I miss TV shows like Girlfriends and Living Single. Each show centered on four friends. They were dynamic, beautiful, but not perfect, professional black women. They loved and supported each other, but most importantly, even when they had disagreements or full-blown arguments, they still had each other’s backs. I know this was just a television show, but I remember a time when “art imitated life.” I and many other women I knew were blessed enough to enjoy those types of friendships. We championed each other’s causes, were supportive, non-judgmental, didn’t co-sign bullshit, and served up tough love when necessary. Most importantly, back then, we uplifted black women whether we knew them or not.
Black women are under attack. This is not new because we have always been a marginalized and much-maligned population. In 1937 Zora Neale Hurston wrote, in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, “The black woman is the mule of the world…” Fast forward 70 years or so and things aren’t any better. In fact, I could argue that they are worse. However, I don’t have enough time, energy, or vodka to do so today. As the years have marched on, the treatment of black women has become so toxic that a word had to be created to describe it – misogynoir. Moya Bailey, the black, gay, American academic who coined the term did so “to describe the particular brand of hatred directed at black women in American visual and popular culture.” Black women experience misogynoir at the hands of white men, white women, and black men. Increasingly, we are experiencing it at the hands of other black women as well. You might be participating in misogynoir if:
You feed into the belief that black women aren’t worthy of protection: A black woman is abused by her partner and your response is to defend/support the abuser and/or blame/vilify the victim, “That’s not the first time she’s been hit! She stayed there and took it so she deserves it!” or “Well, there’s two sides to every story. We don’t know what she did to get her jaw broken.”
You advance the narrative that black women exhibit hypersexuality: A young black girl or teenager is molested and your response is, “Well you know these little girls are fast asses today. She must have done something to provoke it.” A black woman is raped and your response is, “She knew what was going to happen when she met him backstage/at his house/in his hotel room.”
You devalue black women’s pain: A black woman expresses hurt or anger because she is called inferior because of her complexion, body type, hair texture, etc., and your response is, “People have the right to their opinion, you need to get over it!”
You practice “respectability politics” which promotes the belief that only some black people are worthy of respect: A black woman proudly embraces her sexuality and your response is, “She is such a hoe! Chicks like her give us a bad name!” A black woman speaks loudly using slang and your response is, “She is so ghetto!! That’s why people think we’re all like that!”
Look, we’ve all been guilty of this at one time or another. Unfortunately, misogynoir is deeply rooted in our culture and communities. As black women, we have to police our thoughts, speech, and behavior to make sure that we aren’t internalizing these toxic messages and participating in the same discrimination, marginalization, and hatred we are fighting against. We can’t demand that others respect and protect us when we don’t respect and protect each other. We have to do better.