The term “misogynoir” refers to a particular form of discrimination against Black women, girls, and gender-diverse people. As we mark Black History Month, the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s Paulette Senior calls for those with philanthropic clout to vie for better work, invest in better futures, and join the uproar for policy-making that actively includes Black women and gender-diverse people.
“Misogynoir,” a word coined by Moya Bailey – a feminist scholar, writer, and activist and associate professor at Northwestern University – refers to the particular form of discrimination against Black women, girls, and gender-diverse people. It’s a toxic mix of sexist and anti-Black stereotyping and targeting that dehumanizes and hurts us uniquely.
Words are powerful. When applied to realities we don’t do enough to acknowledge, they crackle on the tongue into flame.
As we mark Black History/African Liberation Month, as we look forward to International Women’s Day on March 8, I’m grateful to Bailey for naming it in this way.
I’m sobered by the many ways I’ve witnessed how Black women, girls, and gender-diverse people are harmed by misogynoir.
I’m reflecting on my career as a leader in the social services and non-profit sector in Canada, sobered by the many ways I’ve witnessed how Black women, girls, and gender-diverse people are harmed by misogynoir.
As a Black woman myself, an immigrant and settler on Indigenous land with ancestors stolen and displaced across waters, I’ve experienced that harm firsthand, too.
What does the data tell us about the way misogynoir plays out in Canada? As limited as race-based data collection in this country is, the evidence is still stunning.
On an individual level, the experience of misogynoir is … damaging to mental and physical health. On a collective level, it devastates the cohesion and wellness of families and communities.
Black women are more likely than other groups of people to live in poverty. They’re more likely to be paid less than white women. Though they are highly educated, they face disproportionate barriers to entrepreneurial financing and support. Studies show they’re less likely to be taken seriously in the process of reporting gender-based violence. They’re racially profiled and over-incarcerated. They’re over-represented when it comes to chronic illnesses like cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and infections like COVID-19.
On an individual level, the experience of misogynoir is painful, traumatic, and damaging to mental and physical health. On a collective level, misogynoir devastates the cohesion and wellness of families and communities.
Why is it that so little has been done to challenge it in Canada?
Over the past few years, we certainly witnessed powerful outcry at the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Alloura Wells, and many more Black women and trans people taken from us too soon. We named their names. We repeated the mantra over and over: Black lives matter, Black women and trans people matter, and we’re not doing enough to protect them.
We grasped our words and we raised our voices. We received some promises on funds and services for Black women and the collection of race-based data.
Misogynoir in Canada is virulent, pervasive, and deep-rooted. It’s still under-acknowledged and under-tracked.
But these are only a start. Their results have yet to be realized in a measurable way.
The thing is that misogynoir in Canada is virulent, pervasive, and deep-rooted. It’s still under-acknowledged and under-tracked. It simply can’t be left to a narrow band of organizations and sectors to deal with. And Black women, girls, and gender-diverse people cannot be saddled with the impossible task of talking about misogynoir and fixing it on their own, either.
I’m compelled to point to the important role philanthropy in Canada has to step up to this Black History/African Liberation Month.
First, philanthropy needs to vie for better work for Black women and gender-diverse people on the front lines of care and community services. Nearly one in three Black women in Canada are employed in health and social services, more than other groups of women workers. These care-based jobs are tough and draining. Many are low-paid and precarious, performed in workspaces that are far riskier than other environments.
Black women have protected us all through the pandemic. Now we need to think about what we’re going to do to protect them.
Philanthropists and donors cannot flinch when it comes to giving toward good conditions and compensation in care work and community service. They cannot hesitate to give toward worker benefits and pay and the other nuts and bolts of safe workplaces for Black and marginalized women.
But that’s not the way it’s been, and there are dangerous, short-sighted “charity watchdogging” trends to break in Canada. When donors and philanthropic organizations overvalue direct project activities, when they stick to artificial parsing of charitable versus administrative expenses without acknowledging the humanity behind it all or caring for the architecture of administering community services, they unwittingly feed into the devaluation of Black women and their labour. Make no mistake about that.
Since misogynoir is grounded in Canada’s history, philanthropists need to invest into better futures.
Second, since misogynoir is grounded in Canada’s history, philanthropists need to invest into better futures. We need to give toward services, programs, and advocacy efforts led by and for Black women and their communities. This includes a diversity of initiatives: poverty reduction services, housing programs, legal supports, entrepreneurial supports, employment training, girls’ programs, gender-based-violence services and supports, and more.
I’m thankful to have the opportunity to play a part as I lead Canada’s public foundation for gender equality and justice. In 2021, I was thrilled to report that, with the support of our generous donors, we funded 114 programs serving Black women and girls. That is a high number in philanthropic organizations in this country. It should not be such a rarity. That kind of scope of support for Black women, girls, and gender-diverse people needs to grow across every philanthropic initiative in Canada.
Finally, those with philanthropic clout need to join the uproar for policy-making that actively includes Black women and gender-diverse people. I’m mindful that the misogynoir data gap is a big part of the problem.
Canada’s paucity of race- and gender-based data is completely unacceptable in 2023. It renders Black women and communities invisible. It makes it difficult to envision how we will meet the needs and foster the under-tapped potential of Black women, girls, and gender-diverse people with tailored policy solutions. Disaggregated race-based data and more funding for responsive research about the impacts of misogynoir in Canada is simply a must.
Again, I speak of only the beginnings of the transformation we need if we’re serious about ending misogynoir today; if we’re serious about valuing, loving, and caring for Black women, girls, and gender-diverse people.
“Oppressed peoples are always being asked to stretch a little more, to bridge the gap between blindness and humanity,” spoke the brilliant Black feminist communicator Audre Lorde more than four decades ago.
Her words were correct back then, and they’re still correct today. It’s time for philanthropy to stretch across from the other side, to meet in the shared middle for an end to misogynoir.
The featured image is from the Black Women in Leadership exhibition at Black Artists’ Networks in Dialogue (BAND) gallery in Toronto. The exhibit seeks to create an evolving archive of Black women community leaders, through the lens of Black emerging photographers, and to make their stories visible. Paulette Senior is featured in the exhibit.
Image courtesy of BAND. Photographs by Janice Reid, Leyla Jeyte, Jon Blak, and Patricia Ellah.
The online exhibition is here: https://www.bandgallery.com/black-women-in-leadership-introduction and you can find information on the physical exhibition in Toronto here: https://www.bandgallery.com/current-exhibitions-and-events/black-women-in-leadership.