Misogynoiristic Expectancy: Social Media Popularity and the Black Femme

The punishment for stepping out of line can be anywhere from regular harassment to doxxing, and as Black femmes are hypervisible but ultimately powerless, they are regularly crushed in such attacks.

by Riley H on June 9th, 2015

In my time on social media in so-called “social justice” spaces, there’s an unsettling trend that just won’t die. It lives insidiously at the corner of Misogynoir Lane and Transmisogyny Ave. It creeps unseen, hidden in a cloak… both invisible and hypervisible. No matter how many times it’s pointed out and named, it repeats until the sound is like Iggy Azalea’s failed rap verse in your ears.

I call it misogynoiristic expectancy: set upon only Black women and femmes online, those with a certain perceived social reach and power. It’s not a power-reliant structure, though there can be power dynamics that make the effects more damaging; it is in fact just as often enacted by other Black women and femmes who feel as if they are not where they want to be social media-wise.

Portrait of a black woman, eyes wide, facing directly into the camera. Her mouth is opened wide, holding a bejeweled, gleaming crystal ball.

Photo CC-BY Powell Burns.

Misogynoiristic expectancy consists of:

Believing that minimal contact with the Black femme is equivalent to friendship, or otherwise projecting a non-existent perceived relationship onto the Black femme.

This is a personal hatred of mine. People who have commented on my posts on Tumblr and gotten even one reply have tried to call themselves friends, thus tying tie me to a “friend contract”. When called out strictly as I do for all people I don’t know, guilt trip tactics of “I thought we were friends” from people whose names I don’t even know begin to surface. Friendship is an agreement, not a one-sided decision, and even if it were, it’s too common to use this undefined “friendship” to stop Black women from expressing their feelings on an oppressive situation.

Believing that follower count is the same as social power.

Few Black women on social media have a societal power that matches follower count. An extremely small number. The ones that do, you’ve probably seen on TV several times, and everyone knows their name. As for the rest of us? The follower count is because Black femmes are hypervisible. They’re perceived as louder and angrier than everyone else, and thus they’re more easily seen for doing the same things. In social media, they’re also seen as free labor for journalists and academics who don’t want to do their own leg work, leading to the plagiarism of numerous Black femmes with zero recognition and recompense.

Most Black women do not want these follower counts. Many did not come onto social media with the expectation of many followers, and like myself, simply found that their way of speaking drew large crowds…some good, some thinking they’re good, and most awful leeches looking for a bit of credit.

Further, Black women usually have no power over the spread of their ideas and work. I used to gain 100 followers a week on Tumblr simply because an extremely popular anti-conservative blog would reblog my posts regularly. Most of those people were awful, filling my notes with disgusting anti-Black and otherwise racist commentary, to the point where I had to ask the blog to please stop spreading my content to avoid dozens of rape and death threats. My content has been mined, plagiarized, and used out of context for harmful purposes, and despite the availability of DMCA notices, they required giving a lot of personal information out to the misusers — leaving me no protection unless I wanted to reveal private matters.

More recently, because of the extrajudicial murders of Black people, Black femme voices are being spread out of their control, leading to inflated follower accounts. The spread of one’s word out of their control is NOT power, but misogynoir and hypervisibility in action.

Blaming Black femmes for not “spreading the voices of the less popular”, “using the discourse correctly”, “doing the work correctly”, or “siccing their followers on people”.

These come from the misogynoiristic idea that hypervisibility is power, and that Black femmes are free labor. It is not any Black woman’s job to provide space to others, particularly since much of the time Black women do this constantly and only refuse to spread the voices of those who are ignorant, entitled and sometimes, those they just didn’t happen to see. People yelling this as their battle cry repeatedly “forget” that the tech in social media sites – which runs tons of data each day – is not perfect, and notes and messages are easily lost to the internet void, if not in the sheer mass those with high follower counts receive. No matter how good of a comment it is, if it comes at a busy time of day, it will go missed, and it’s not a personal affront or attack.

