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What Taylor and Travis’ relationship taught us about Misogynoir 

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I was excited when I found out that Usher was performing for this year’s Super Bowl Halftime show. In my opinion, an artist who has been highly underrated, was finally given the opportunity to perform for millions of people on live TV. Usher beautifully executed promotion of his performance, as the commercials highlighted his body of work that I have known since I was young. I may not be a complete NFL fan or “buff.” In the last decade or so, especially, I’ve had very mixed emotions about the way that the NFL has handled racial injustices in America. Nonetheless, something about the Super Bowl Halftime performance makes me smile.

Still, I could not ignore that there was something different about this year’s Halftime show that I could not really pinpoint. We all had known for at least five months that Usher would be performing, but I felt that there were other “distractions” that were overshadowing that an icon like Usher was performing. One of the biggest distractions was Taylor’s “swift” new romance with Kansas City Chiefs tight end, Travis Kelce.

At the end of summer 2023, rumblings and rumours about their new romance were all over celebrity gossip blogs, which I didn’t think anything of. Nor did I care that during the NFL season, the cameras and sports anchors focused mainly on them as a couple, rather than on the games.  What I did care about was the social media bullying and harassment that his previous Black girlfriend, Kayla Nicole, endured by “Swifties” and/or non-Swifties.

Some context: Kayla and Travis dated on and off for around five years, ending sometime in 2022, a year before his rumoured relationship with T. Swift. Once news broke of Travis (who had a known history of dating Black women or “swirling”) dating Taylor, all hell broke loose. Nasty comments and attacks were posted on Kayla’s social media, which stirred outrage among many Black women on social media. These comments were not your run-of-the-mill comments that online trolls posted. These attacks and comments were intertwined with racism, sexism, and violence towards Kayla. Specifically, in one comment, a Twitter (“known as “X”) user said, “Why would any man wife this? Ok, nice to look at, but you really want this as a wife?” I automatically knew that what Kayla had experienced was your modern-day example of “misogynoir.”

What is Misogynoir?

Misogynoir is a term coined by Black feminist writer, Moya Bailey, to describe the unique discrimination and the “specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed towards Black women.” To understand the historical context of misogynoir, Moya said it perfectly in her 2010 Crunk Feminist Collective blog, where she stated, “The real root of misogynoir is how people perceive and treat Black women and understand them to be worthy of respect and care.” 1

Misogynoir is rooted in societal tropes or stereotypes and/or double standards about Black women. Historically, European colonizers traveled to African countries and came back to North America spreading negative depictions and perceptions of Black women, which led to the justification of mistreatment and sexual violation of Black women.2 Specifically, the Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire are notable depictions of Black women that have been around in Western culture for centuries.

The Mammy stereotype was a “caricature” that was seen in the 1830s antebellum proslavery literature as a way to oppose the description of slavery given by abolitionists.3 This trope’s characteristics included an “obese, coarse, maternal figure,” and depicted a woman who was devoted to her owners/employers; her primary goal in life was to care for her owner’s needs.4  Important to note here is that this “caricature” implied that that Black women were only fit to be domestic workers; thus, the stereotype became a rationalization for economic discrimination.5

The Jezebel was described as a “seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd” individual.6 Historically, White women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty — even sexual purity; Black women, on the other hand, were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory.7 This stereotype justified the racist ideology that Black people were sub-humans — intellectually inferior, culturally stunted, morally underdeveloped, animal-like sexually, barbaric, and deserved to be subjugated.8

The Sapphire stereotype portrayed some Black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing.9 This stereotype would translate to the “Angry Black Woman,” who depicted an outspoken, fiery, combative, emasculating, one-hand on a hip, violently and rhythmically rocking her head, nagger, with irrational states of anger and indignation.

As a result of these depictions, today, Black women are often placed into one of the following four tropes: the angry Black woman, the sassy Black woman, the strong Black woman, or the overly sexual Black woman. Mala Mulata explained it beautifully when she wrote that the hidden danger of these stereotypes is that it makes Black women responsible for a power they don’t possess in reality.10 She noted that these stereotypes put the blame and the responsibility on Black women, without considering the double oppression of sexism and racism which they have to navigate.11

Misogynoir Today:

The social media hate, criticisms, and attacks directed at Kayla was only a snippet of the misogynoir that is prevalent, as misogynoir comes in many different forms. For example:

