Writer: Sarah Kapesa
Editor: Adelyne Koe
Graphic Designer & Illustrator: Heidi Wong
What do you get when you combine sexism with racism? Misogynoir.
First coined by Moya Bailey, Misogynoir is defined as the hatred for women, specifically towards black women, according to Cambridge dictionary. Its roots come from the word misogyny, meaning hatred for women, and the “noir” part is a homage to their skin color. It is a unique discrimination that women from the African diaspora may face as it highlights the discrimination black women faced due to their two marginalized identities: being female and being black. Due to the combination of two forms of discrimination, misogynoir requires an understanding of intersectionality for one to fully understand how and when it can be observed, as well as its detrimental impacts on the black community.
Despite the recent buzz around Intersectionality, it is important to understand that: 1. intersectionality has always existed, 2. it is not a theory, but a reality in the lives of many. For example, the adultification bias of young black girls, and its parallel, the Jezebel stereotype on adult black women.
Adultification bias is a bias in which young black girls are viewed as fundamentally less innocent than their peers. This causes them to experience harsher feedback for mistakes, be more sexualized, or experience more adult events at a much younger age. Contrastingly, the Jezebel stereotype paints black women as promiscuous and hypersexual, and in previous decades was used to justify assaulting black women during slavery. This stereotype promotes the sexual exploitation of black women, and in modern times can be likened to the over-sexualization of black bodies.
These two stereotypes prove that in the eyes of society, black girls and women are often oversexualized, regardless of age–their voices silenced as they are reduced to a perverse fantasy. Every day, black women are hypersexualized, and due to both racism and perversion, their identity is lost and they become the object of someone else’s desires.
Many black women often feel as though the prejudices that they experience in real life are multiplied in the digital realm. Dating apps provide a new world, one which more heavily emphasizes visual appeal and aestheticism and somewhat nullifies the “get-to-know-me” aspect of real-life dating. The stereotypes associated with black women put them into distinctive categories, and limit their identities to being caring, aggressive, hypersexual, and several others. They essentially fall into an endless loop of “to be or not to be”.
Many black women share this sentiment. Monica, an interviewee for the University of California press best summarizes these ideas, stating: “Online dating makes me feel like kind of the way that I feel in school, that I’m invisible and hypervisible…I feel like all the biases that people have outside in the real world just comes into play when you’re online dating. Like, you’re extra sexual and promiscuous.”
Misogynoir is also not exempt from the medical field. The most prevalent example of misogyny in medicine is the Black Maternal Mortality Rate. Regardless of age, it has been a proven fact that black women are always more likely to suffer complications, lose their newborns, or be treated with less priority than their white counterparts. Moreover, this phenomenon is believed to stem from the personal biases of doctors who continue to hold onto racist and dangerous beliefs, such as the notion that “black people have thicker skin”, or “black people feel less intense pain than white people”. Surprisingly, a study published by the PNAS states that these teachings are still indoctrinated to medical school students in certain institutions across America. When the people who are supposed to save your life rely on bias and see you as one forgettable part of the collective, who can you trust? The black maternal mortality rate is a deadly pandemic that is ravaging the globe, and unless the change is made in both social and medical contexts, many more black lives will be lost.
Despite the heavy focus on misogynoir in a quotidian context, understand that black female celebrities and athletes are not exempt from this mocking and ridicule. The most prevalent and well-known idea of this is Serena Williams, who was mocked and degraded for her sculpted physique and went through terrible times in her career. Her identity as a black woman was used as a target for people to mock and devalue her experiences and skills. Her emotions and concerns were silenced and manipulated, being referred to as a “temper tantrum” and depicting her as an “unworthy, angry black woman”.
Evidently, misogynoir still persists in all walks of life, and because identity and skin are not something easily changeable, many are subjected to degrading and humiliating experiences simply because of the prejudices of others.