There’s an assumption that a Black femme speaking of their experience is automatic “SJW” territory, which comes with a set of rules. The term “SJW” itself has roots on LiveJournal, a sort of expansion of “politically correct”, which in modern times has been twisted to mean a group of people who obscure some unspoken truth in an attempt to avoid hurting feelings. (In actuality, it’s simply a term to ridicule those who fight the oppression of others through language.) SJW, therefore, is a term for people who fight this oppression in various forms, with a nasty slant implying that “it’s being done wrong”. The pro-injustice, MRA, radscum, “realjustice”, and various other actively bigoted groups believe that if one is going to be an “SJW”, and do it “correctly”, there are rules. Any failure to adhere to these rules, which vary by hate group and individual abuser, becomes “failing the discourse” or “not doing the work,” phrases which can be translated simply as “being a big Black meaniepants and not coddling every person who demands unpaid labor”.

If one can keep the idea of Black femme hypervisibility in their minds, then, it’s only natural that Black femmes are inequally considered SJWs; simply for speaking of the misogynoir that goes on in their daily lives, and speaking against the disregard for their humanity. In turn, these supposed “SJW rules” — decided and demanded by others — are overimposed on Black femmes as well, forcing them to cull their insistence on their own unapologetic existences, or be effectively crushed, doxxed, and otherwise.

Then there’s the fuzzy ground of “siccing one’s followers on others”. I don’t know any Black femmes who have outright asked followers to go after someone. Most are used to having no support and will fight their own fights, no questions asked. Many beg their followers not to go after anyone because they become responsible for the actions of others, and they receive harassment due to followers they’ve never once spoken to. There are also admitted trolls who attack less popular bloggers that have been called out by their target, with no other goal than damaging the “name of social justice”. Certain well-known hate groups have been caught doing just this, and only the Black femme suffers the consequences.

An eerie, black and white shot of a keyboard with small, contorted figurines laid out on the keys.

Photo CC-BY torley.

Eagerly “inviting” Black femmes to one’s personal fights with others on social media.

This is one of the most alarming phenomenon I’ve come across online. On Twitter, it manifests in tagging someone into an argument you are having, with the expectation that the Black femme will jump in and play attack dog to bolster your argument, or with the intention of using the Black femme’s following to make your point. On Tumblr it came in the form of reblogs and messages with links to some triggering, oppressive commentary for the same purpose.

Black women are not your tools or your battle axes. Even if you see us going after oppressive people, we do that on our own time and with our own effort. Our hands are usually full with dealing with the jerks in our own large followings. We are not online 24/7 to fight the battles of the entire community, often with no one offering help or contributing to our livelihoods in any way. We are not your mammy, and having a following doesn’t mean we owe it to others to take on their oppressive attackers as well as our own.

A general feeling of entitlement to the Black femme’s time, space, and energy.

Many trolls, when going after someone with a certain amount of what they see as online popularity, will cite the common excuse used by propagandists with regards to celebrities; that the “crime” of a ballooned follower count is grounds to have one’s life exposed.

Of the list, this is the most heartless, and most often carelessly done. Popular Black femmes are regularly called upon to perform unpaid labor, which consists of anything from demanding a cited list of research sources for people doing doctoral theses and homework, to asking for a list of credentials; and for those Black femmes who have writing, artistic, musical, and other such talents, demanding they assist the requester for free, or for “exposure”. Refusal leads to abuse. Black femmes are accused of being “cliquey” and only “helping friends” or “other popular Black femmes.” They’re said to have a closed community that allows no new voices in, or they’re said to outright ignore the opinions of those who aren’t popular.

As someone who is extremely new to the Twittersphere, I can guarantee that this is not true. I’ve all but waltzed into acquaintanceship with Black femmes much more popular than I have ever been on any social media, as a relative nobody. I have regular conversations with and am friends with some of your Black femme faves, and I had maybe 200, 300 followers to my name when engagement first began; a pittance on a major platform like Twitter. There is no closed clique of Big Bad Black Bitches looking to leave certain people out. These Black femmes are happy and willing to accept people into the fold, if they are treated like human beings and not like animals on display in a zoo, ready to perform on command.