    • A study done by Amnesty International found that Black women are “disproportionately targeted” by online abuse and are 85% more likely than White women to be mentioned in abusive or problematic tweets.12 The most recent example I have read is when Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, a young Black rising star, received racist and bigoted comments on social media platforms because she will be playing the role of Juliet in a play opposite to actor, Tom Holland.
    • In Canada, 44% of women and gender diverse people aged 16 to 30 have been personally targeted by hate speech online. Those most likely to be targeted include Black women and gender-diverse people.13
    • In the healthcare sector, doctors perceive Black women as having a higher pain threshold, and so they are treated differently. For example, maternal mortality rates for Black women are three times higher than for White women in the United States, with many attributing that to racial bias in the healthcare system.14There is also a Black maternal health crisis in Canada.
    • The sapphire stereotype is still prevalent, as Black women are viewed as threatening or angry whenever they speak up for themselves. A perfect example was the negative press surrounding former First Lady, Michelle Obama, who was depicted as an angry Black woman for expressing her views and being authentic. In the Canadian context, the former leader of the Green Party, Annamie Paul, was repeatedly criticized for her “aggressive and hostile” leadership.
    • The “likability” narrative (i.e., someone’s worth is based on how much they make others feel good about themselves) is often applied to Black women and girls. A good example of this was the recent op-eds from three Black media outlets who criticized comedian and social justice activist, Amanda Seales, as not being “likable” because she advocates for Black issues.
    • Because of the stereotype of the “strong Black woman,” many Black women feel that they are not allowed to show any emotion, pain, or distress. While Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson remained composed during a public humiliation in which she was questioned as part of the US Supreme Court hearing process, she would have been labeled as unprofessional or combative if she had defended herself. This was, however, applied to Fulton Country District Attorney, Fani Willis, in her pursuit to prosecute against former U.S President, Donald Trump.
    • The Jezebel trope is also still prevalent, as notable figures have been subjected to this stereotype. For example, Serena Williams received backlash for outfits she wore during tennis matches. In the most recent example, LSU Tiger female basketball player, Angel Reese, and her teammates (a predominately Black team), were called “dirty debutantes” — a Google search of the phrase brings up pornographic video sites. In the basketball context, we can’t forget about CBS radio broadcaster, Dom Imus, who called Black players on the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hoes.”

I could go on, but there are countless examples of misogynoir. However, I’ve highlighted these examples to show that the longstanding misogynoir that Black women have experienced is something they continue to encounter and is very much permeated into today’s society.

How Misogynoir Manifests in the Workplace:

In my experience as a workplace investigator, I’ve often conducted misogynoir-type  workplace investigations. I frequently interview complainants who allege that, when they show their emotion, respondents attribute the complainant’s emotions as fulfilling the angry Black woman trope. While this is one example of misogynoir in the workplace, there are other examples of misogynoir that workplace investigators should be aware of:

    • An employer hires or promotes a Black woman employee into a leadership role at a company during a time of crisis. There is an underlying assumption that the Black woman can fix the issues, resulting in the woman experiencing burnout or even failure. This is also known as the “glass cliff.” 15
    • An employer over scrutinizes and questions a Black female employee’s work, opinion, and judgement in their area of expertise, but does not do the same for non-Black colleagues.
    • Commenting on a Black woman’s hair or the colour of her skin — even if it is framed as a compliment. 16
    • Addressing a Black female colleague at work as “aggressive, intimidating or angry.”
    • Paying a Black female employee less than their non-White counterparts for the same work.
    • Making a comment or expressing surprise about a Black female colleague’s possessions, even if it’s a genuine compliment, as it can carry the implication that they don’t deserve it, or they do not own the possession.
    • Commenting on a Black female colleague’s facial expressions, especially if the comment is alluding to the fact that the Black colleague is not smiling and instead has “RBF” (“resting bitch face”).

One of the most critical takeaways from this blog for workplace investigators is understanding that Taylor Swift cannot save the day when it comes to misogynoir. As a matter of fact, neither Taylor nor Travis spoke up about the harassment that Kayla endured. As workplace investigators, it is essential to gain understanding and knowledge about misogynoir and not to treat it as just a mere subtle form of discrimination, but to identify it for what it is, which is misogynoir. Another critical takeaway for workplace investigators is to simply listen to the complainants alleging this type of behaviour, rather than not listening, and instead creating some sort of “bad blood” (quip intended).


1 Stephen J. Lewis, “From the combination of racism and sexism, here is the story of a new word” (May 4, 2023), online: Northwestern Now <https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2023/05/professor-coins-new-word-misogynoir/>

2  Dr. David Pilgrim, “The Mammy Caricature” (2023), online: Jim Crow Museum <https://jimcrowmuseum.ferris.edu/mammies/homepage.htm>

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Dr. David Pilgrim, “The Jezebel Stereotype” (2023), online: Jim Crow Museum <https://jimcrowmuseum.ferris.edu/jezebel/index.htm>

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Dr. David Pilgrim, “The Sapphire Caricature” (2023), online: Jim Crown Museum <https://jimcrowmuseum.ferris.edu/antiblack/sapphire.htm>

10 Mulata, Mala, “Black women and the thin line between strong and angry” (August 9, 2020), online: Medium <https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/black-women-and-the-thin-line-between-strong-and-angry-a999ae50d88e>

11 Ibid.

12 Amnesty International, #Toxic Twitter: Violence and Abuse Against Women Online (March 2018), online: Amnesty International <https://www.amnesty.ca/sites/amnesty/files/%23TOXICTWITTER%20report%20EMBARGOED.pdf>

13 Andrea Gunraj and Yamikani Msosa, hosts, “Misogynoir in Digital Spaces with Yamikani Msosa” (December 20, 2023; Accessed April 8, 2024), online: Alright, Now What (podcast): <https://canadianwomen.org/blog/misogynoir-in-digital-spaces-with-yamikani-msosa/>

14 Blackburncenter, “What Is Misogynoir?” (February 12, 2020), online: Blackburncenter <https://www.blackburncenter.org/post/2020/02/12/what-is-misogynoir>

15 Ellis T., Nicquel, “‘Very rarely is it as good as it seems’: Black women in leadership are finding themselves on the ‘glass cliff’” (December 17, 2022), online: CNN <https://www.cnn.com/2022/12/17/us/black-women-glass-cliff-reaj/index.html>

16  Homann, Yetunde, “10 microaggressions Black women experience at work – and how HR can put a stop to them” (May 16, 2022), online: People Management <https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/article/1756083/10-microaggressions-black-women-experience-work-%E2%80%93-hr-put-stop>


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