Misogynoir Is a Specific Type of Prejudice Affecting Black Women—Here's What You Need to Know
Racism is prejudice directed at people of a certain race, while misogyny is hatred of (or prejudice against) women. But Black women in particular can be subject to a specific kind of prejudice aimed specifically at them: a blend of racism and misogyny known as "misogynoir."
Being a victim of misogynoir can take a toll on mental health and also affect physical care, if a health care professional has an underlying prejudice against Black women, for example. Here's what you need to know about misogynoir, including how it manifests and what to do if you experience it or witness it firsthand.
What is misogynoir?
The term "misogynoir" was created by Moya Bailey, an associate professor in the department of communications at Northwestern University in Illinois. The word describes the type of prejudice many Black women experience regularly.
"I'm so grateful that Bailey has contributed this term to the lexicon to help describe the particular compounding forces of anti-Blackness and misogyny that Black women can experience in a myriad of settings," Christin Drake, MD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and the director of Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, tells Health.
What does misogynoir look like?
Acts of misogynoir aren't always obvious, Chivonna Childs, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Cleveland Clinic's Center for Adult Behavioral Health, tells Health. "It can happen in daily interactions and can manifest as microaggressions," Childs says.
In the workplace, misogynoir can lead some Black women to feel they aren't seen and heard the way others around them are. "It can manifest in the experience of being 'invisible' in meetings," Childs explains. "It occurs during a meeting when other [people] are talking and making eye contact with most people in the room except for her. She can feel alone in this experience because if she were to express how she feels, it is often blown off as, 'Oh, no, you took that wrong' or 'are you sure?''"
Misogynoir might also be the reason a non-Black colleague takes credit for something a Black woman accomplished. "The frequency with which Black women who are highly accomplished professionally or academically have their accomplishments and their work ignored or claimed by others is one example," Dr. Drake says. A general distrust of what Black women have to say in any type of setting can be rooted in misogynoir.
How can misogynoir affect health?
Experiencing misogynoir can cause anxiety to skyrocket. "Having your internal experience so uncoupled from the feedback that you get from the world around you is highly anxiety-provoking," Dr. Drake explains.
When a Black woman speaks up about experiencing misogynoir and is met with a phrase like "are you sure,' it can take a toll on other aspects of her mental health, Childs says. "This discredits her entire experience and thus can lead to feeling defeated, anxiousness, and depression, as she may experience this in multiple venues throughout her life."
Dr. Drake agrees, explaining that she often witnesses the effects of misogynoir at her workplace. "In my work, I see that [misogynoir] has a tremendous impact on levels of stress and anxiety and on the confidence of Black women," she explains. Being stereotyped is "incredibly disorienting," she says, adding that Black women are often accused of being "angry or aggressive" when they stand up for themselves.
If a doctor won't take a Black woman seriously when she reports experiencing pain or another potentially dangerous symptom, for example, this could jeopardize her well-being. "We see the impact of misogynoir in the striking disparities in health outcomes, particularly reproductive health outcomes for Black women," Dr. Drake says.
What to do if you're the target of misogynoir or you witness it
There's no one-size-fits-all way to react to acts of misogynoir if you're the victim, in part because your reaction will be totally dependent on the specific act, Dr. Drake says. That said, she does have one tip for navigating the situation: Don't rush the processing that comes after it. "[Give yourself] permission to feel however you're going to feel," she advises.
One of the simplest things you can do if you notice misogynoir happening in your environment is to start a conversation with the person the prejudice is aimed at. "Be sympathetic to the person's experience and understand that listening is key, particularly with this population, [which] has a history of being maligned," Childs says. Make sure you're committed to being a good listener. "Do not dismiss their experience and listen with intention to support," she adds. "Having someone believe you can be empowering."
What you shouldn't do is jump in with two feet and decide how the affected Black woman should handle the situation they're in. "Before taking any action, asking her what she might want in terms of support is critical. Acting on someone's behalf, particularly in the workplace, without her permission can perpetuate anti-Black misogyny," Dr. Drake says, adding that there may be one exception to this rule. "If you witness verbal abuse, someone being insulted, berated, [or] belittled in your presence, you can take an action to stop the mistreatment in the moment," he says.
There's a specific way you can go about this. "In these cases, it can be useful to invite the person who is being mistreated to walk away with you or to interrupt the person who is being abusive to point out the impact they are having and ask them to stop," Dr. Drake explains.
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