I recently wrote a few articles for Teaching Tolerance about the Olympic coverage and how it can be used in the classroom. The original draft of my piece about intersectionality talks about misogynoir, a term that suddenly everyone is googling:
Phelps’s subject position is rooted in being one of the greatest swimmers of all time—but his male gender and white race factor into that subject position as well. He is “the boy next door,” laughing during the anthem with the other boys next door that came to see him swim. He is the Opie to the American Dream perpetrated during the “simpler” time of Andy Griffith—a time when women couldn’t get a credit card and the Voting Rights Act had just been enacted. (There is a nostalgia for such a time permeating much of the political rhetoric of this election cycle.)
On the other hand, Douglas is not the girl next door.
Well, she is to many folks. But her subject position—black, female—puts her under different scrutiny. Her behavior begets controversy, while his begets chuckles. When her behavior is perceived as disrespectful and Phelps’ similar behavior is seen as cute, structural racism and sexism become obvious.
The intersection of Douglas based on her marginalized gender and racial subject position encapsulates the concept of misogynoir.
The term honors the intersectional nature of oppression. When Douglas is treated differently by the media—especially social media—her identity is at the root of the maltreatment. I have already written about how the media does not know how to speak about female athletes, but to speak about black female athletes is another, even more complicated, discussion that need to be had online and in our classrooms.
I hope you will check out my posts and consider how we can have conversations about intersectionality. I am glad the portmanteau “misogynoir” is helping people consider issues that go deeper than one level of oppression.