by Anthony J. Williams
Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably engaged in, witnessed or even personally experienced misogynoir. Misogynoir is a term created by Black feminist scholar Dr. Moya Bailey to discuss anti-Black misogyny. Misogynoir teaches us that the material reality of living as a Black woman is often dire.
Black women have dealt with misogynoir for more time than records exist, but the first time I encountered the term was on Twitter. I followed the trail to Gradient Lair, a blog run by a womanist named Trudy who writes extensively about misogynoir and many other topics. Before Bailey created the term and Trudy expounded on it, Black women like Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Sojourner Truth, Kimberle Crenshaw, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Frances M. Beale, bell hooks, Angela Davis and many less well-known women frequently wrote (or still write) about the experience of misogynoir.
I often think the best way to support Black women is by challenging the misogynoir I observe. When I started tweeting #MasculinitySoFragile, the fodder was my own experiences as a Black queer man with an intelligent mother, thoughtful sister and a community of extraordinary women. But my sexuality, family and the presence of fabulous women cannot compare to the misogynoir that surrounded my upbringing.
A society that approves of only the lightest Black people and minimizes women at every opportunity will inevitably produce men who hate women. This planet is full of men who enjoy sex with women and love women’s body parts, but whose actions reflect a deep disrespect for women as fellow humans. I have seen Black men disparage dark-skinned people as “ugly,” despite their beautiful dark-skinned mothers who protected them from the world that seeks to destroy us. Regrettably, I have kept quiet more than once in that swiveling chair as the barbers and customers talked about women as if they were pieces of meat. My silence was complicity in an anti-Black patriarchal society that lives on because we reproduce it daily.
In fact, when I was 17 years old, I took pride in my manspreading. At 19, I was one of those gay men who said, “If I wanted to date feminine people, I’d date women.” At 22 I told a potential roommate that I preferred a straight male roommate to a queer man or a woman. But at 24 I took a race, class and gender course that made me finally realize how much privilege I had as a man. I took pride in manspreading instead of realizing how much space I took up as a man, I called women dramatic without even recognizing the sexism in it, and my own internalized queer and femme antagonism — opposition or hostility toward queer and feminine presenting individuals — was rooted in hatred of femininity and, by proxy, women. I thought that my queerness was some magical pass, but I too had learned to think of women as subordinate to men without even realizing it.
And when we do “try to help,” it looks something like this:
Step 1: Read some Lorde;
Step 2: Follow someone like Raquel Willis on Twitter;
Step 3: Dust off our hands;
Step 4: Feel like we really did the damn thing.
Too often we let our egos and fear get in the way of taking concrete action for Black women, so we remain passive. We make up dangerous excuses such as, “it wasn’t that bad,” “maybe she did something to deserve it” and “next time.” When a man witnesses a woman say something that is ignored, only to have a man repeat the same exact thing to more receptive ears, it is that bad. When a man witnesses another man sexually assault a woman, know that there is nothing that woman could have done to “deserve it.” And when a man physically threatens a woman but promises he will do better next time? That is not enough — and at the rate that men fatally assault women, there may not be a next time. Let us not forget that Daniel Holtzclaw’s conviction was a fluke, not the norm.
However, misogynoir is not limited in its scope — and our advocacy as men must extend to transgender women too. Black trans women like Tangerine’s award-winning Mya Taylor are making their presence known. Yet transmisogynoir, or misogyny targeted at Black trans women, has only increased as Black trans women and non-Black trans women of color gain mainstream attention. Last year we saw that “trans panic” rose as the prevailing justification for the multiple murders of trans women of color. Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old Black trans woman, was killed by a man who stated, “I just don’t wanna be fooled. My pride is at stake.” He killed a woman because his “pride” was threatened. He killed a woman because his “pride” (read: reputation as a macho cishetero man) was threatened.
According to BuzzFeed News, 17 of the 24 homicides in Detroit, Michigan, between Nov. 20, 2014 and Nov. 20, 2015 “were Black trans women or gender nonconforming people.” If we aim to do better as men for those who are most marginalized, we must show it in our actions. This means centering Black women, poor folks, queer folks, non-Black people of color, trans folks, gender nonconforming folks, undocumented folks, disabled folks and those who fall at the crossroads of all these identities. That means starting with the people in our own lives who actively and passively participate in misogynoir, whether it is intentional or not.
As men living in a world that really hates Black women, we have to show our love, not just tell it. We have to reduce the amount of emotional labor that we ask of the Black women in our lives. We need to stop regurgitating Black women’s words online and abusing Black women at home. We need to cite our sources, let go of our pride, and acknowledging the harm we have done to Black women. Let me say that again: we need to cite our sources. If Gloria Steinem can cite her sources years too late, I think we can cite ours in realtime.
Anthony J. Williams is a Black queer freelance writer, researcher, recent UC Berkeley graduate, and editor-in-chief of the Afrikan Black Coalition blog. You can find more of his work on Medium or on Twitter @anthoknees.