How Do We Address Misogyny in a Racist Society?

You know things seem dire for women when you find yourself revisiting Andrea Dworkin. Not the Dworkin who’s often misquoted as saying, “All heterosexual sex is rape,” but the Dworkin who once said this:

Have you ever wondered why we [women] are not just in armed combat against you [men]? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.

I think of this quote during a year in which Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut” for advocating women’s right to insurance that covers birth control. I think of this quote during an election year when Congressional candidates speak of “legitimate rapes” or view pregnancies resulting from such acts of sexual violence as “God’s will.” I especially think of this quote when, last week, an uploaded video on the popular urban site World Star Hip Hop featured newly signed Def Jam rapper Lil Reese brutally assaulting a young woman amid much outrage and, sadly, amusement (yes, amusement, both among the spectators in the video and on social media) at the spectacle of a young black woman battered, bruised and stomped.

With regards to the last example, I’m especially disturbed–not just because of the blatant misogyny but also because the race of this young woman will unnecessarily distort the issue of sexual violence, reducing the issue of misogyny to a “cultural” issue. As in: Black culture, or hip-hop culture or youth culture is to blame (as if violence against women can so easily be confined to culture–neatly divorced from other systems of oppression such as white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism and heteronormativity). So I’m left to ponder: How do we address misogyny in a racist society? And if I want to broaden the context even further, how do we address the problem of woman-hating violence in a global context?

As feminists, this continues to pose a problem. For instance, when Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy pointed to the problem of woman-hating in Middle East cultures, she recycled the worst Orientalist depictions of the Middle East and reduced the issue of misogyny to one of culture. I respect her rage and appreciate her willingness to break the silence about violence against women. But how can we honestly and frankly talk about misogyny in global contexts when the wider globe–especially those from non-Middle Eastern parts of the world–can simply point to the examples that Eltahawy gives and dismiss the global repercussions by focusing solely on stereotypes?

As in: “See, Arabs and Muslims are more brutal than we are. Someone from inside that culture has said so!” Sadly, such responses to Eltahawy’s reportage have become the norm. No one says, “Wow, misogyny is a global phenomenon! How do we end it?”

Usually, from a Western perspective, “ending it” means dropping bombs on those savages over there. More than a decade later, after September 11, Afghan women are still not liberated. Meanwhile, we still haven’t addressed the woman-hating perpetrators over here.

And that is why the Lil Reese assault on the young woman, later identified as Tiairah Marie, is complicated to me. I want to unequivocally condemn the assault and to do so without feeding into racist stereotypes about “brutish” and “criminally-prone” black men.  As Andreas Hale has expressed in response to Lil Reese, these images that are allowed to circulate via mainstream media (through popular music) or social media (on sites like WSHH), don’t alarm us to the problem of violence against women. They simply reinforce the worst stereotypes about black youth. As he so aptly puts it:

When you see a kid in a hoodie beat a woman senseless on camera and then see another kid with a hoodie in your neighborhood, fear and misunderstanding will cause a negative reaction. … At the end of the day, Trayvon Martin looks like Lil Reese and Lil Reese looks like Trayvon Martin to the naked eye that is attached to a tainted brain. George Zimmerman followed Martin because he fit the [racial] profile, a profile … heightened by websites such as WSHH and record labels that reward this ignorance with fame and a deal.

To reduce misogyny to “culture” or to “race” is to be in denial of the global scope of patriarchy and its intersectional function through racism, imperialism, capitalism and other “isms.” However, it is precisely because the bodies of women of color “bleed at the intersections,” to loosely quote Gloria Anzaldua, why we can never sit by in silence as the violence persists. In the past, the vow of silence has kept many women in marginalized communities from speaking out because there was never any sympathy from outside their community; or, worse, the reaction was to enact more violence on their community, be it through lynchings, wars and occupations or mass incarcerations.

Today, however, social media has now blurred the lines between the private sphere of the marginal community and the public sphere of mainstream society. Now is not the time for silence when what occurs “behind closed doors” or in segregated neighborhoods is available for upload on the Internet. For all the world to see.

