Coined by Dr.Moya Bailey and Trudy in 2008, misogynoir describes “the anti-Black racist misogyny that Black womxn experience.” Black womxn cannot separate their womxn-ness from their Blackness, which is why this word is so important. Black womxn’s experiences and interactions with the world are coloured by anti-blackness and misogyny working in tandem. It is essential to understand how this manifests in real-time. Misogynoir operates on both an institutional and an interpersonal level. It shapes the way the world sees Black womxn and often skews the way Black womxn see themselves. There have been countless pieces written about misogynoir. The link attached here is from Wear Your Voice Magazine – one of my personal favourite publications. They offer an array of articles on misogynoir and so much more about intersectional politics and the experiences of marginalized voices.
But, to provide people with a personal understanding of misogynoir and its effects, I asked 9 black womxn: Amika Cooper, Anna Akoto, Ayan Rowe, Carina Samuels, Mouna Traoré, Teshaunna Gray, Teauanna Gray, Raquel Vassell, and Keosha Love about their experiences of misogynoir and the ways people can do better on our behalf.
Thank you to the womxn who lent their voices for this piece. I love all of you, dearly, and I am so grateful to have you in my life!
1. What have been some notable/memorable experiences of misogynoir in your life?
Keesha – One of my most notable moments was when I was in university. I majored in women’s studies and lived with a white cis-hetero woman who was majoring in English. At the time, the women’s studies department put together a group that would turn the women’s studies program into a separate school. Out of the approximately 25 students in the program, about five, including myself, were Black. Letters were sent to different people that the Women’s Studies department wanted to be a part of this group. I did not receive a letter. But, my white English majoring roommate did. When I found this out, I was hurt, disappointed, and really angry. I gave them my money to study in their department, yet I wasn’t asked to participate in a conversation as meaningful as this. Further, in a program that teaches intersectionality, inclusion, critical race theory, etc., would it not be essential to include the few Black students enrolled in this conversation? The message was loud and clear: when it came to critical conversations such as this, the opinion of a white womxn majoring in English was more important than that of a Black womxn studying within their department.
I explained my frustration to my roommate. Saying how absurd it was that she was asked to participate, and I wasn’t. She then looked at me and said, “Well, just tell me what you want to say, I can speak for you.” This infuriated me. At no point did she acknowledge how flawed it was that she was asked to participate, and I was not. At no point did she offer to bring me with her or even offer not to go in solidarity. Instead, her solution was to “speak for me.” Not only was I more qualified to be a part of that group, but she felt the most helpful thing was to strip me of my own voice by speaking for me rather than allow me to speak for myself. This is the perfect example of misogynoir operating on an institutional level and an interpersonal one.
Anna – As the only Black womxn in my position at work, there are so many I’ve lost count. One thing that happens every day, multiple times a day, is that customers will refuse my service and wait for my colleague (regardless of the wait and no, they weren’t helping them before), or they’ll ask to speak to a male employee.
Amika – I think the most notable moment was when a West Indian Black man propositioned me at an event on behalf of his white boss. I was in my early twenties, and at first, when he said hello, and I heard his accent, I thought, “Oh! An uncle, a safe port in this room full of white people.” That obviously wasn’t the case. And what was more insulting was that this Black man couldn’t understand how hurt and offended I felt. He cared more about whatever financial connection he had to the much older white man who sent him to speak to me than the wellbeing of a young Black girl from an island not too far from the one he was from. Even though that was poignant, what hurts is the reality that that incident is couched in a lifetime of comments and microaggressions from loved ones, friends, and bullies and all the ways in which many Black men have failed to make me feel safe in their presence.
Keosha – My most memorable experiences of misogynoir involve being bullied. I was bullied not just for being Black and my skin being really dark, but also having “masculine” arms, being skinny, and being built a certain way. Those are really intertwined. It was being considered ugly not only because I’m Black but because I’m not feminine enough. Ugly because I’m a woman that doesn’t fit the mould of what people thought a woman should look like. I was called “Black Attack,” “skinny,” “looking like tar,” “man arms” and things like that. And, whenever I wanted to defend myself, I was labelled as “aggressive” and being “angry” and “always having something to say.” And I was left feeling like there was no room to practise self-advocacy.
2. What do you wish people did to make you feel more seen, heard, supported, and loved as a black womxn?
Carina – Stop grouping us together by using the word female. It feels like the new age bitc*. I hear it used to state an idea that encompasses all womxn and is usually used by someone who has obviously internalized toxic masculinity and thinks within a patriarchal paradigm. It’s just so triggering, and I usually hear it used by cis-black men. It feels like once womxn got to a point where they refused to be called a bitc*, the word got swapped out with female. Obviously, it depends on how it’s used and who is using it, but at the end of the day, when it comes out of a cishet male mouth, It’s a way of saying bitc* without really saying it.
Amika – I think the answer is in the question. Others need to actually see, listen to, support, and love Black womxn and not in spite of our Blackness, but because of all we are. It’s really that simple.
Others need to actually see, listen to, support, and love Black womxn and not in spite of our Blackness, but because of all we are. It’s really that simple.
