It is now an undeniable fact, COVID-19 has peeled off layers of social inequities and revealed some of our deepest vulnerabilities. Systemic and systematic racism now widely acknowledged, have further unveiled tentacles of hate and oppression. Our venerated institutions of government, law, justice, education, health care, religious denominations, corporations, and so many others, have all been tainted by racism. In the past five months revelations from these same structures that were created to protect, defend, and socialize, have shown that they too are complicit. Why did it take some of us this long to see truths that were staring right at us for centuries? Miseducation and denial created a cocktail of intoxication mixed with our own consumeristic drives and our thirst for entertainment, numbing us deeper into our own oppression.
The health pandemic has also forced us to look at the racial pandemic from all angles, including within. For, yes, we have all internalized oppression. We have internalized the supremacist maxim, that Anti-racist Educator Jane Elliot calls, “whiteness is rightness.” Forcing ourselves to live our lives perennially trying to achieve “white standards” that were created to denigrate and destroy our uniqueness. We have had to acknowledge that the roots of racism are so embedded in our souls that we, both people of color and people of European descent, have believed lies that normalized the drinking of our own poison.
At the same time, while numbers of victims of domestic violence have risen to unprecedented heights prompting the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to call a “ceasefire” on its “horrifying global surge”. Yet, we continue to conveniently ignore the culture of male violence and incivility that is dominating our world today. From the highest offices of the land to the streets of our cities, male violence and incivility towards women has become pervasive. Another pandemic that we sometimes seem unable or unwilling to eradicate. But, large part of our unwillingness is a result of our own complicit dance with internalized patriarchy. Internalized patriarchy would have us entertain notions that try to justify that women are indeed inferior to men.
The patriarchy has been part of our indoctrination and male supremacy has been normalized. As a result, we still have laws that do not protect women, cultures that still uphold women as sub-servient, and religious denominations with (mis)interpreted and applied theologies that see women as deserving of male domination.
Two very recent public incidents illustrate this normalization.
In popular culture, a male artist* reveals that he had an affair with a married celebrity, Jada Pinkett- Smith. Besides the scandal that it generated, we see a wife willing to publicly speak her truth before her husband, actor Will Smith. Putting herself on her own Red Table, a popular symbol of truth-telling and confession; her husband acknowledges her truth and forgives her. However, the backlash from younger women on social media towards Jada, is revelatory of women’s internalized self-hatred. They took to their platforms to call another woman, like themselves, every derogatory terminology available. Days later the male artist debuted a song with lyrics that revealed explicit details of their sexual encounters during the affair. Yet, very few if any females rose in condemnation of his uncivil behavior.
Not long after this incident in the halls of the U.S House of Representatives, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) took to the floor to pronounce one of the most eloquent and stirring speeches on male incivility of this generation. She recounted that she had been accosted by a male colleague*, from the opposing party. He pointed his finger in her face and in front of reporters, called her debasing and derogatory terms. Ocasio-Cortez’ speech presented several reckoning points:
• Male incivility is not new.
• Male incivility is acceptable.
• Male incivility is part of the culture of male supremacy.
• Male incivility is accepting dehumanizing language and violence against women.
• Male incivility is systemic.
• Male incivility is supported by the same institutions and structures that were created to protect and defend its female citizenry.
Male incivility is indeed our third global pandemic. Like racism it has been around for centuries. Every nation, and every culture has been impacted by it. It occurs in the privacy of marriages, when it comes from men who swore to love and protect women until death. It also occurs publicly, in communities, before the eyes of our children. It fills our airwaves, with music with misogynistic lyrics that equate the debasing of a woman with love for her. It is pronounced in churches that use the Bible to promote women’s subjection to abusive men.
Male incivility destroys. It crushes women’s spirits. It steals their joy. It slowly dims the glow in a woman’s eyes. Male incivility uses violent words, language, and actions to perpetrate and dehumanize women. Whether it be a woman’s reputation or her politics, the purpose of male incivility remains the same, to “put a woman in her place”. This putting in one’s place is truly the ultimate sabotaging of a woman’s soul. Like racism, it seeks to silence her, debase her, question her agency, and invalidate her humanity. As women, we need to break every cycle of internalization that would seek to violate the essence of our humanity. We need to hold each other accountable and we need to hold men accountable to this quest. The culture of male supremacy, at all levels and in every institution, needs to be questioned, rejected, and broken. The time is now.
*Names of both the male celebrity and representative mentioned in this blog as perpetrators of male incivility will remain unmentioned. We refuse to honor their names in this space.
For more on this topic watch: The Pink Room (Live on August 2nd at 7:30 PM)
Norka Blackman-Richards, is a citizen of the world, the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization, 4 Real Women International Inc, and a higher education professional. She lives in Queens, New York and as of March 15, 2020 she has been in quarantine with her husband, Warner.