Are Some Women More Prone to Misogyny Than Others?
Hatred toward women who belong to multiple socially oppressed groups.
Posted Jan 22, 2020
In April 2019, a brutal attack on Muhlaysia Booker, a black trans woman, made national news. According to the New York Times, Booker had been involved in a minor traffic accident, and the other driver apparently offered 29-year-old Edward Thomas $200 to beat her up. The beating, which was filmed on a cell phone, shows Thomas putting on gloves and then repeatedly punching and kicking Booker while she is struggling on the ground.
Other men also started kicking her, while other bystanders were passively observing the assault. The attack continued until three women helped Booker get away. Tragically, the following month, Booker’s body was found in the street after the sounds of gunshots had been reported to the authorities.
Women who belong to multiple socially oppressed or stigmatized groups are particularly prone to misogynistic attacks. They are multiply burdened, discredited twice, thrice, or more. Some, like Muhlaysia Booker, become victims of misogyny-driven violence and murder.
Trans women, that is, women who were assigned the male sex at birth but who identify as women, often look more masculine than the average cis woman, especially prior to (or absent) hormone therapy. Their transgression from the ideal of femininity, together with the myth that they are men who have chosen to become women, make them highly vulnerable to hate-based misogyny and ensuing violence or "punishment" for their "defiance." As the Human Rights Campaign points out, since 2013, 128 trans people, the vast majority of them women, have been victims of fatal violence in the United States.
Society’s greater antagonism toward trans women, author and trans activist Julia Serano writes, “reflects the societal-wide inclination to view masculinity as being strong and natural, and femininity as being weak and artificial.”
Trans women are also routinely viewed with contempt, which is the other form of misogyny (contempt falls under hatred in the wide sense of the term). Trans women are seen as inferior both to men and to "real woman" on account of their "appalling" transformations and category transgressions. As Serano points out, trans women and others who transgress our culture’s gender norms, such as feminine boys, are sexualized in the media, who routinely provide intimate details about the bodies of trans women or transitioning or depict them as perverts who want to become women to fulfill some twisted sexual fantasy.
Although trans men are also sometimes objectified by the media, they are not typically sexualized in the way that trans women are. To be recognized legally as women, trans women are often forced to undergo sterilization.
Many other women are more susceptible to misogynist hatred than your average straight, white cis woman: for example, Natives, blacks, queer women, sex workers, obese women, career women, and women who are just bad at being girls. Members of these groups are often automatically and unjustifiably viewed as too loud, too hot-headed, too rough around the edges, too controlling, too large, too lustful, too ambitious, or too masculine to even approximate the ideal of femininity that prevails today. It is this straying from the ideal of femininity that fires up hateful misogynists and makes them want to "teach them a lesson."
Women in these groups are also often automatically and unjustifiably associated with “filthy” vices, such as promiscuity, laziness, “system milking,” or low intelligence. Such automatic mental associations between women and appalling vices sow the seed of contempt-based misogyny.
Stereotyping is largely to blame here. Black women, for example, are still the victims of historically rooted negative stereotyping in American culture today. Whereas the Mammy stereotype, which characterizes black women as asexual, unattractive, large, domestic women who work for rich, white people and babysit their children, is slowly fading, the Jezebel stereotype is alive and kicking. As the Jim Crow Museum notes, the modern-day Jezebel stereotype has widened over the years. They write:
K. Sue Jewell (1993), a contemporary sociologist, conceptualized the Jezebel as a tragic mulatto—“thin lips, long straight hair, slender nose, thin figure, and fair complexion” (p. 46). This conceptualization is too narrow. It is true that the "tragic mulatto" and “Jezebel” share the reputation of being sexually seductive, and both are antithetical to the desexualized Mammy caricature; nevertheless, it is a mistake to assume that only, or even mainly, fair-complexioned black women were sexually objectified by the larger American society. From the early 1630s to the present, black American women of all shades have been portrayed as hypersexual “bad-black-girls.”
The modern-day Jezebel stereotype portrays black women as lewd, hypersexual, and promiscuous. This stereotype makes black women more prone to be associated with bodily “stuff” than white women, making them even more susceptible to contempt-based misogyny.
Newer pejorative stereotypes of black women include the myth of the welfare mama and the angry black woman. The welfare mama is a lazy, overweight black woman past her youth with multiple children in tow living off of hard-working Americans’ tax dollars. Finally, the angry black woman stereotype characterizes black women past their youth as hostile, illogical, overbearing, hostile, and ignorant.
The welfare mama and the angry black woman stereotypes make us even more likely to associate black women with alleged inherent female vices like promiscuity, laziness, or low intelligence, which puts black women at an increased risk of becoming victims of contempt-based misogyny.
Misogyny isn't just a male problem. Woman-on-women misogyny becomes increasingly frequent as well. The million-dollar question is: What are we going to do to prevent misogyny from spiraling out of control? And equally important: Are different strategies needed to put a damper on attacks on women who don't fit into the white, cis, straight, feminine category?