Social Stigma And Gender-Based Stigma Of Black Women?
According to Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D., stigma is “a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person”. Now apply that to a whole people and we also have a stereotype/social stigma. Both attribute negative attributes to people that either don’t belong or are used to make them appear as less than. They typically have negative effects on the person and how they are able to function in society.
While this applies to many types of people, women – almost no matter their race – have been seen as less than men in different ways, cultures, and religious beliefs. Even with a look at the #MeToo movement, we see where women have felt that their voice would not be enough, that the power their superiors (usually men,) had would outweigh their very real trauma. A woman is to be seen not heard.
Gender-based stigmas are nothing new. Women have been called emotional, sensitive, and even considered incompetent because of these perceived ‘traits’. Men, on the other hand, are seen as cold, tactical, and more efficient because of it. If a woman was to develop those masculine traits she’s a called a “bitch”. A man develops those so-called feminine traits, he’s unmanly. Neither stereotype helps how we see either gender and further skews our views of women.
We are not given the right to our emotions and are seen as being over the top when we try to express how we feel; it feels like nothing we say or feel has merit. So, we start to second-guess what we are feeling; if it is even right to feel it. But it is. We have no control over what we feel in a moment. In the same breath, black women have been further stigmatized to fit three images.
- Social Stigma: The Strong Black Woman Trope
The first is the Strong Black Woman. She is known for her perseverance and strength and is seen as a heroine to her people. It’s a beautiful image of a black woman, but it has its drawbacks. Most notably, she never stops persevering, she keeps going even if that means she is physically and mentally exhausted in the process.
- Social Stigma: The Angry Black Woman Trope
The second is the Angry Black Woman. Tyler Perry’s Madea, and sometimes other women within the franchise, are prime examples of this. But what Madea doesn’t fully show is that this type of black woman suffers from anxiety, and the anger is just a negative result of it.
- Social Stigma: The Jezebel/Vixen Trope
The final type is the Jezebel/Video Vixen. She is the sexualized black woman. Now she’s being compared to a biblical character known for turning her husband against a deity; right along with representing sex in rap and hip-hop videos. This is strongly fought against by professional black women, especially.
Social Stigma: Women Don’t Know What They Want
But one stereotype that never seems to leave the lips of men is: Women never know what they want. This has, honestly, infuriated me but I also realize I have never had any way of defending myself properly. Then this stigma became my truth because I let myself believe that I really didn’t know what I wanted, even if I tried to weigh my options objectively. I couldn’t just give up, though. So I put the question out and waited to see who would answer.
Full disclosure, I didn’t get many responses, but from what I did get, it really got me thinking. Men have always decided what a woman is or isn’t and how we should behave, act, dress, etc. What if, it was that exact act of trying to dictate gender norms, that has affected us so much. We are told to act like princesses but then aren’t treated as such. We are told that we are important but that importance is restricted to the home. We are given these parallels, these schools of thought that do not meet at any point and then told to be satisfied with them. Of course, we’re not satisfied. So we dream up someone or a situation more ideal to us and hope that we can achieve anything close to it.
One of the few men I spoke to mention that women are snobby because we have these lofty dreams then get upset when they aren’t immediately met. I thought it was funny that he called us snobby because he is one of the most encouraging and down-to-earth persons I know. So why that term? It goes back to the same thing; men create standards for us even unconsciously. Are women snobby? Maybe. Are we made to be this way? More than likely, yes.
With more women gaining the ability to choose for themselves, I think internal confusion will arise. Learning and unlearning will have to happen in order for this new reality to set in. Especially after looking at the images of black women, we can see that who we are seen as, who we should be, and who we want to be will always be in conflict with each other. But this ‘not knowing’ isn’t limited to women. Men don’t know what they want either. But their gender stereotype doesn’t allow them to look so ‘weak’.
I just want to remind us, that our thoughts and feelings are valid. We can change our minds as frequently and as long as we want. We’re all complex human beings, men and women alike, and no one should hold you to a lower standard because of some dumb gender stereotype. But we, women, should never forget that we will always be stronger than we think are. We will always be seen as wise and thoughtful. Phenomenal woman, that’s we.
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