Moya Bailey has always known that a black woman in America has to navigate a compounded, specific kind of discrimination. There just wasn’t a name for it. So in 2010, while researching her dissertation, she came up with one. Bailey coined the term “misogynoir” to recognize the specific race- and gender-based biases black women face in pop culture—a topic to which she’s dedicated her research ever since.
In recognition of this work, she was named No. 5 on Essence Magazine’s Woke 100 Women for 2018.
“I’m thrilled to be part of this list,” said Bailey, assistant professor of cultures, societies, and global studies and of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Northeastern. “It’s nice to have a magazine like Essence acknowledge work that is specifically about black women and challenging the way we represent them.”
Essence defines itself as a brand to which “black women come first for news, entertainment, and motivation.”
This is the second year the magazine has published its Woke 100 list, which the magazine describes as honoring “women who are proven change-agents, shape-shifters, and power players across the nation and beyond. The women on this list represent a vast spectrum of excellence,” it continues. “These women leave their mark on their respective communities and industries.”
Bailey has left such a mark. The term “misogynoir” has been cited in numerous academic journals and news media publications. But perhaps a better metric for success in this case is the impact her work has had on the community it represents.
Search the term “misogynoir” on Twitter and pages upon pages of results turn up—many from people writing about misogynistic and racist song lyrics or video representations of women. Pop star Katy Perry used the term in a tweet to describe the treatment of comedian Leslie Jones. Jones is a black, female comic who was harassed online after appearing in the all-female reboot of the movie Ghostbusters.
“The term speaks to the specific ways black women are represented in pop culture, where they are uniquely targeted because of their race and gender together, not separately,” Bailey said. Since her grad school days, though, the term has grown to include far more than pop culture.
One example, Bailey said, is embedded in the history of modern medicine, where black women’s bodies have been used for tools in pursuit of medical advancement, rather than treated as patients deserving care.
She put it this way: “If you look at the history of the United States, black women have been uniquely utilitarian for medical advancement. Black women’s bodies were seen as being useful in medicine at the same time that black women have disproportionately lower health outcomes.”
Bailey cited the case of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cancer cells were harvested without her consent and have been used to develop the polio vaccine, and study AIDS as well as leukemia and other cancers. Lacks died in 1951 at age 31. Strains of her original cells are still used in laboratories to this day.
Bailey said she’s seen instances of people using the term misogynoir beyond U.S. borders, including in Europe and Africa.
“The fact that this has exploded beyond English-only places feels really powerful,” Bailey said. “I think it says something about the global, anti-black, racist misogyny black women experience.”