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September 2013

Misogyny, In General vs. Anti-Black Misogyny (Misogynoir), Specifically

Misogyny is the hatred of women. It differs from sexism in that while sexism implies patriarchal domination inferring inferior status on women or female-identified (and not biologically essentialist here) persons who may not use the label “woman,” misogyny speaks to the individual, social and cultural hatred of women based on that presumed inferiority. Misogyny isn’t just insults though (as no system of oppression is) and is in fact institutionalized. Examples of said institutionalization are clearly seen in how rape culture manifests in the media, the criminal justice system, and legislation. Or marketing for beauty, food and diets. Or products like video games. It’s more than a man calling a woman a “whore,” though that insult operates beyond an individual level when a man can rape a woman, say she is a whore and not be convicted or even arrested for it.

Unlike sexism or racism where men and Whites proliferate them, respectively, and benefit from them (since institutions supports them) and at most, women and Blacks, respectively, can internalize it and project it but have no institutional power associated with it, misogyny can be proliferated by anyone (i.e. anyone can proliferate rape culture via victim blaming), and when they have other privilege (i.e. White or male privilege) it becomes especially perilous. This is how White women and Black men, for example, can proliferate anti-Black misogyny (misogynoir) against Black women, though White women cannot be sexist or Black men be racist, by definition. Them proliferating this specific misogyny reveals racism and internalized sexism on the White woman’s part and sexism and internalized racism on the Black man’s part. Of course the key to anti-Black misogyny has been White men. Literally every manifestation of stereotypes and controlling images used to oppress Black women via anything from appearance to sexuality have been historically proliferated and capitalized on (pun intended) by White men, including them establishing White womanhood as diametrically opposed to Black womanhood. Black women ourselves can also proliferate anti-Black misogyny as an expression of learned self-hatred or through binaries created because of the politics of respectability.

Misogyny dehumanizes women in, general. Anti-Black misogyny (which functions because of racism, sexism and White supremacy) makes Black women “not human” and thereby worthy of hatred and abuse yet White women the standard of humanity that Black women should aspire to.

Misogyny makes men’s “natural” angered reactions to women include the word “bitch” where their privilege and power makes it different from women who seek to reclaim that word and use between each other. Anti-Black misogyny creates other oppressive slurs, where even “black” itself becomes a pejorative. “Black bitch.” “Nigger bitch.”

Misogyny explains the slut shaming of Miley Cyrus. Anti-Black misogyny makes Miley Cyrus an “innocent” White woman exploring her sexuality while using Black women’s culture and bodies as costumes to be tossed once bored and reinforces stereotypes about Black women’s sexuality as “deviant" and ultimately distant from her own, as something "possessing" her during her "coming of age" era as she continues her eat, pray, love syndrome of culture slumming to evolve into peak “experienced” Whiteness when older.

Misogyny makes women’s bodies objects, not a physical expression of whole human beings. Anti-Black misogyny makes Black women’s bodies objects for breeding, sex or spectacle. It means open voyeurism—whether Sara Baartman of the past, the decade plus of comments on Serena Williams’ body or a recent event where a Black woman was treated as an object to gawk at (beyond her clothing) by literally everyone (including White women) in a public space in New York—is considered a normal reaction to specific Black female bodies. And all of this occurs while thin White female bodies are presented as the ideal. Where any Black women’s nudity or dancing is deemed “hypersexual” yet White women’s nudity or dancing has room for nuance is anti-Black misogyny.

Misogyny makes the exploitation of women’s labor (through sexism being the reason for lower wages) worse by including the rationalization of sexual harassment, abuse in the workplace and global exploitation of women’s work. Anti-Black misogyny means that on top of lower wages than White women, Black women cannot cry in the workplace (Black Tears don’t work or exist like White Tears do) and use that as a source of power and face stereotypes of being “angry” (connected to dehumanization where we aren’t deemed “real” women) which limits our voices being heard, positions we are offered or recourse against abuse from Whites in the workplace.

