The concept of misogyny may be familiar to you: an extreme form of sexism that is often defined as the hatred of women. A related concept, misogynoir, involves a specific type of misogyny that has roots in racism. Coined by the queer Black feminist Moya Bailey in 2010, the term is a blending of concepts that combines “misogyny” and the French word for black, “noir.” According to Ms. Bailey, misogynoir is the anti-Black racist misogyny that Black women experience. Notably, Sojourner Truth first spoke out about misogynoir in 1851 with her “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at the Women’s Convention — although she did not use that specific term.
Knowing the definition is one thing — but how does misogynoir play out in real life? There are a number of ways that this happens. For example, Black girls are often viewed as older, more mature, and more sexually advanced than white girls — which causes many people to dismiss allegations involving the sexual abuse of Black girls and teens. Historically, Black women and girls have been overtly sexualized, leading to the modern-day stereotype of the hypersexual “jezebel.” This sexualization of Black women and girls is based in racism, starting with how European travelers to Africa described women there and continuing through slavery in the United States, where slave owners justified the rape of enslaved Black women by claiming that they had insatiable appetites for sex.
Stereotypes about Black women are generally based in misogynoir. In our society, Black women are often slotted into one of four roles: the sassy Black woman, the angry Black woman, the strong Black woman, or the overly sexual Black woman. This leaves little room for the individuality that we ALL have. It is also an attempt to limit Black women and their ability to assert themselves, as any expression of emotion may lead to them being dismissed as an “angry Black woman.”
In daily life, misogynoir comes in many forms:
Doctors perceive Black woman as having a higher pain threshold, and so they are treated differently.
Black women are viewed as threatening or angry whenever they speak up for themselves.
Maternal mortality rates for Black women are three times higher than for white women in the United States, with many attributing that to racial bias in the healthcare system.
Because of the stereotype of the “strong Black women,” many Black women are feel that they are not allowed to show any emotion, pain or distress.
Black women are viewed as overly sexual just for wearing clothes that fit their bodies — such as when the French Open banned Serena Williams from wearing a catsuit.
Styles that are deemed unacceptable when worn by Black women are celebrated when worn by white women.
Simply put, Black women face a double whammy of racism and misogyny that impacts them in nearly every facet of their lives.
What can you do about misogynoir? Start by learning to recognize it — and then make a commitment to call it out whenever you spot it. One way that you can do this is by reading the work of Black women who openly resisted misogynoir, such as:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
The Street, Ann Petry
Kindred, Octavia Butler
The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor
The Color Purple, Alice Walker
Eloquent Rage, Brittany Cooper
Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era, Dr. Ashley D. Farmer
Coal, Audre Lorde
This Will Be My Undoing, Morgan Jenkins
What books would you add to the list?
The Historical Roots of the Sexualization of Black Women and Girls
Girlhood Interrupted: On R. Kelly and How Black Girls Are Viewed in Our Society