyal to her husband despite him being an irresponsible asshole, a courtesy she is not willing to extend to anyone else.  Within that marriage she performs respectable, heteronormative sexuality, which sets her apart from wives like Joseline and Kalenna, who are open about being bisexual and having threesomes/other partners within their marriages. She sticks to the scripts of proper femininity by not wearing outfits that are too revealing or engaging in any activity that could possibly be construed as un”lady”like. And as a result, she gets to be a hurtful bitch without anyone questioning her motives.

Under heteropatriarchal ideologies, the personhood of the women on LHHATL are so reliant on their sexuality and adherence to sexual scripts that their actual conduct–whether admirable or despicable–is overlooked.  I would argue that this is true across the media landscape. Femininity and moral value is read and rendered legible up against the sexual performances and histories of the women we see on television. Popular media is notorious for using visual representations of poverty, assault, emotional trauma, and even death as an assumed consequence for deviant female sexuality, while women who exist in the small center of respectability are always rewarded, even when they suck.


Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

Read more about Sesali

Join the Conversation