The Demand for ‘Submission’ is Literally Killing Black Women in the United States
I grew up in Oakland, California. We had a small house and a single parent household so I spent a lot of time by myself. By the time I was in sixth grade, I was the quintessential latchkey kid. Usually, I would get home hours before my mother, but I was a good kid so she never worried about me. While I managed to get home safely most days, I remember frequently feeling that the only way I could get safely through the day was by, to some degree, acquiescing some of my autonomy and liberty to others. In fact, this was one of my earliest lessons about and from Black men.
I couldn’t help but reflect on these lessons when I heard about Joyce Quaweay. She was a 24-year-old woman who was beaten to death by her boyfriend and his friend all while her four daughters watched. They stripped her naked to humiliate her, tied her to a chair, and beat her to death then continued the beating after she was dead.
Let me repeat that: Joyce Quaweay was stripped naked, beaten to death, and beaten posthumously by her boyfriend and roommate because she would not submit to her lover’s authority.
These were people she trusted. People who looked like her (who also happened to be ex-Temple police officers). People she lived with, one who had fathered two of her daughters. They claimed that they murdered her because she would not submit to her boyfriend’s “authority.” That was the reason they gave for brutally murdering her.
This is what toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and misogynoir (a term coined by Moya Bailey to connote the racialized and gendered hatred of Black women) look like. The idea that women should blindly obey their male intimate partners or other men in their social professional circles denotes the belief that women are inherently inferior to men, that we need men in order to survive, thrive and function. This is worsened for cis and trans Black women. The latter being targeted for what can only be described as genocide.
While I am by no means suggesting that my experiences growing up are comparable to Quaweay’s horrifying murder or the homicidal acts against many trans women in the United States, I know the sentiment behind it well. I know it better than I should.
When I started developing breasts and hips around thirteen or fourteen, I remember feeling incredibly self-conscious. Every day (or sometimes several times per day) there were comments from men and classmates about my “childbearing hips” or questions about whether or not I had any tighter jeans to wear. Initially, I pushed back against the consumption of my body, telling them I wasn’t interested in them. But, that usually led to verbal assaults or other threats of violence.
Every physical fight I got into from middle school to high school was with a boy. My height, my opinionated nature, my early germinations of feminist leanings were all seen as “disrespectful” to boys and men. My lack of desire to “submit” to maleness made me a prime target for gendered threats and violence. My sometimes queer body and often gender nonconforming presentation drew more attention than I wanted. I remember being told that women and girls “shouldn’t talk so much,” and that “no man is ever going to want a woman who thinks she is smarter than him.” These comments were always meant to control my behavior and police my encounters with heterosexual boys and men who I was supposed to revere and apparently want, two facts that never actually materialized.
When I was around 15 or 16, the taunting, catcalling, and harassment got worse. I remember standing in a crowded BART station in Richmond and having a 40-something-year-old man yell out to me, “Girl, I want to eat yo’ pussy!” I was so embarrassed that I basically ran away. Around that time, I struggled with a 20-something-year-old man who had started stalking me around my neighborhood, showing up at my nail shop and even across town at my church. It took my older brother “talking to him” to get the harassment to stop. At bus stops, corner stores, move theaters, and pretty much everywhere else, this was the norm.
A few years ago, I finally admitted to myself that I was preyed upon in high school by several older men and coerced into what I thought was consensual sex at the time. Up until that point, I had believed that I chose to enter into sexual relationships with grown men. And, to some degree, I thought it was completely rational and understandable that all they wanted from me was sex.
For years after, I blamed myself for what had happened. I felt as though I had finally relented and that, in some way, I was at least partially to blame for the things those men had done to me. Even after a decade, I couldn’t form the critical analysis to understand that the boys and men who had harmed me were to blame. Because I too was indoctrinated with patriarchy and misogynoir, I couldn’t see clearly how these experiences weren’t my burdens to carry.
This was my adolescent experience with “not submitting.”
When thinking about Quaweay’s murder, we have to understand what “submitting” truly looks like through the eyes of someone who lives by patriarchy and misogynoir. It is coping with and maybe even entertaining predatory Black men just to survive a walk home. It is the idea that being told “you too pretty to not smile, smile for me baby!” and “girl, do you know what I would do to you?” is somehow a badge of honor or even a compliment. It is a complete lack of regard or respect for the notion that women are not here in service to men, that we exist always, before, and after men “discover” us, that we are actually human.
Far too often, Black women don’t survive the walk to the car, or the afternoon train ride when they don’t submit to the desires, whims, or advances of patriarchal, violent men who frequently look like their own fathers, brothers, uncles, and sons. This is not propaganda. This is fact.
We have to have a serious conversation about cisgender heterosexual (cishet) Black men and their failure to show up for Black women in a real way. But, beyond that, we have to be clear what the implications of patriarchy and misogynoir might be.
Quaweay paid with her life. How many more of us will it take?
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