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Book Reviews

Moya Bailey. Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance. New York, NY: NYU Press, 2020. 248p. Hardcover, $28.00 (ISBN: 9781479865109).

Book cover for Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance

Moya Bailey is known for coining the term “misogynoir,” defined as the “particular venom directed at Black women through negative representations in Media” (xiii). Bailey has personal experience with this phenomenon. She gained a name for herself in the world of hip-hop cultural criticism in 2004 as an undergraduate student at Spelman College when she led a protest of the rapper Nelly’s visit to her college campus. At the time, Nelly had been named “Misogynist of the Month” at Spelman, a women’s college and HBCU in Atlanta, because of his controversial, sexually explicit music video “Tip Drill.” The music video was constantly replayed on television and included graphic and explicit sexuality involving Black women. Bailey and her classmates were unaware that the college had agreed to host a bone-marrow drive for the rapper’s sister, who had leukemia. The student protest upended the bone-marrow drive, gained national attention, and is still discussed as a pivotal moment in hip-hop. Bailey and her classmates at Spelman received condemnation for their stance nationwide. Bailey cites this experience as the catalyst to her coining of the term “misogynoir.”

In Misogynoir Transformed, Bailey builds on this legacy, introducing readers to the concept of misogynoir and centering Black women in the fight against these narratives. Bailey traces the impact of misogynoir including hypersexualized descriptions of Black women that have existed since the country’s founding, the mockery of minstrel shows, the subservient mammy stereotypes and “welfare queens” of mainstream television, and more recent representations of Black queer folks from the web. Bailey uses an in-depth analysis of social media trending topics to create a vivid depiction of how users interact with stories about Black women. In four fantastic chapters, Bailey outlines the role Black women play in transforming perceptions in Media and how they work to resist misogynoir as a dominant cultural narrative.

In chapter 1, “Misogynoir Is a Drag,” Bailey looks at how misogynoir has been displayed in digital spaces by men in “drag.” Readers new to this discussion are provided with the contextual description of the historical stereotypes of the Sapphire character, which grew from minstrel shows, to the relatively recent performances of Sheneneh by Martin Lawrence, Madea by Tyler Perry, and a viral character named Peaches written by Lena Waithe. These extremely popular comical performances have further bolstered perceptions of black women as unintelligent, undesirable, and lacking in femininity. Bailey’s exploration of drag performance also acknowledges the effect this comedic practice has on nonbinary people and trans women by making trans women the butt of jokes and pushing them outside of the realm of acceptability and even inciting violence. Bailey does excellent work tying these experiences together and reminding the reader that “Black women and Black feminist are not synonymous” (46). While there are many women fighting back against these stereotypes, there are still other Black women participating in the practice of upholding heteropatriarchal norms.

With chapter 2, “Transforming Misogynoir through Trans Advocacy,” Bailey explores the many benefits of social media and how it has been used by trans activists to grow communities and tell stories to promote and support well-being. An example is the work of activist Janet Mock. Her memoirs and her ability to use social media to provide trans visibility is given a thorough review. Bailey also delves into the use of the hashtag #GirlsLikeUs to demonstrate the impact of social media efforts on a push for accountability, access, and representation in media, healthcare, and society.

Bailey moves on to content creation in chapter 3, “Web Show Worldbuilding Mitigates Misogynoir.” She explores the development of independent media projects to highlight the lives of Black queer and trans artists that are often overlooked in mainstream media. The exposure and depth that Bailey provides in her study of the growth and popularity of Black queer web shows such as “Skye’s the Limit,” is refreshing and encourages readers to delve more into these projects. However, despite the varied stories and positive imagery created by these shows, Bailey points out the persistence of misogynoir throughout these series and in the Black queer community.

In chapter 4, “Alchemists in Action against Misogynoir,” Bailey provides an ethnographic examination of the rise and fall of Tumblr and how it provided an additional outlet for Black queer and trans people to define and develop the theory of misogynoir. Analyzing the work of Danielle Cole, creator of “Struggling to Be Heard,” and Antoinette Luna of “Ancestry in Progress,” Bailey looks closely at how these Black bloggers countered misogynoir by using Tumblr as a tool to organize instead of other social media platforms such as Facebook or MySpace. As she discusses the use of Tumblr, Bailey returns to the question of what a space for Black women would look like. What would make a space free from misogynoir? Is it possible to truly create such a space? The conclusion from this section makes it seem as if such a space may not be possible.

Bailey’s analysis is timely and up to date. She includes a very current discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the ways misogynoir contributes to the deaths experienced by Black people and in Black communities. While Bailey writes that this book is not a history of misogynoir, it does work to provide readers new to this topic with a substantive foundation to understand how the stories of Black women merge and how they impact their everyday experiences. This book is a great effort to support, uplift and spread awareness of the work being done by Black women to pave their own way, create safe and supportive spaces, and design their own futures.—Tamara Townsend, Malcolm X College–City Colleges of Chicago

Copyright Tamara Townsend


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