• tumithekoko

Puberty, Adolescence, Hating Black Women, Adulthood…

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

please note this piece is centered on misogynoir and colourism

The Twitter feed, amongst what is commonly referred to as ‘UK Black Twitter’, was recently up in arms about numerous tweets dug up from several influential figures that contained negative comments about black women. The comments range from derogatory statements about black women’s appearance, frequently referring to black women as monkeys/apes to disparaging character traits to  *trigger warning* making light of sexual and physical assault towards black women with one tweet even suggesting that r*pe towards black women can be considered animal abuse.

A lot of people were particularly outraged to see some of their favourites included, especially those who had built their platforms off the backs of black women. I for one, was disappointed but not surprised. It happens regularly with some semblance of an apology later appearing in the form of a tweet, video or screenshot from the Notes app. The recurring theme in these apologies is that they are no longer the person that they used to be and/or that they were going along with it at the time and/or they were due to personal insecurities and/or sorry it offended you.

"An alarming number of people seem to almost normalise it as a ‘growing phase’, as though to suggest it creeps in with one’s pubescent surge of hormones and bodily hair."

Of course, people grow, mentalities change and no one person should be denied the chance to be a more evolved version of their younger self. However, it almost starts to seem as if hating or being offensive to black women is like some form of rite of passage for many. An alarming number of people seem to almost normalise it as a ‘growing phase’, as though to suggest it creeps in with one’s pubescent surge of hormones and bodily hair. 

In 2008, Moya Bailey combined misogyny and the French word for black, “noir”, to create the term misogynoir Misogyny is typically described as hatred

towards women but some misogynists may unknowingly display prejudiced attitudes towards women. Misogynoir is used to describe the unique way which Black women and girls are mistreated because of “how societal ideas about race and gender intersect.” Bailey says that “What happens to Black women in public space isn’t about them being any woman of color. It is particular and has to do with the ways that anti-Blackness and misogyny combine to malign Black women in our world.” It can be perpetuated by non-black people, by black men and even by Black women who have internalised it. 

"Misogynoir is used to describe the unique way which Black women and girls are mistreated because of “how societal ideas about race and gender intersect.”

Though the term ‘’’misogynoir” is arguably somewhat novel, the experiences and the histories of Black women most definitely are not. On my Twitter feed, I saw someone ask black girls what the worst thing that had ever been said to them was. To which one user replied, “called blick, a gorilla, burnt ... the usual stuff”. My heart sunk because I immediately knew what the “usual stuff” was. Misogynoir as a concept is rooted in a few main stereotypes. One is the age-old racist trope that dehumanises black people by using ‘animal’ references. This helps to perpetuate them as wild, savage, undisciplined, untameable etc. The second is the way in which black women are painted as one-dimensional hypersexual individuals. This is often extended to young black girls who are frequently sexually objectified. By contrast, there's the 'mammy' stereotype of the unattractive, asexual, submissive, motherly caregiver.

It cannot  be stressed enough that misogynoir is not just about ‘hurt feelings’, ‘people getting offended’ or ‘not being able to take a joke’ — it has real damaging effects on and offline. The hypersexualised, uncontrollable image of black women and girls, means they are more likely to be targeted and later discredited when it comes to unwanted sexual advances. Black women feel less comfortable to express their emotions for fear of fitting the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype. The ‘strong, angry black woman’ narrative skews the perception of black women by medical professionals which negatively impacts health outcomes. It impacts even visible high earning individuals with Marc Bain titling his article in Quartz:

“Only sexism and racism can explain why Serena Williams doesn’t earn more in endorsements.” Only recently, the leaked dossier from the Labour Party revealed the awful treatment of both Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott from within the party. And I won’t start on desirability politics. These are just a few examples.

Even as these scandals unfold and the apologies from popular figures roll in, you can see the misogynoir in the response to the misogynoir!!!! Firstly, the black women (and particularly the darker skinned black women) caught up in these debacles are held to a much higher standard of accountability than their male or lighter skinned counterparts. This is not to excuse anyone’s actions but it is clear they aren’t afforded the same mercy. More importantly, despite the displays of outrage, the discussion is not centered around black women, what this may be resurfacing for them and ways we can seek to try and dismantle misogynoir.

I hope the online activism and apologies actually translate into some introspection.  Black women are more than political talking points, punchlines or profit. Bailey gives some advice on identifying and spotting misogynoir: "If you can't replace the person being targeted with a woman of another race or someone of another gender, you know misogynoir is in play."  Even if you are not sold on this concept, I urge everyone to please just try and think about how not only gender but race shape the portrayals and experiences towards black women in both online and offline spaces and how and why we are complicit in it.

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