Mouna – See us as human beings! In greater society but even within our own community, Black womxn are not given humanity. There is a kind of endurism and mythology of endurism placed on Black womxn, where we don’t get to be vulnerable. If we are assaulted, it is our own fault if we are violated; it’s because there is something innately wrong with us. That we are angry or that we solicit that kind of violence. From my experience, that’s what I believe is placed upon us. We see so many images of Black women being violated that it’s almost assumed it’s something we can take.
Anna – Personally, I wish people coupled their sympathy with action. The amount of people who have pulled me aside or sent me a message expressing how bad they feel about a situation or denouncing something someone had said to me is crazy because 1) it’s always done in private, and 2) it’s met with no action. Words don’t change anything, especially ones said in private. If you genuinely value me as a person and believe my experiences are real, show it.
Teauanna – Include us in all areas of narratives that involve us. Do not speak for us.
Teshaunna– Believing us when we say things! Trusting that our experiences come from an informed place. A lot of times I’ve spoken about things I know. When it comes to racial bias, gender bias etc. – Trust that I have a lifetime of experience within these settings. My feelings are coming from an informed place, leading me when I tell you I feel uncomfortable, and I know the reason why…Just believe me!
Keosha – I wish people l would be more intentional about lightening the load for Black womxn. Giving them more grace and ease. There’s a lot of unreasonable pressure that Black womxn experience regularly: to thrive, to elevate, to succeed, to be the bigger person, and to be the best self that they always can be. We are asked to be these strong leaders, and I think people would hear that exhaustion if they would give us more ease, rest, and space to mess up.
Lightening the load for Black womxn is super important to support them because a lot of what we do is emotional, physical, and mental labour. To support us is allowing us to not always have to do that work. Stepping in for us and hearing us when we are tired and are being overworked. Hearing us when we are not being loved or supported. People think that all we are is strength, and they don’t see the vulnerability, the gentleness, the softness in us. Calling us “superwomen” and calling us “super resilient” often creates barriers for us to be supported and receive help.
Include us in all areas of narratives that involve us. Do not speak for us.
3. Is there anything you want to say to people who want to be better allies to black womxn?
- Educate yourself. Thanks to this article you are now familiar with the term’ misogynoir.’ Familiarize yourself with what it is, how it can look like and assess how you may be partaking in it or creating an environment for it to thrive.
- Call it out. When you see/hear someone engaging in misogynoir, speak up. Private words denouncing public acts do nothing.
- Do something about it. Look for how you can incite change in the spaces you occupy. It may be confronting someone on how they treat or speak about Black womxn. It may be replacing that diversity course — It may be ending that friendship (uh huh). If we all make changes, the world WILL be better.
Amika – I’m at the point where I’m done giving people instructions and telling people how to treat other humans as humans. I think the best way to be an ally to anyone is to care for their cause, their wellbeing, and humanity as if it were your own. If someone is telling you that you’ve hurt them, believe and listen to them. You can’t be an ally while prioritizing or being guided by your ego.
Mouna – Overcompensate and overcorrect because more than likely, you’re not doing enough! Or, you’re doing the bare minimum, so do even more than you think you should be doing.
Raquel – Be an ally for us when we are not in the room! So many people want to be “for us,” when we are around — especially Black men. Posting on twitter that we need to “support our black queens” and then retelling a story about your problematic friends sexually assaulting, is not it.
Show up all the time! When we are not in the room and when we are in the room. Stand up for us all the time. If you’re gonna be there, be a proper ally.
Ayan – And not just when it’s convenient, or popular to do so.
This is the bottom line: Black womxn deserve better. Misogynoir is a word that people need to familiarize themselves with. It is an incredibly successful power structure that has dictated the collective consciousness for a long time. By design, this culture has taught all of us to devalue Black womxn. But, if you want to be a part of the solution then listen to us. We know what we need.
Again, thank you to all the amazing womxn that lent their voices for this piece. Thank you to Gillian Mapp for providing images for this article. Thank you to Anna Akoto for editing this piece and being an ear during the creative process. And, to all the Black womxn out there: I love you, I see you, and I appreciate you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you need an ear or a new friend!
About the Author
Keesha Chung is an emerging Toronto based filmmaker (director, writer, producer), content creator, event producer and moderator, professional model, and the co-founder of Collective Culture. After graduating from Concordia University with a BA in Women’s Studies, Keesha co-founded Collective Culture, a platform that highlights the voices and experiences of BIPOCs through content development and programming. She has worked in media for over ten years and collaborated with artists and organizations from around the globe. Some of her collaborators include: Never Apart Montreal, Route Eleven Productions, VICELAND Canada, Sephora Canada, AfrOURban, CBC Arts, BAND Gallery and Culture Centre, Scarbrough Pictures, CIINEMA, Sophomore Magazine, Artscape Daniel’s Launchpad, Concordia’s Fine Arts Student Alliance, Sankofest + Khyber Centre for the Arts, HerDay, BlackLives Matter Toronto, Goldelox Productions, and Ryerson Image Centre.
Her goal with all her creative endeavours is to challenge representations politics and highlight the voices and stories of creatives of colour that inspire her. She will be graduating with honours from Humber College’s Film and Multiplatform Storytelling program in December 2020.