And now that we have a worldwide audience, what can we say on the subject? Around the same time of Lil Reese’s assault video, another up-and-coming rapper, Angel Haze (pictured above), released a mixtape which recounts a harrowing tale of childhood sexual abuse and the resulting self-hate and rage against which she battled. Re-sampling Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” fellow native Detroit rapper Haze offers a decidedly feminist response to the woman-hate that hip-hop and the larger culture and world have unleashed. (Trigger Warning)

I am floored by the starkness and candid descriptions of her experience. It’s as if, because we have become so desensitized to the violence in the lives of women of color, Haze has to spell it out and hit us over the head with the urgency of her message. If we place Angel Haze’s version of “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” against the backdrop of Lil Reese, congressional candidates and the wider world–a world in which 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai  can be be shot in the head in Pakistan for defying the Taliban by seeking education and where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is still recovering from her own gunshot wound to the head when targeted by a rage-filled misogynist in a mass shooting in Arizona–we might appreciate the need to transcend racial and national differences and connect the dots in these different stories of violence against women.

Another 70s feminist icon, Audre Lorde, once said, “Your silence will not protect you,” and Angel Haze and many others are boldly transcending that silence since there is no protection, no defense. What now matters is how we can hear these voices of clarity amid the media noise that constantly seeks to distort their voices.

Misogyny is not simply a black problem, a hip-hop problem, a youth problem or a Middle East problem. This problem affects all of us, and it is time that we reach and relate across our differences to address it.

Photo of Angel Haze via Flickr user Murakami_Reader licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

Comments

  1. Jill Vaandering says:

    “Your silence will not protect you,” is especially poignant during voting season.

    And if you know a woman in your circle who would be great in public office, TELL her that, and ENCOURAGE her. Let’s even out the gender gap and racial gap in politics.

  2. You know things seem dire for women when you find yourself revisiting a fauxfeminist blog where they hate one of the forerunners of feminism..Andrea Dworkin.

    What next? Is Bell hooks passe too?

    No wonder you have no comments….

    • Janell Hobson says:

      Gee, “Ermmm,” (whatever that’s supposed to imply), where did you read into anything in my blog that suggested I “hate” Andrea Dworkin?

      Why don’t you acquire some reading comprehension skills before you start labeling writers “fauxfeminist”?

      I’d rather have zero comments than any at all if you can’t even contribute to some kind of civil and intellectual conversation.

  3. Hmm I note this article does not name the agents/perpetrators who are the ones engaged in women-hating. The elephant in the room is males and yet articles such as this one refuse to name the sex of the perpetrators.

    White Men’s Male Supremacist System has always claimed ‘it’s not us good white boys it is those nasty people over there living in non-western countries who are the ones committing all that violence against women and girls.’ White Male Supremacist System refuses to accept males globally are the ones committing/condoning male violence against women and also condoning promoting male hatred/male contempt for women and girls.

    Until we get to root of the problem which is endemic male hatred/male contempt for women and girls we cannot possibly begin to hold men accountable for male violence against women.

    Not until all women are free from male domination can we say ‘it has nothing to do with me.’

    Misogyny is a men’s issue and that is why we feminists must always name sex of perpetrators and not collude with Male Supremacist System by refusing to name the perpetrators. Not stating sex of perpetrators will not prevent male violence against all women.

    • Janell Hobson says:

      I thought it was implied in my focus on misogyny that the perpetrators are men. Do you believe readers are really so clueless that MALES with a capital M have to be spelled out in a conversation on misogyny?

      But then, considering one of the commentators couldn’t event process the rest of the article, so caught up was s/he in my “hatred” of Andrea Dworkin, perhaps you have a point.

      My only concern, Hecuba, with your putting all the focus on Male Supremacy is that it totally and completely obscures how it works in tandem with White Supremacy, although your point about “white men” always contrasting themselves with non-white men is a good one, and yes, I agree that’s part of the problem. But what about women, not just white men, who make similar claims? How do we complicate the conversation when we have these competing claims?

    • Dark pixie says:

      Misogyny is not a men’s issue – its a social attitude issue that both men and women adopt, that is why we have trouble addressing it. We not only dismiss or reduce the issue to one of race or culture, we also reduce it to a male problem, which it is not. Misogyny centres on the control of women not simply because they are women, it seeks to control feminine by reducing it to a public commodity, feminine simply happens to be part of being a woman, but it also encapsulates LGBT issues and the rules about how men need to be masculine (by avoiding feminity). Until we understand the complexity of misogyny, we cannot hope to address it.

  4. We address them both at the same time. Sexism and Racism work the same way- They are both tools of oppression. Educate people as to how they came to acceptthese behaviors as the norm and how problematic that truly is…. There’s got to be a way!

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