The 13th series of the X Factor UK finished this weekend, and although many people find this show entertaining, it contributes to a hurtful phenomenon known as misogynoir.
Misogynoir, coined by queer feminist scholar, Moya Bailey, is the hatred of black women. It is ultimately rooted in the concept of intersectionality, which states that different social identities such as race, class, gender and sexuality interrelate in oppression. In the case of misogynoir, we’re dealing with the intersections of race and gender.
Some examples of this form of discrimination include comments about black women’s hair (especially their natural hair), viewing black women as hypersexual or desexualized and boxing us into stereotypes such as the Jezebel, the Mammy or the Angry Black Woman.
The most recent example of misogynoir in the X Factor was aimed at contestant Gifty Louise. For instance, during week three of the competition Gifty decided to change her hair and wore a weave, and this got a lot of people talking. For example, judge Louis Walsh said ‘I preferred your old hair’ and one viewer tweeted ‘Oh no gurl. Go back to the afro please.’
Yes, you could view these merely as comments about how Gifty’s old hairstyle suited her better. However, this appears to be an instance of misogynoir as many black women are criticised for their hair. For instance, some black women have been fired from their jobs when they wear their hair naturally and are said to be denying their blackness when they wear weave or relax their hair. Furthermore, this case of misogynoir is highlighted by how white contestant Saara Aalto has worn various hair pieces and no has one batted an eyelid (apart from that one time she took part in cultural appropriation.)
Unfortunately, Gifty’s personality was also criticised during the competition. During the first Xtra Factor show for Live Show 4 (a day before Gifty was voted out of the competition), co-presenters Rylan Clarke-Neal and Matt Edmonson “asked” Gifty the following question: ‘we heard you threw a massive strop about losing your makeup brushes this week’. On the other hand, they asked the other contestants questions about how they felt about their performances. Gifty’s question and honest response, about how someone stole her expensive makeup brushes, which made her angry, may have contributed to the image of her as having attitude problems, and led to the negative evaluation of her character. However, the questions for other contestants contributed to the audience seeing how hard they had worked and how they wished to stay in the competition for another week.
A similar occurrence happened to Misha B during series 8 of the X Factor, when Tulisa and Louis called her out for being a bully. This may have been true, but it led to the public’s negative perception of her. Up until that point, Misha had polled well in the votes. However, the week after, she found herself in the bottom two, and again two times after that until she was voted out of the competition.
The most prominent example of misogynoir directed at Gifty occurred during her premature exit from the show. She was obviously gutted that her time in the competition had come to an end, so she didn’t smile. However, this caused a wave of critiques to come her way as many thought she was ungrateful. One twitter user wrote ‘Oh my god Gifty, I know you lost but slap a smile on your face. #GMB’ and another branded Gifty as a ‘sore loser.’ Nonetheless, Sam Lavery didn’t receive any of this criticism when she was booted off the show just two weeks later and looked visibly upset and disappointed.
But what about Alexandra Burke and Leona Lewis? Alexandra and Leona were obviously loved by the public and by the judges, as they went on to win the show. But does this doesn’t exonerate the X Factor and its viewers from participating in misogynoir.
Although being incredibly talented had a lot to do with both women winning the competition, other factors helped the public view them more favourably. For instance, in Leona’s case, her proximity to whiteness and her shy nature made the British public love and empathise with her. In Alexandra’s case, she was overly grateful for the chance to be in the competition and was quite emotional all the way through the show.
My point is that Leona and Alexandra were not associated with the negative stereotypes of black women, such as being angry, arrogant or having a bad attitude. If both were boxed into any of the above negative stereotypical characteristics of black women, and gossip about them throwing a massive strop or bullying other contestants was mentioned during the live shows, then would the public have loved these ladies as much as they did? And would Leona and Alexandra have gone on to win the competition? I don’t so.
Although many people find the X-Factor fun to watch, this show is ultimately a platform through which members of the public and authorities on the show, such as the judges and presenters, participate in misogynoir, and nothing about that is entertaining.