Malcolm X once said, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.”
Recently, the #protectBlackwomen has been in the headlines to shed light on the constant disrespect Black women are facing. Misogynoir is the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward Black women.
Who do Black women need protection from? The shortest answer is the media. There’s no secret of the limited positive representation of Black women in mass media which reflects on the reality of Black women being constantly mistreated.
Constant studies have shown Black women being less likely to receive work promotions and more likely to face discrimination because of their hair. Unfortunately, Black women fall into stereotypical roles when it comes to their portrayal in movies, television, and music videos.
Although movies are a source of entertainment, it is important to notice the stereotypical pattern Black women face in certain roles. In 1939, legendary actress Hattie McDaniel was the first Black person to win an Oscar. However, the role she played was a mammy. A mammy is described by Merriam-Webster as a Black woman serving as a nurse to white children especially formerly in the southern U.S.
In 2011, Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for her portrayal of Minny Jackson in The Help which was another stereotypical mammy role. In 2013, Lupita Nyungo won an Oscar for playing an enslaved woman in 12 Years a Slave. All of these women deserve their Oscars, but it’s important to recognize the specific stereotypical roles that get acknowledged in Hollywood.
“We are more visible than ever now but we are very underrepresented. Diversity has space everywhere and we don’t see enough of it in the media. We all have different stories to tell and at the moment we are not seeing enough of it. I think we have a lot of representation on-screen, but to get even more we need more Black women off the screen in the offices or in the director’s chair is how we can see a more positive light and really achieve what we want and what audiences want,” said Sydney Ogbogu, a senior majoring in creative media.
Black sitcoms are some of the most interesting things to look back on because they represent a time when things were simpler, like childhood. Common Black sitcoms include Martin, The Cosby Show, The Jeffersons, Family Matters, A Different World, The Parkers, Moesha, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and One on One. However, in the majority of these shows, there’s a misogynistic male character or constant degrading jokes towards another female character.
Within The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will’s character said something misogynistic or sexual every episode when speaking to another female character. A lot of scenes between these male and female characters are a form of sexual harassment that gets overlooked.
“I didn’t see enough good representation growing up. But when I did see it, it made me so happy! I remember when Princess and The Frog came out on Disney for the first time, it was truly magical seeing someone that looked like me, like a princess. The media is getting better with this, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Breona Winn, a junior majoring in public relations.
Are Black women worthy of praise and appreciation outside of stereotypical reminders of a painful past? The answer is yes, but movies and shows aren’t the only issues. The media also controls the way women are portrayed through music.
Hip hop is a steady genre that has captivated the minds of young people. With hip hop created on the back of misogyny, it’s hard for women to get the respect they deserve. From the start of rap music videos, women have been the center of objectification and disrespect. Throughout the early 2000s, the objectification of women through music videos was at a high with video vixens. These music videos showed a glamorous life to young girls watching.
In 2003, rapper Nelly received backlash from his infamous “Tip Drill” video because of the degrading actions towards women in certain scenes of the video. The lyrics and video implied women were only good for sexual endeavors. Although this isn’t the only song in history to objectify women, the majority of rap songs sexualize women or call them degrading names.
However, it’s important to notice the things young girls consume and how this can have a damaging effect on them as they get older.
“The media does oversexualize women at times especially in music videos and films. I believe that this comes from how society has constructed itself. We live in a world where women are constantly fighting against the male ego. In the eyes of most men, women are seen for just pleasure. The media portrays women to only look sexy and cater to them, and then are constantly criticized for what they wear and how they wear it,” said Keirra Thomas, a junior majoring in Advertising.
A study conducted by the American Journal of Public Health from 1996-1999 on Black teenage girls who were exposed to rap music videos showed these girls were 2.5 times as likely to have been arrested; 2 times as likely to have had multiple sexual partners; and 1.5 times as likely to have acquired a new sexually transmitted disease, used drugs, or used alcohol over the 12-month follow-up period.
Although the media doesn’t define every Black woman in America, it is important to acknowledge the weak areas that need improvement. Black women are often overlooked and silenced. If you’re a man, use your privilege to listen and uplift Black women’s voices for others to hear. As a community, instead of highlighting negative moments let’s uplift each other to move forward.