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A Reclamation of Identity: Femininity isn’t binary

By Atlegang Seoka

The growing phenomenon of the masculinisation of Black women is a tired joke that needs to be looked at with nuance.

Poster designed by author

We are stuck in a time loop where the powerful impact of Sojourner Truth's bold question, "Ain't I a Woman?" reverberates an eternal echo. Jumping forward 136 years, the indomitable bell hooks answers this question in her profound literary work “Ain’t I a woman”. Sadly, the scene now is under the constant scrutiny of the omnipotent mainstream media. Black women are nestled within the public and entertainment realms, silently pondering their womanhood as they unwillingly transform into models of masculinity. Even stars like Michelle Obama and Meagan Thee Stallion are constantly harassed, scrutinised, and accused of secretly being "men". The tangled theatre in which our modern existence is implicated ponders the question where the boundaries of womanhood are distorted, and if the voices of black women are overshadowed by racism?

The story of Sojourner Truth bares significance in the world of abolitionist history. Sojourner Truth was an African American-born slave woman who, in her stirring speech, dared to question the inherited racism of the white suffragette women who advocated for only their right to vote. Her words foreshadow the frustration that follows black women not being recognised as women in modern Western Society.

The grand tapestry of human history seems to always tie back to the ever-present aspect of colonisation and slavery. When looking into slavery, the stories of black women are often ignored. According to bell hooks, black women subjected to slavery often faced two challenges; being black and being women. However, their womanhood was often stripped away to justify their exploitation. According to hooks, while slavery degraded black people in general, the degradation of black women was often ignored in history books. Historians ignoring black women’s experiences during slavery ended up causing a dilemma for black women between choosing their race or femininity. This leads to issues such misogynoir being under represented by the feminist’s movement. The feminist movement often, conveniently, forget that "women's issues" are simply another shade of the intricate tapestry of race issues for black women. Furthermore, the result of the historical depiction of black women has perpetuated the idea that Eurocentric beauty standards are the norm.

Within the scope of Western media, there is often a perpetration of ideal femininity. Being feminine is categorised as white, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed. These standards are set by years of systematic racism. This perception results in the idea that black women are more masculine. The perception of Eurocentric beauty in media distorts the concept of womanhood and fuels harmful prejudice that trust black women as masculine. The exemplified treatment of women like Megan Thee Stallion and Michelle Obama underscore the intersection of race and gender. Often users on the internet forget, while making their baseless accusations, is the fact that these are not just random funny conspiracy theories online but these biases truly affect the lives of real people. For example, Tory Lanez was found guilty of shooting Megan Thee Stallion earlier this year. However, this verdict was met with mixed emotions, with negative observations often pushed towards Megan Thee Stallion. Even before the incident, she was continuously ridiculed for her height and features.

One Twitter user called and claimed she was subjected to this incident because Tory learned Megan was “secretly a man.” This false claim about Megan reinforced long-standing prejudices about black women's femininity. Another example of a black woman, who, mind you, has lived and has many achievements on her belt, Michelle Obama, has been subject to the same conspiracy. Michelle Obama is a woman with a toned and athletic build and a voice that demands to be heard, yet she was also accused of secretly being a man, although the fact that Michelle Obama birthed two children which some may claim is the height of womanhood. Many even claim that Barack Obama is a gay man in disguise to justify this claim even further. Race, gender, and transgender identity are all intertwined in these negative narratives, exacerbated by the marginalisation and discrimination faced by members of these communities.

The echoes of Sojourner Truth’s question persist in the tangled theatre of our contemporary existence, where the boundaries of womanhood are distorted, and power, perception, and prejudice collide. People on the margins of society still fight countless microaggressions, racist remarks and discrimination to live. It is essential that culture cultivates change by adopting an inclusive narrative. It is past due that we break out of the time loop and rewrite the story to highlight the variety of womanhood.

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