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What the WAP: Part 3 – How to Combat Misogynoir and Affirm Black Women’s Sexuality

How to Combat Misogynoir and Affirm the Sexuality of Black Women

Dr. Jennifer Turner conceived of What the WAP as a series that centers Black feminist scholars and their perspectives on contemporary Black sexual politics. In the first few parts of this series, Dr. Turner engages in conversation with Dr. Melissa C. Brown. In the third part of the series, Dr. Turner and Dr. Brown reflect on how misogynoir shaped the response among rap music fans this summer after a Black Canadian male rapper shot Megan thee Stallion, which she wrote about in a recent New York Times op-ed. They also think through ways Black women can pursue sexual agency and autonomy in the face of gendered and racialized oppression. In what follows, they respond to the questions: (1) What do you think the reaction to WAP and Megan Thee Stallion’s shooting say about how Black women’s bodies and sexualities are viewed in the American popular imagination? And (2)What steps can we take to combat the misogynoir that was directed towards Cardi and Meg in light of WAP? Be sure to check out part one and part two of the series.

Dr. Jennifer Turner conceived of What the WAP as a series that centers Black feminist scholars and their perspectives on contemporary Black sexual politics. In the first few parts of this series, Dr. Turner engages in conversation with Dr. Melissa C. Brown. In the third part of the series, Dr. Turner and Dr. Brown reflect on how misogynoir shaped the response among rap music fans this summer after a Black Canadian male rapper shot Megan thee Stallion, which she wrote about in a recent New York Times op-ed. They also think through ways Black women can pursue sexual agency and autonomy in the face of gendered and racialized oppression. In what follows, they respond to the questions: (1) What do you think the reaction to WAP and Megan Thee Stallion’s shooting say about how Black women’s bodies and sexualities are viewed in the American popular imagination? And (2)What steps can we take to combat the misogynoir that was directed towards Cardi and Meg in light of WAP? Be sure to check out part one and part two of the series.

Misogynoir in Rap Music

Turner

Tracing it back to during or pre-slavery, Black women were seen as chattel, unrapeable, and their bodies were very much put on display in circus-like way. For instance, Sara ‘Saartjie’ Baartman, and also Dr. Marion Sims, who would experiment on Black women’s bodies in front of live audiences and without painkillers. Historically, there has been this notion that Black people, specifically Black women, don’t experience pain, which the Strong Black Woman schema illustrates. We saw an example of this when Megan Thee Stallion was crying about her shooting on Instagram. People were like, “Oh, don’t cry. It’s going to be okay, don’t cry,” but  I was glad that she had that moment of vulnerability, even though everyone wasn’t giving her space to do so. It was also interesting that she felt like she couldn’t speak openly about what happened to her. It shows how Black women have a long history of supporting and protecting Black men and not always getting the same in return. 

We obviously know that Black people aren’t always going to be the first people to call the police because of our fraught history with them, but that fact can unfortunately contribute to the silence around domestic and sexual violence in the black community. 

Brown

I think that what you just said about it being about control is definitely the case, regardless of what preceded it. If you’re alive and she’s walking away, there’s not really anything she could have done that warranted a shooting. 

Turner

Exactly. 

Brown

Getting back to your question about the reactions to the shooting, we have learned this idea that whatever happens to women or girls is their fault. In the case of people reacting to Megan, in absence of supporting evidence, people decide for themselves that she deserves it. These detractors also promoted humor that tried to normalize the murders of Black trans women. These kinds of jokes normalize this idea that if someone’s not conforming to their desires, to control them, they can enact violence, especially cisheterosexual men. So we have to ask ourselves – where do they learn that? At what stage of their development do boys learn to assert their masculinity and sexuality through violence? 

Strategies for Resistance Against Misogynoir

Turner 

Thinking about how we can combat the type of misogynoir that Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B encountered, the issue for me becomes how do we combat misogynoir in the face of institutional racism and sexism?

Fortunately, there are Black women who are reclaiming their sexuality, such as in the “pro-hoe” (or “proheaux”) movement. 

Brown

I like what you said about reclaiming hoes, because I didn’t even think about that. I think this is a really hard question for me too.I think the first thing we can do is stuff like this. We’re making this conversation accessible publicly. Anyone who has access to a search engine is going to be able to come across it. 

But I think the last bastion of respectability for Black people is the church. Monique Moultrie wrote this book called Passionate and Pious about religious media and black women’s sexuality. In it she offers a framework that she calls a womanist sexual ethics. It focuses on how we can practice sexuality and spirituality that affirms rather than violates or shames.

In that vein, I feel that we need institutions that counterbalance those that enact religious sexual violence. So for example, there’s a No Shame Movement among reformed evangelicals to heal the trauma those teachings did to their sexualities. Still, it’s difficult to think about instituting such a space for Black women because you end up alienating a lot of Black people when you don’t practice Christianity a certain way. 

Turner

I totally agree with that, and I did not know about those movements. 

I know that a lot of Black millennials grew up in the church and many have experienced trauma in the church, but do you feel like the Black church is still as relevant for us in terms of how we see our sexuality?

Brown 

That’s a good question. I know Shaonta’ Allen’s work speaks to these contradictions and tensions that we hold as Black millennial Christians. So I agree that yes, like the church itself doesn’t affect us, but I think that respectability still does and it is rooted in the Black church. So even as Black millennials move away from the church, they haven’t really moved away from respectability in the way that I would like us to see. 

We also have to amplify the work of womanist theologians like Candice Benbow or Nyasha Junior. Also, I think as Black feminist scholars, we are part of what we’re looking for. The role we play as Black women academics is to be quick on our feet with it, particularly for young Black girls looking for a woman to talk to them about sexuality that doesn’t sound like their grandma or that lady at church. We can be those Black women they turn to that they can seek out information from to learn to express their sexuality in a healthy way. 

Turner

Yes! We are the women that I wish that I had to talk to as a young woman, and I want to be that person for my child, for my (future) daughters, for my nieces…

Brown

Yeah. I agree. Not only for our family members, but the other young Black women that turn to us. They seek us out as a Black woman professor on campus. So we have the duty to act as a different type of resource, then, like you said, what we would have been able to access when we were younger than that. 

Turner

Yes. 

Wow. This was a really powerful conversation. I really appreciated hearing your insights and learning from you. 

Where We Go From Here

The public reaction to WAP and to Megan Thee Stallion’s shooting exemplifies the misogynoir that Black women have encountered throughout history. While it is difficult to determine how to affirm Black women’s sexuality in the face of institutional racism and sexism, Black women scholars, activists, and artists continue to pave the way forward by pushing back against respectability politics in an effort to (re)claim their bodies and sexualities as their own.

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