What Is Misogynoir?: Understanding The Intersection Of Racism And Misogyny
Northeastern University

Misogynoir is a term that refers to the misogyny directed towards Black women where both race and gender intersect in forming a bias against them. Misogynoir is a word used to describe how racism and anti-Blackness affect black women’s experiences of misogyny, and ‘noir‘ in French, means black.

Despite the fact that sexism damages all women, White women are typically assumed to represent the “norm” leading to a rejection of the specific intersectional discrimination faced by Black women. Anti-Blackness dehumanises Black women, and the denigration they face is specific and different from that faced by non-Black women of color.

Misogynoir was coined in 2008 by Moya Bailey, an African American feminist scholar and writer, who is also an Assistant Professor at the Northeastern University. “It’s such a specific denigration of Black women, not other women of color, not Black men. So I started to think about that and landed on misogynoir as a way to talk about anti-Blackness and misogyny that Black women experience simultaneously“, says Bailey. 

History of the term

The concept dates back to days of slave ownership when words like “ape” and “dog” have long been coded as insults and nicknames ascribed to Black people. The portrayals of Black women as overtly sexual and promiscuous were used to justify their rape during this period. In the post-slavery era, Black women were stereotyped as “asexual, fat, and undesirable,” to make them seem less threatening to white relationships. When it comes to Black women in particular, disparaging comments about appearance unearths the vile history behind racial misogyny.

Misogynoir is not only demeaning and hurtful, but it also harmful. Negative perceptions towards Black women are linked to poor physical and mental outcomes. Misogynoir can be extremely threatening to one’s mental health. Anxiety and depression are particularly common among the survivors of misogynoir. According to Dr. Drake, a clinical Assistant Professor of psychiatry and the director of Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, misogynoir has a significant impact on Black women’s stress and anxiety levels, as well as their confidence in the workplace

The post-slavery rise of problematic Black female tropes has made a significant contribution to the coinage of the term Misogynoir. The mammy stereotype was the belief that a Black woman’s sole purpose in life is to serve and nurture others, and that Black women are not sexually attractive. Similarly, Jezebel is a stereotype that objectifies Black women by portraying them as hyper-sexual.

Next comes the sapphire, also known as the angry Black woman who is outspoken, quarrelsome, and challenging. These usages which stem from a racial gaze on Black individuals have an influence on how people perceive Black women and how they are unfairly treated. These are frequently used as weapons to humiliate and undermine Black women.

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Also read: Racism Needs No Devil’s Advocate: A Note To Indian Immigrant Cis-Women With White Friends

How misogynoir affects Black women

Misogynoir is not only demeaning and hurtful, but it also harmful. Negative perceptions towards Black women are linked to poor physical and mental outcomes. Misogynoir can be extremely threatening to one’s mental health. Anxiety and depression are particularly common among the survivors of misogynoir. According to Dr. Drake, a clinical Assistant Professor of psychiatry and the director of Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, misogynoir has a significant impact on Black women’s stress and anxiety levels, as well as their confidence in the workplace.

Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, Michelle Obama was the focus of racial and sexist assaults. Every day, people remarked on her weight, hair, and overall appearance, attempting to discredit the First Lady in any way they could, a practice that may not have occurred had she not been Black. Similarly, world tennis champion Serena Williams has been subjected to heinous racist and sexist comments, which are classic examples of misogynoir

It can also hinder physical care if a health care worker has an underlying bias against Black women. If a doctor refuses to take a Black woman seriously when she complains of pain or any potentially harmful symptom her health may be jeopardized. “We see the impact of misogynoir in the striking disparities in health outcomes, particularly reproductive health outcomes for Black women,” says Dr. Drake.

Even when wealth and education are taken into account, the maternal mortality rate for Black women and their infants is substantially higher than of white women and their babies. The inequalities show that structural racism and sexism have a considerable impact on how Black women are treated by doctors, and may even affect whether they live or die.

Professor Moya Bailey on "Why you need to know what 'misognoir' means right  now" - Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program
Professor Moya Bailey Image: Northeastern University

Examples of misogynoir

Regardless of skin color, money, age, or social class status, misogynoir has a negative influence on all Black women. Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was murdered in her own house by white police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, is an example of misogynoir’s fatal consequences.

In comparison to the murder of George Floyd, her case has come to a halt with no signs of advancement. The bias towards Black women leads to the general perception that their lives are not of as much value, or that they can be treated without due respect. This discrimination is also experienced by a number of Black female celebrities, despite being powerful and financially independent.

Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, Michelle Obama was the focus of racial and sexist assaults. Every day, people remarked on her weight, hair, and overall appearance, attempting to discredit the First Lady in any way they could, a practice that may not have occurred had she not been Black. Similarly, world tennis champion Serena Williams has been subjected to heinous racist and sexist comments, which are classic examples of misogynoir.

Misogynoir and the feminist discourse

Misogynoir is a term that recognises how racial and gender identities are strongly connected. Black women are constantly and systemically degraded and dismissed. Instead of ignoring and silencing survivors, we as a society must acknowledge the intersectional layers of discrimination and resolve them.

Mainstream feminist discourses often fail to address racial misogyny and the corrosive stereotypes that affect Black women. Misogynoir as a concept needs to be spoken about and understood more closely so that we can identify the specific nature of discrimination faced by Black women based on their history and marginalisation. To address the oppression of Black women, we must fist comprehend the nature of such oppression. Thus, we must investigate misogynoir and understand how it manifests, and arrive at ways to comprehensively integrate it into feminist initiatives so that experiences of misogynoir can be fought and remedied.

Also read: Can Mere Representation Be The Solution To Problems Like Racism?


Featured Image Source: Northeastern University

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