“Ain’t I a Woman”

By Juliana Jiménez

Never are the problematics of race and gender at their most evident but when we see how the media disproportionately covers the hell out of disappeared pretty, young, white women and gives very little coverage to disappeared black women or men. This is also known as the “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”

Natalee Holloway.
Natalee Holloway. Credit: Wikipedia.

“It’s all about sex. Young white women give editors and television producers what they want,” said Roy Peter Clark, vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla, in an MSNBC story on this. Media critics in the article said that news editors might chose white women stories over others because they decide which stories people will relate to the most. Relate, and feel attracted to, I guess, since the target demographics are understood to be white men and women.

Images of violence towards white young women overpopulate horror movies as well — no horror movie is complete without a sexy chase sequence of blood and boobs. What is it with this fixation, and how messed up is it? And not that black women would want to be included in such a gross violence fetish, but the heart of the matter is that they are invisible, that they are not horror movie or nightly news material because they are not the embodiment of the virgin/damsel in distress, but rather the emasculating harlot, as bell hooks, author and feminist philosopher, points out.

hooks’s book Ain’t I a Woman, titled after Sojourner Truth‘s 1851 speech, pioneered the analysis of the intersection of gender and race, and exposed one of the major shortcomings of modern feminist movements. In a way it acted as a response to Betty Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique, which spoke to and about white middle-class women and largely ignored black and minority women of lower socioeconomic backgrounds (not to mention her offensive and very off-putting portrayal of gays and lesbians).

bell hooks.
bell hooks. Credit: Wikipedia.

According to hooks, in terms of power, it goes something like this:

  1. White men: can oppress all of the following.
  2. Black men – White women: Black men are oppressed by white men, but can in turn oppress black women. They can also oppress white women through gender, though it might be trickier. Rather, this is the most accepted form of interracial marriage. White women can be oppressed by white men, but they can also oppress black women, and may be even more ruthless doing so, to enact a power they would not be able to yield otherwise. Same may be true of black men toward black women.
  3. Black women: Can be oppressed by all the above. Their experiences are largely ignored by both the feminist and the racial equality movements, erasing their history and negating their existence.

Author Isabel Allende touched on this in her recent TED talk, saying how

 Abuse trickles down from the top of the ladder to the bottom. Women and children, especially the poor, are at the bottom. Even the most destitute of men have someone they can abuse — a woman or a child.”

Similarly, Washington Post writer Donna Britt’s experience as a black woman gives her insight into the very definition of oppression. She writes:

As a black woman, I see women’s out-of-nowhere acrimony as symptomatic of the wrenching pain felt by members of any long-oppressed group. Too often, women are assumed to be less important and capable than men. We’re paid less by some, shushed for speaking disconcerting truths by others, and treated like walking breasts and butts by far too many. These nicks and bruises accumulate like ash, gas bubbles and dirt in a dormant volcano.”

Many men are so convinced of their own superiority, they’re not even aware of having this belief at all. They are just simply convinced that this is how the world works, that this is the natural order of things, that things could not be otherwise. Either willingly or not, either consciously or unconsciously, this superiority is part of their world-view, because it is experienced practically from the moment they are born. Think why ultrasounds are banned in India and China, think about this Afghan man who killed his wife after she gave birth to a third daughter, (a common motive for a crime) — all amounting to a general message that girls are unwanted. Then apply the opposite effect to boys. The feeling of entitlement must be hard to overcome.

And because man’s hegemonic rule is so inescapable, so ancient, so permeating, so enduring, “contempt or willful blindness toward women … can infect [even] the most enlightened man,” as Britt states. I know this for a fact, and it saddens me deeply when I experience it first-hand.

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth. Credit: Wikipedia.

It depresses and angers the fuck out of me when I read authors, philosophers, theorists, who I have for a long time admired and then find their blatant, hateful or veiled misogyny, like Aldous Huxley, Freud, Aristotle, Confucius, Nietzsche, Plato, Kant, and oh, so many more. This interesting Stanford paper, Feminist History of Philosophy, further explains, but a quick Google search for “misogynist philosophers” will give you a quick idea. And, to no surprise, a lot from that list were also unapologetically racist, because bigoted prejudice in one area makes you more prone to be discriminatory in other areas — and is also correlated to conservative ideologies and a low IQ (look no further than the current GOP presidential candidate-wannabes).

How do we overcome sensationalism and move toward humanitarianism that involves all human beings? What else can we do, apart from raising awareness and encouraging a humanitarian education?

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