The United States and Its Misogynoir
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
By Ashly McNally and Mana Ravenel
*The following contains mentions of rape*
Image retrieved from Ferris State University
“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” — Malcolm X.
The date is August 20th, 1619 — the day when the first North American slave auction transpired where 20 African men and women were sold.
During the 19th century, “fancy girls” were sold as concubines in New Orleans, Louisiana. They were barely teenagers and were malnourished. These girls were light-skinned, typically mulattos (a person of mixed black and white ancestry) or quadroons (three-fourths European ancestry, one-fourth African). They were considered status symbols for traders and gamblers to own.
Throughout the 400 years of slavery, Black women were raped by their white owners. The rape was blamed on the Black woman’s “promiscuousness and an insatiable appetite for sex”. These women were labeled as ‘Jezebels’. Any resulting offspring would be the woman’s responsibility, as the baby would be born into slavery.
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” — Zora Neale Hurston
The year is 1915 and the feature film, The Birth of A Nation, has hit theaters and resonated with White America, while groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People protest against the film’s blatant racism and feelings of white supremacy.
In 1968, the first television show featuring an African-American woman in a non-subservient role, Julia, premiered on September 17th. The show was about Julia Baker, an African-American nurse and mother, who was played by Diahann Carroll.
“I want history to remember me... not as the first Black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a Black woman who lived in the 20th century and who dared to be herself. I want to be remembered as a catalyst for change in America.” — Shirley Chisholm
This year, 2020, the United States may be voting in the first Black Asian-American female Vice President, Kamala Harris. This is an incredible feat, one for a woman and for a person of color. It shows how far our society has progressed. However, a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, was killed on March 13th, 2020, yet her killers have not been charged.
Misogyny may be a familiar term to females as we have consistently witnessed authoritative figures viewing women as inferior, weak, and unimportant in comparison to men. Although, in a general sense, society has come to an agreement that this is absolutely incorrect, another concept stemming from misogyny is rarely addressed — misogynoir.
Cartoon retrieved from Sky News
Defined as the co-constitutive, anti-Black, and misogynistic racism directed at Black women, particularly in visual and digital culture, ‘misogynoir’ directly refers to the misogyny that has its roots deep in racism. Black women have continuously been categorized into four tropes: strong and more tolerant of pain, overly sexual, sassy, and aggressive/angry. At first glance, these tropes may seem more ignorant than harmful, but such is not the case. In actuality, these tropes were created during the slavery period in America as a way to justify and excuse the rapes and abuse of Black women by their white slave owners.
Along with these tropes was the “mammy” caricature, which was, again, another way to vindicate the sexual abuse Black women and girls often fell victim to. The “mammy” caricature portrayed a dark-skinned, fat, middle-aged woman who enjoyed serving her masters and mistresses. The purpose was to de-sexualize Black women, an attempt to push the narrative that white men did not have any sexual attraction towards Black women. Nonetheless, this narrative was proven wrong, as the sexual exploitation of Black women by white men was common during the antebellum period, regardless of economic status.
Image retrieved from Selznick International Pictures
The big question is how do these four tropes and “mammy” affect Black women in White America today? How does a stereotype and caricature created decades ago still manage to affect us today?
Misogynoir is still a prevalent issue, and it is one that will not be solved unless it is discussed. Although it is painful to admit, the stereotype of Black women being strong with a higher pain tolerance has substantially influenced their access to medical care. Black women have the highest maternal mortality rate among women of all races, and this is not affected by education level or financial status. Additionally, Black women encounter discrimination and bias in health-care settings, which contributes to the disparity in fatality rates and maternal care. This trope not only affects the medical care of Black women, but it also affects society’s approach when seeing Black women in pain.
On July 12th, 2020, for example, rapper Megan Thee Stallion was shot and seriously injured after leaving a house party in Calabasas, California. Instead of sending words of love and wishes for a safe and quick recovery, the internet joked about the situation. From memes that sexualized Megan and made light of the entire situation, the internet was brutal and incredibly insensitive. People often dislike when individuals pull the “race” card in certain scenarios, but if Megan Thee Stallion were a white woman, the internet’s reaction to her trauma and injury would have been drastically different.
This is not the first time the internet made a meme out of a Black woman’s pain; Breonna Taylor suffered the same fate. In March of 2020, the 26-year-old EMT was peacefully sleeping in her own home when police had unlawfully entered. Her boyfriend, unaware that these were officers, shot at the intruders, resulting in the police firing back. Unfortunately, Breonna Taylor was caught in the crossfire and was murdered. An awful story — and one that has yet to receive justice — as her murderers, Brett Hankison, Jon Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove have yet to face any criminal charges.
During the first few weeks of the protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, people were voicing their anger after the family of Breonna Taylor still had not received justice. But as days continued, Breonna Taylor received attention for the worst way possible: an Internet meme. With people printing “Arrest the Killers of Breonna Taylor '' onto hats, shirts, and other wardrobe, as well as a TikTok audio surfacing with the same phrase, Breonna Taylor slowly turned into a trend. Her death became trivialized by social media with people slapping on “Arrest the Killers of Breonna Taylor” onto every picture and video that has absolutely nothing to do with her. This may seem like a way to trick the algorithm to start talking about her again, but it ultimately fails, and does little to help her case as petition links, or even the name of her murderers, are nowhere to be mentioned.
To help solve the issue of misogynoir, people must first understand the term, and then listen to and empathize with Black women. The stereotypes in place for Black women limits us as individuals, as it forces a label onto us that does not necessarily fit with our personas, and it discredits and invalidates our feelings and experiences.
With those who are labeled as the “angry Black women,” their opinions are simply brushed off as them being aggressive and angry. Their true concerns are immediately disregarded, despite how valid and important they are. The “strong Black woman” is treated less carefully in medical care as they can “tolerate more pain”. Their experiences of domestic violence and abuse are viewed as the “norm” and something that they can handle. Black girls are seen as more sexually mature, and regardless of their ages, are sexualized, and are often met with aggressive behavior, innuendos, and sexual approaches. This often discredits their experiences of sexual abuse and assault, the same way it was during the antebellum period.
The Black women of White America are incredibly vulnerable as they are targets of both racial and gender related discrimination. It is crucial that we begin to have these conversations now, with our friends, families, and acquaintances.
If you are unsure of whether or not something can be considered misogynoir, ask yourself this — if she was a white woman would this still happen to her? If she was not Black, would she still be in the same situation she is in now? If the answer is yes, it is misogynoir. Speak up for Black women, but never over them. In daily life, misogynoir occurs in different ways, and it is important to call out such behavior when you see it. We as a society have so much work to do in protecting our Black women, and it starts with us as individuals taking the initiative to educate ourselves, and from there, educate those around us. And most importantly, we have to learn to empathize with Black women, become more sensitive towards them, and erase the tropes of them that society has ingrained into our minds.
Written by writers Ashly McNally and Mana Ravenel