By Kevin C. Quin
Misogyny and mass media are no stranger to one another. Over the past few months, we have witnessed countless instances where men assert their often unsolicited, disparaging comments about women to millions of viewers across various platforms–one of the most disturbing examples being Trump’s endorsement of sexual assault against women. Because misogyny can be enacted by anyone, regardless of race or gender, it is important to hold accountable not only the individuals who perpetuate violence and hatred against women, but also the mass media networks aiding in spreading this harmful way of thinking.
Earlier this week, Black Entertainment Television (BET) posted a video on their website of singer Tyrese epitomizing the social position of a cisgender, heterosexual, middle/upper class man. The post, appropriately titled, “Tyrese Has a Message for Promiscuous Women,” is a dangerous rant demonstrating not only his hatred of all women, but more specifically Black women.
Referring to Black women as “sluts, skeezers, hoes, tramps and overly aggressive promiscuous women,” Tyrese’s attempt at restricting Black women’s sexual agency is masked as “a message.” With other comments referring to women that are “active out in these streets” and cautioning them about the “miles” they put onto themselves, Tyrese’s “advice” is ultimately destructive and rooted in patriarchy, respectability politics, and domination under the guise of religion.
Not only were his comments distasteful, problematic, and downright absurd, what is equally disturbing is the way in which this message was distributed. As a national platform with millions of viewers, the posting of this video makes BET complicit in the spread of misogyny and violence against Black women. If the mission statement of BET positions the network as the “pre-eminent entertainment brand serving African Americans and consumers of Black culture globally,” then producing and publishing such heinous content like the Tyese video completely contradicts the network’s own agenda. Additionally, it makes BET perpetuate the very stereotypes it seeks to disprove through its often sanctimonious and respectable, heteronormative programming.
This is not the first time BET has posted or aired misogynistic content. Dehumanization of the Black female body, references to rape culture, and sexual objectification of Black women can be found as early as 2001 with Uncut, which televised the most explicit, low-budget rap and hip-hop videos too racy to air on 106 & Park. Although the show was popular among underage viewers, many college-aged Black women vehemently opposed and actively called for the removal of Uncut by protesting rapper Nelly’s on-campus event after BET aired his misogynistic “Tip Drill” video.
The late-night show was eventually canceled in 2006, but BET attempted to resurface it again in 2015. Such efforts to revive Uncut demonstrates a stubbornness on behalf of producers at BET and Viacom, the white-owned network in which BET is housed under, to wrestle with more relevant issues facing its millions of Black viewers, like the real violence enacted upon Black women daily.
For example, a Center for Disease Control and Prevention study reported that the #2 leading cause of death among Black women is homicide. Moreover, most of those homicides stemmed from intimate partner relationships with Black men. The motivation for BET to move away from such harmful content becomes even more urgent considering the recent string of missing Black girls in Washington D.C., and epidemic of violence against Black women at the hands of state. The correlation then becomes even more clear: The normalization of misogyny through platforms like BET exacerbate the problem of verbal, emotional, and physical violence enacted by Black men on the minds, bodies, and souls and of Black women.
Sadly, the stakes of platforms like BET influencing Black thought on social and cultural issues is extremely high. Despite all of its criticisms, the network is still ranked as the #1 cable network for African Americans. The network obviously has the potential to make a positive impact, as evidenced by the millions of viewers tuning in weekly to original, more favorable programming like Being Mary Jane.
Rankings aside, much is still absent from most of BET’s programming. Content must be created that centers the voices and experiences of Black women, not just showcases them as underdeveloped side characters. Moreover, if BET seeks to adhere to its mission statement which prioritizes inclusivity, more content geared towards Black gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans folks must be paramount in their efforts towards improving content.
Misogyny and mass media may seem inextricably linked together, but they do not have to be. Forms of misogyny perpetrated on mass media networks are the very mechanism behind why such media can reach the masses. Mass media does not exist in a vacuum, and, in some ways, is reflective of society’s general values towards social issues.
But the extent to which media shapes our attitudes towards these issues must be considered above all. Together, we must hold BET and similar Black-centered networks accountable for the harmful content they create, and demand the realities of Black life be represented respectfully and at its fullest.
Kevin C. Quin is a black queer writer from Chicago. He is a current Ph.D. student in Africana Studies at Cornell University where his research explores black queer historiography, the rise of black gay identity, and material, and visual culture. View more of his work at http://kevincquin.com.