A Leading Black Feminist Explains Misogynoir
We’re all aware of how prevalent misogyny is in our culture. It’s the reason we were capable of electing a president who bragged about grabbing women by the p*ssy. It’s also why we pin so-called “good women” against so-called “hoes” 24/7 and how we manage to hold women responsible for their own rapes. Women are so tired of men’s shit that they marched en masse all over the world during Inauguration weekend.
Our culture is also highkey racist, and while half the world sees this as a modern issue, the other half claims it doesn’t even exist. At the intersection of these race and gender issues is a specific type of oppression known as misogynoir. The term was coined in 2015 by black feminist scholar Moya Bailey and the fact that Microsoft Word still underlines it with a red squiggle but knows to add the accent to Beyoncé is telling me all I need to know about how mainstream it is (hint: not as much as it needs to be).
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Misogynoir is a violent combo of anti-Black racism and misogyny that exists in our media and pop culture.
It is especially obvious in rap culture, with lyrics like “Light skin is the right skin” and “Where them yellow bones? I don’t want no Black b*tch.” Anti-black lyrics promote a culture that prefers lighter-skinned and white women, while shunning black women. It means when I’m in the club, I’m downing shots to lyrics that tell me blackness and beauty rarely exist together. Turn up?
We also experience misogynoir in the way black women are portrayed in the media, when they do appear. There is a lack of black representation and diverse black roles. Instead, we see the same few character tropes and the same tired stories about black women covered in the news. All that does is promote the Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire, and Welfare Queen stereotypes that make up our ideas about black women. We get shoved into categories that describe us either as hypersexual, angry, lazy, or matronly, erasing the nuances of black womanhood.
According to Bailey, poor media representation can be really dangerous.
“These stereotypes have real consequences in which Black women are vilified for their childrearing, blamed for their own sexual assault, and often refused help when in need,” she said, “When people don’t see Black women as human, they are more likely to treat us poorly in all areas of our lives.”
Mainstream feminism doesn’t really give black women the platform to talk about misogynoir. Although the phrase was first coined by Bailey, a black woman, and many black celebrities have used it since forever, we credit Katy Perry, a white woman, for bringing it to the mainstream. As per usual, even our oppression doesn’t exist until white people give it visibility. Mainstream feminism amplifies the voices of white people almost exclusively and often, at the expense of black women.
Meanwhile, pro-black movements sideline anti-misogynoir activism in favor of activism specifically for black men. Violence against black men is a central issue in the black community but violence against black women, especially at the hands of black men, gets swept under the rug. Which leaves only black women fighting a battle that we cannot win alone.
Misogynoir is why black female athletes like Caster Semenya are trashed for appearing too “manly.” Like it’s not enough that they’re killing the game at the Olympics, they have to look super girly while doing it? In an article written for the Catalyst academic journal, Bailey describes how Semenya was forced to get a full body makeover and prove her womanhood through additional gender testing beyond what was usually required.
“This idea that Black women are not feminine enough, particularly Black women athletes, is something that Venus and Serena Williams have also had to combat. When western standards of beauty and femininity are centered, all other women are judged against that standard and are often told they are lacking.”
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We see black bodies as inherently more sexual than white bodies, an attitude that has persisted since the civil war. Which was also back when raping black women wasn’t seen as a crime, because we were seen as naturally promiscuous. We see the RL consequences of this when we sexualize young black girls. Like during the trial that acquitted R. Kelly of child pornography and soliciting a minor, members of the jury didn’t believe the victim was a minor because she looked too developed for a thirteen year old.
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It’s such an important issue and yet, black women are challenged or gaslighted when we talk about it. As an undergrad, Bailey experienced death threats and campus backlash for asking the rapper, Nelly, to respond to questions about his representation of black women in his music and videos.
“That experience profoundly shaped my thoughts about the way Black women are treated in popular culture,” Bailey said.
So what’s the solution? There needs to be more awareness of black stereotypes and how they feed our assumptions. We need to deliberately avoid writing characters that enforce those stereotypes and write characters that celebrate black beauty and bodies. Our media should also give visibility to anti-Misogynoir activism.
“Black women’s online resistance to misogynoir is a form of activism that should be taken seriously as a health intervention,” Bailey told Galore. “Black women are creating hashtags, web series, and other digital media that challenge the way others see them and how they see themselves. Giving Black women a platform to share their truths is essential.”
Moya Bailey is currently working on a book titled Contesting Misogynoir: Black Women’s Digital Resistance in American Culture . It examines Black women’s critical digital responses to anti-Black misogyny in American media. Find her on Twitter: @moyazb.