Women in today’s society seem to be stuck in some sort of push-and-pull between two very different time periods. One moment, women are living in the progress that has been made toward gender parity, in the workplace and social norms. Another moment, it feels like the hurtful, outdated stereotypes and misogynistic behaviors are resurging. Despite the antiquated rhetoric spit out by politicians, my hopeful, feminist mind works to reassure me that our progress is indeed an accomplishment; yet, the media’s depiction of women remains lagging behind with little effort to catch up. Human trafficking–the use of force, fraud, or coercion to recruit, harbor, and obtain any person to engage in involuntary labor or commercial sex– is not often covered by media outlets or if it is covered it is done so in an exploitative, sensationalistic manner that often perpetuates myths and misconceptions about human trafficking. In general we know that the media’s objectification of women perpetuates the discourse around and perceptions of how women can be and are treated.
More specifically, the media perpetuates misogyny and rape culture that normalizes women being treated as commodities. For example, the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke includes lyrics such as “I know you want it” and “the way you grab me, must wanna get nasty” that normalize the idea of going for it with a woman even if the intention is unclear (or the lines are blurred). And we’ve all seen the movies where a man has done something wrong (cheating, lying) but follows it up with one kind gesture (flowers, saying ‘I love you’) and suddenly he is fully forgiven. This helps human trafficking both flourish and remain hidden in plain sight. Women and young girls are dehumanized in the process, stemming from societal reinforcements about women’s roles, emotionality, and ability (or lack thereof). Some common drivers of trafficking include poverty, promises of a better life, and discrimination against women and children–all circumstances for which the victim is often blamed.
All of these vulnerabilities disproportionately impact the Black community, and especially Black women and girls face the blame for these false assumptions of weakness from a young age. The adultification of Black girls portrays a false narrative, where Black children’s transgressions are viewed as malicious and intentional, as an adult’s actions
would be, rather than childlike (Georgetown, 2017). What’s more, Black girls are perceived to need less nurturing and comfort, be more independent, and be more knowledgable about sex compared to White girls of the same age. Even before a young Black girl turns five years old, society has determined what she needs and how she will act. Traffickers are then bred and trained to see them in this way, and thus feel entitled to treat them as such. Young men are socialized to see women as “less human” as this subordination of women becomes justified with media reinforcement. Women as a whole are sexualized and objectified in songs and television, but are then seen as egotistical or inappropriate when they try to talk about their own power and strength. When a young woman considers seeking help or resources, she may be deterred from expressing her needs from the fear of being accused of lying, or she may be denied the resources she requests after taking the huge leap to reach out for help. Overall, women are continuously told who they are and how they act, while simultaneously being criticized for not ascribing to society’s standards. When it comes to trafficking and the dehumanization of women, their fate is decided for them by cultural and societal norms.
Misogynoir, a term coined by the queer Black feminist and academic Moya Bailey, is the specific hatred, dislike, distrust, and prejudice directed toward and attributed to Black women. Racism and misogyny have become socially embedded in more than just media. In the medical field, Black patients’ symptoms are taken less seriously, and particularly Black women’s pain is invalidated. According to the CDC, Black women are less likely than White women to develop breast cancer, but are 40% more likely to die from it. It was only recently that Black patients were included in medical research studies; for so long, medical professionals were ascribing white outcomes and trajectories to Black patients, or wrongly attributing health concerns to differences in biology (which have been disproven) rather than to the result of racism and poverty, poor healthcare and living conditions. For human trafficking victims, who are already more likely to come from poverty, seeking medical help or rehabilitation is met with this extra line of barriers. It is hard enough for victims to leave their trafficker and seek the help they need –there should not be this additional complexity to reach help and safety to heal.
This is all a lot to process. We cannot control all traffickers, and we cannot control the media, but we can control our consumption and evaluation of media and news stories. By using a critical eye when watching the news, reading an article, or even starting a new TV show, we can retrain our brains and our biases away from misogyny. Here are a few ways we can all help combat misogyny:
- Encourage women to share their opinions and to feel confident when sharing what they know. The more women who are comfortable speaking their minds and using their expertise, the more normalized it will become. It’s not bragging, it’s knowing your stuff.
- Question everyday misogyny in the workplace when it happens. It doesn’t have to be aggressive, but rather ask yourself or a colleague why they think a certain way or made the decision they did.
- Push back against mainstream media trends and assumptions! The only person who can accurately represent you is YOU, so mindfully engage with your and others’ social media content to build each other up.
Women deserve to be described as compassionate, empathetic, and intellectual, not “emotional.” Black women have earned the right to be described as strong, communicative, and gleeful, not “aggressive.” Though we have moved backwards in the way we speak about and perceive women, and in an especially public and shameful way, it is never too late to change, evolve, progress. Women must stand together and support one another, and it is on all of us to acknowledge the role that we all play in perpetuating this harmful language.
To learn more, feel free to read:
To report a case or receive help, please visit:
FAIR Girls: https://fairgirls.org/
National Human Trafficking Hotline: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/
FAIR Girls 24/7 Crisis Number: 1-855-900-3247
U.S. National Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888, or send a text to “BeFree” (233733)