By Danielle Elizabeth Stevens
As a young Black girl growing up in a poor, single-parent household in Long Beach CA, I watched day in and day out as my mother hustled around the clock to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. Resilience and fatigue found home with my mama through the dark circles that formed under her eyes as she fought against poverty, compromised health, alcoholism, whiteness, and especially misogynoir — elusive things my Black girlhood lived but could not name — just to ensure that we stayed afloat. My mama would look at me sometimes on days that were especially hard and I would almost cry because of how painful it was to bear witness to how she wore her sadness. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired”, she would say as she exhaled. Over the years, I have come to understand with stunning and profound intimacy, precisely what she meant.
Misogynoir is a term coined by Black queer feminist Moya Bailey to describe the specificity of both misogyny and anti-Blackness directed towards Black women; the discrimination toward Black women and girls where both race and gender play roles in bias. I’ve been fatigued by misogynoir for a long time. I’ve been fatigued by misogynoir my entire life. I inherit the misogynoir my grandmama has faced in her lifetime, the misogynoir my mama continues to experience, the violence of anti-Black misogyny that I myself, and my sisters know all too well.
A few weeks ago, Black trans woman writer and educator Janet Mock, appeared on the Breakfast Club, a popular hip hop radio show, to discuss her latest memoir, Surpassing Certainty. The interview was deeply uncomfortable to watch. Two of the three hosts who are cisgender men, held absolutely no professional regard for Mock as an author and were decidedly cavalier with how they engaged with her work. They failed to prep or read any of her work before the interview and even asked “when does the book come out?” a month after Surpassing Certainty had already been published. Not only were the hosts deeply unprofessional, but their actions became alarmingly dangerous when they repeatedly interrogated Mock about her vagina, and in a later interview with another guest, used her image as a prop to impose ownership over and incite violence against Black transgender women. I won’t expound too much about what happened, as Mock has addressed it, here, but i mention it to illustrate the pervasive and immediate danger that hegemonic masculinity, patriarchy, and misogynoir play in rendering extinct both the safety and livelihood of Black women, femmes, and girls. I echo my mother when I say I am sick and tired.
I’m tired of this culture of toxic, fragile, hegemonic masculinity teaching boys and men that assuming total and complete ownership over the lives of women, femmes, and girls, even to our own detriment, disadvantage, and death, is somehow performing idyllic manhood.
I’m tired of seeing grown ass men reduce the divinity and dimensionality of women and femmes to our body parts, and render us objects of and prizes to their sexual gaze, by any means necessary.
I’m tired of hearing my young sisters detail experiences of molestation and sexualized violence at the hands of repulsive, grown ass adult men who find it tantalizing to abuse and traumatize young girls and strip them of their agency and dignity
I’m tired of the day to day casual misogynoir I deal with on a regular basis and being expected to either be dignified, principled, and graceful about it or be suffocated and victim blamed for being an “angry black woman”, as if my anger isn’t righteous nor justified.
I’m tired of seeing Black women and femmes fight day-in and day-out for our humanity to be recognized, respected and honored, and that still, patriarchy’s main objective is to shame, abuse, and kill our women. How many more Black women do y’all gotta kill to demonstrate how much you hate us?
I have some stories rattling in my bones. Generations and lifetimes of forced silence and untold stories that have been yearning to emerge. So many of us are afraid to talk about our suffering: Hegemonic and oppressive notions of Black womanhood and Black girlhood do not permit our humanity to do so. Discursive and institutionalized violence has been an effectively manipulative tool in suggesting that we do everything in our power to steer clear of being an “angry bitter Black woman”. To pretend we don’t experience hurt; to act as though our threshold for pain is infinite. Not only are we conditioned to silence ourselves to prevent retribution and chastisement, but when we refuse, we are still cast aside, targeted, and further dehumanized.
Hegemonic masculinity creates a culture in which Black women and girls are to live in the shadows of our pain. We are expected to shrink ourselves, to remain subdued in the crevices of our silent suffering. We are taught to internalize the shame we so often experience as victims and survivors of predatorial violence, while being manipulated into believing it is our duty to protect these men from being held accountable for the harm they have so willfully and audaciously perpetrated onto us, our sisters, our mothers, our grandmothers.
Casual misogynoir is a parasitic epidemic with a dangerously commonplace presence; a boisterous reverberation of malaise; an overbearing vibrato that maintains a dissonant culture of white supremacy and the terminal subjugation of Black women and girls. As for the silence and fear Black women and girls are taught to embody– a melodic chorus to the ears of fragile men who will do any and everything in their power to ensure our humanity and value is eternally obsolete — by any means necessary.
But Audre Lorde reminds us that our silence will not protect us. Zora Neale Hurston reminds us that if we are silent about our pain, they will (& do) kill us and say we enjoyed it. If we don’t define ourselves for ourselves, we will be crunched into other people’s fantasies, projections, and delusions for us and eaten alive. When we dare to be powerful, to use our strength in the service of our vision, then it becomes less and less important whether we are afraid.
As sacred conduits to for a bold new world, it is our responsibility to offer the gift of revolutionary motherhood to the brave bruised girl child within us all that trembles in fear; to conjure her healing and embody the courage she needs to live in her full truth. When the entire world is waging war against Black women, femmes, and girls because of our mere existence, it is critical that we arm ourselves with ourselves, to speak our truths with bold immediacy, with the urgency to act audaciously to keep ourselves and our communities alert. Assata Shakur reminds us that is is our duty to fight for our freedom — and that it is our duty to win. And freedom is multidimensional. It is up to you to determine how you will locate yourself in this fight. Our ancestors have created a blueprint for the work that needs doing; allow your brave ancestral wisdom the permission to show you how you will be the architect.
Danielle Elizabeth Stevens is a radically compassionate visionary with a gentle and sharply unapologetic tongue. Born and raised in southern California, she is a cultural producer, media maker, and multi-disciplinary artist spanning a range of modalities including writing, healing, social justice education, fashion and beauty, as well as sensory, imagination, and dreaming arts. Danielle connects social justice and activist education through audaciously imaginative and wildly creative pedagogical frameworks to demonstrate that life and social change are fundamentally artistic endeavors. She is the Founding Director of This Bridge Called Our Health, a digital publication, consulting practice, and community resource providing services & promoting dialogues around health, healing, and wellness through a social justice lens. You can find more about her work here, check out her Instagram slayage here, and indulge in her #BlackFemmeSupremacy Facebook musings here.