If you feel ignored by a popular Black femme, perhaps examine your interactions with them. When did you interact? How? What was the situation and circumstance surrounding it? Is what you said relevant and appropriate in context or did you engage simply for the hope of engaging? Furthermore, why do you feel it is the job of anyone online, much less a Black femme, to speak to you? Why does it harm you to be ignored by someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know you? Examining that carefully usually reveals a feeling of being owed, or being deserving, and the fact is that Black femme interactions are not a meritocracy, a game, or a battle, and treating them as such is to treat Black femmes as items and not people.

There’s No Winning The Game

Close portrait of a black woman, centered in the camera. Her eyes are downturned, and brilliant red flowers cover the tops of her shoulders and part of her face, as if growing over her.

Photo CC-BY Niko Knigge.

When these five things combine and garner enough people willing to “fight for the cause” of eliminating an undesirable Black femme beast from the internet, it leads to an intense attempted massacre over respectability politics. Those with no stake or claim in misogynoir are suddenly freely allowed to decide that the Black femme’s way of dealing with their own social media presence is bad, or falling into stereotypes of Blackness. The strict guidelines that exist to prevent those unaffected by a particular oppression from overstepping are suddenly overwritten and obsolete. It leads to an unspoken contract of morals and codes that only Black women and femmes with large follower counts are expected to follow, or risk any one of various “punishments” for defiance. Because it’s unspoken, it’s also never agreed to, and usually devolves quickly into an “off with the darkie’s head” type witch hunt when the Black femme in question inevitably breaks said “rules”.

What are the rules? There’s no one answer. They’re usually arbitrary and determined by a main opposition to the group of Black women or femmes in question, usually some depraved individual with enough time on their hands to comb back through the internet to 5, 8, 10 years ago. They pick up whatever dirt they can find, some of which may not even be dirt at all, and declare a set of rules that the Black femme has broken, a set of rules that they do not hold themselves or any persons engaging with said Black femme by. The goal posts will constantly shift so that the victim is somehow always miles away from what makes a “good Black”, no matter what. There’s no winning the game, and posts as innocuous as simply musing to oneself can become ammunition against the Black femme. From there, the punishment for stepping out of line can be anywhere from regular harassment to doxxing, and as Black femmes are hypervisible but ultimately powerless, they are regularly crushed in such attacks.

A continuation of the previous photo: the same model and angle, but now the flower petals completely cover her shoulders and face, leaving only her short hair exposed against a blue background.

Photo CC-BY Niko Knigge.

Even actions that are normally acceptable, such as using slurs aimed toward one’s own marginalizations, become signs of “abuse, misogyny, anti-Blackness, and self-hatred”. Actions that are okay for others, such as defending oneself against online abuse, become highly scrutinized, screencapped, and removed completely from context to paint a picture of “angry niggerbitch”. And thanks to the aforementioned hypervisibility, this spreads far and wide, out of the control of the Black femme in question. They’re left in a powerless state, dealing with harassment… while abusers and their ilk tell others to “avoid or be run off the internet for disagreeing”. Despite clearly displaying the lack of power these Black femmes have to control their followers and online surroundings, these campaigns rely on creating an evil dragon strawman to slay.

It looks much better than attacking a defenseless femme.

If it weren’t common culture to expect Mammy, Jezebel and Sapphire of Black femmes, these sometimes quarterly popular Black femme hate campaigns simply wouldn’t happen. If Black femmes were considered human, the sense of entitlement would be at the very least less pronounced. If Black femmes weren’t as hypervisible, these would at least be on a smaller scale, and thus more manageable.

So before you jump on the wagon of Black femme hatred for some basic online interaction, before you consider yourself ignored for whatever reason, before you demand free labor, ask yourself: What are you doing for the popular, hypervisible Black femmes you follow? How do you support them and their lives in real, material ways?

Most of you won’t have any answer for that.