At a recent Stanford University seminar on race, gender and intersectionality, a professor of organizational behavior argued black women are subject to less “gender backlash” than their white peers because they’re viewed as less feminine.
Brian Lowery compared the cases of Christine Blasey-Ford, who accused now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, and Anita Hill, who claimed Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her.
Because she was perceived as “more feminine” due to her skin tone, Blasey-Ford faced greater pushback, Lowery argued.
“The idea here is that with racialized gender stereotypes, nobody should express backlash to [Hill],” Lowery said, according to The Stanford Daily. “She’s doing what Black women do: being aggressive, making accusations. From that perspective, no one should express backlash.”
But in case you think the professor is claiming white women have it tougher in the gender realm, think again; in Hill’s and others’ cases, racism protected them from sexism, he opined.
And this gender backlash isn’t limited to the binary, the scholar argued:
Lowrey also touched on how the concept of gender backlash applies to people who are non-binary or bi-racial, explaining that someone’s gender and race are largely dependent on other people’s perceptions of them. He added that social identities are conditional, “meaning you could honestly be Black in one setting and white in another.” Rather than being fixed, identities such as race and gender are “active with you in that moment,” he said.
Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity Communications and Events Associate Perlita Dicochea supported Lowrey’s theory of racial backlash, explaining that the hostility she has experienced as a Latina woman by people outside of her racial group often outweighs people’s perceptions of her as a woman.
“Outside of your racial group, you’re completely excluded,” Perlita said. “That’s a kind of backlash where you’re just completely off written in certain settings, situations or institutions.”
Of course, other factors may have played into the Blasey-Ford-Hill comparison. For example, the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings were over 30 years ago when the American partisan political divide was much less pronounced. Also, Hill’s accusations were limited to then-fairly recent sexual harassment such as inappropriate remarks (recall the pubic hair on a Coke can).
On the other hand, Blasey-Ford alleged in a dubious account that Kavanaugh actually sexually assaulted her in high school. Perhaps the greater “backlash” she faced is due to her story being much less credible.
According to his faculty page, Lowery’s research “seeks to extend knowledge of individuals’ experience of inequality and fairness, [and] suggests that individuals distinguish between inequalities framed as advantage as opposed to disadvantage.”
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