Many of us are familiar with the term misogyny. It describes hatred or prejudice against women. It is often confused with sexism, but misogyny is the hostile acts against women based on sexist beliefs. Black women often face a more racialized misogyny because they exist at the very intersection of race and sex. This form of misogyny is known as misogynoir, and here’s what you need to know about it.
Black queer feminist scholar, writer, and activist Moya Bailey coined the term “misogynoir” in 2010. It is formed from the words “misogyny” and the French word for black, “noir.” Bailey states, “Misogynoir is not simply the racism that Black women encounter, nor is it the misogyny Black women negotiate; it is the uniquely synergistic force of these two oppressions amalgamating into something more harmful than its parts.” Simply put, this term explains the one-two punch of racism and misogyny that Black women frequently have to combat.
It’s no secret that Black women are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. In a speech Malcolm X gave in 1962, he famously stated, “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.” Unfortunately, even today, this is not very far from the truth.
Although the term misogynoir was only recently coined, the practice of hostile acts against Black women is not new. This particular combination of racist and sexist beliefs and practices is based on historic racist stereotypes that are incredibly harmful. Some of the stereotypes projected onto Black women include the “angry” Black woman, the “strong” Black woman, and the “overly sexual” Black woman, and these have been used to justify hostile acts against Black women.
The stereotype of the over-sexualized Black woman, also known as the Jezebel, is often used to rationalize the sexual exploitation of Black women. The stereotype of Jezebel originated under slavery and was used as a powerful rationale to justify the raping and sexual exploitation of enslaved Black women. Because if Black women are deemed hypersexual and aggressive, it is easier to blame them for sexual violence committed against them.
This belief’s persistence shows up in the neglectful way cases of rape and sexual violence against Black women and girls are handled. One of the more famous examples of this is singer R. Kelly’s continued support after multiple accusations from Black women and girls of sexual abuse and numerous charges of child pornography and aggravated criminal sexual abuse. It took decades of allegations and charges and a six-part docu-series on Lifetime that included interviews with several of his accusers before his record company even dropped Kelly.
Young Black girls often face over-sexualization and adultification, resulting in more harsh treatment by authority figures than their white counterparts. And we see the modern caricatures of Black women as “hoes” or “hoochies.” Even Kamala Harris, the highest-ranking Black woman in U.S. political history, has been subject to such stereotypes. During the campaign for her Vice Presidency, an Amazon vendor sold shirts with the slogan “Joe and the Hoe,” and Harris has even been labeled as a “bed wench” because she is married to a white man.
Both Vice President Harris and former first lady Michelle Obama have been stereotyped as “angry Black women.” They have been labeled as loud, aggressive, angry, stubborn, and unfeminine in instances where they were simply speaking up for themselves or stating an opinion. During the last presidential campaign, former President Donald Trump publicly referred to then-Sen. Kamala Harris as “angry,” “nasty,” and a “madwoman.” And Michelle Obama was accused of being transgender in a sexist and transphobic attempt to undermine her womanhood and femininity.
One image that comes to mind that embodies both the Jezebel and angry Black woman stereotypes is the controversial and, yes, racist image of Serena Williams by cartoonist Mark Knight. The cartoon shows an angry caricature of Serena with purposely exaggerated facial features and breasts and shows her stomping on a broken tennis racket. And it’s impossible to ignore that Japanese and Haitian player Naomi Osaka was portrayed as a blond-haired, white woman.
Another dangerous stereotype that perpetuates the practice of misogynoir is the image of the “strong Black woman.” Although many might see this as a positive image, this accepted idea insinuates that Black women possess some extraordinary strength that other women don’t have. And this is a dangerous myth because it justifies the beliefs that Black women are capable of tolerating more pain, capable of being overworked in service of others, and do not need support or help.
Black women are regularly policed by society. We are expected to fit an ideal version of “womanhood” that was not designed with us in mind. Our hair, bodies, sexuality, and even our tone are policed. You can’t be too loud, too provocative, too opinionated, too “uppity,” too “ghetto,” or too much of anything deemed outside of what “femininity” should look like.
Black women walk a very thin line between freely and authentically expressing themselves and assimilating to white patriarchal society’s expected standards. And frankly, it is exhausting. And if you are rolling your eyes because you are over hearing about how Black women have it harder, imagine how tired we are of living this reality. We are tired of suffering the effects of misogynoir that cause us to be dismissed, demeaned, and ignored.
The truth is, Black women have been at the forefront of many social justice fights against racism and sexism throughout American history. And yet, we are often left to pick up the pieces on our own when it comes to fighting battles unique to Black women. It’s about time that people stand up for us as much as we have stood up for them. Both women and men of all races have to take steps to point out misogyny and misogynoir, the particular form of misogyny that Black women face.