Misogyny supporting rape culture is why women are raped and rarely receive justice. It’s why 97% of rapists won’t spend a day in jail. Anti-Black misogyny means that the legacy of perceiving Black women as automatically “unrapeable” and as “whores” because of how White supremacy (myth of the purity of White womanchood) and racism (stereotypes about Black womanhood made to justify centuries of rape, exploitative body experimentation and abuse) work together to justify slavery and build capitalism still persists today and shapes conversation on rape where the victim is usually framed as a White teen or college co-ed.

Misogyny makes sex work highly demanded yet women, both cis and trans, devalued as sex workers. Anti-Black misogyny is why the media default image for a “prostitute” (where sex work is degraded on screen) is a Black woman especially when juxtaposed to a “purer” White woman. Anti-Black misogyny (or racism’s impact on transmisogyny) coupled with transphobia is why Black trans women face the highest rate of violence related to this industry or other underground economies.

Misogyny makes reproductive freedom a “debatable” issue for primarily cis hetero men to decide for women and other people who can get pregnant. Anti-Black misogyny makes people think it’s okay to call Black women’s (and other Black people who can get pregnant; not all are cis hetero women) wombs “unsafe” despite centuries of reproductive injustice via rape, forced breeding, obstetric experimentation and sterilization as core issues.

Misogyny makes violence against women a consistent problem in our society. Anti-Black misogyny is why videos of Black women being violently hit or abused are deemed “funny,” why Black women experience higher incidents of violence from intimate partners, why Black women are believed to experience less pain in childbirth despite no evidence (which connects to Black people’s pain, in general, being ignored or deemed non existent), and why cops regularly abuse pregnant Black women who are only viewed as a race and not a gender also.

Misogyny reduces women to stereotypes in a similar fashion to bodily objectification. Anti-Black misogyny is why there are no White stereotypes or controlling images to match these that are used to marginalize and oppress Black women: mammy, Sapphire, Jezebel, welfare queen, matriarch (as a racialized pejorative), angry Black woman, Strong Black Woman. It’s why despite a legacy of always working, even when we didn’t own our wages or our bodies, stereotypes like “welfare cheat” and “gold digger” are presented as Black women by default. And TV tropes about Whites do not parallel to these. Tropes are not used to control and oppress Whites in every sphere. This is beyond just media.

Misogyny encapsulates the hateful abuse that is oppressive towards women. Anti-Black misogyny, however, is shaped as something Black women deserve or should endure as White women are posited as the true victims of misogyny.

And this is only a start; I really could continue for a while here…

The impact of racism on misogyny is historical, present and clear. To deny the specific impact of misogyny on Black women, beyond what all women face is to deny differences. It is to deny that at the intersections, experiences differ; how oppression manifests differs. It is to deny that while all women face sexism and misogyny, White womanhood is still constructed as the ideal of which Black women are not (and even when other women of colour are considered, Black women are placed at the bottom of a sliding scale of worth and beauty; dark women are placed at the bottom), and that Black women should face different social, cultural, and institutional punishment for not being White women.

It’s different from general racism because Black men’s male privilege prevents them from experiencing some of what Black women experience specifically because we are also women. While there are stereotypes and controlling images that impact Black men’s sexuality as well, many of them are rejected intraracially and viewed as an assault on Black male masculinity while the ones against Black women are accepted and even used against Black women by Black men. Black men can engage in anti-Black misogyny that impacts their response to violence against Black women, whether or not they engage in street harassment, how heterosexual ones perceive Black women as potential partners, and whether or not they can even empathize with Black women without immediate parallels to the racism that they experience needing to be made. White women engage in anti-Black misogynistic actions quite often yet ignore the culpability here because they also face general misogyny. When Sandra Fluke being degraded is a problem but Quvenzhané Wallis being degraded is a joke, anti-Black misogyny is the culprit. Anti-Black misogyny, or misogynoir, is very real…and it is oppression.

*edit after the fact: The term misogynoir was coined by Moya Bailey. At the time of this original posting, I only knew its connection to Crunk Feminist Collective.

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