misogyny police brutality
Patriarchy Will Not Save Black Women from Police Abuse8/07/2015
by Malaika Jabali In the wake of Sandra Bland’s death, author Ro Cutno created this image:
In a similar meme, Cutno featured Sandra Bland’s image with the text “If Sandra Bland had a father, she would probably be alive today. Fatherless daughters are easy prey. Fathers matter. Who protects you?”
One might be able to parse out a modicum of sense from these messages from Cutno, who is the author of the book Man Leads. Yes, a heterosexual woman may find that marrying a man matters for her happiness and sense of love. Yes, having a mate that is protective is probably a good thing. And yes, fathers can matter in one’s life.
However, taken altogether, these messages by Cutno are illogical for several reasons.
First, having a husband or father is not some automatic shield against police repression, violence, and killing. In fact, being a father or husband is not in itself a shield, so how can benefits that don’t exist for many black men magically materialize and transfer to black women? Eric Garner was a father. Sam Dubose was a father. Mike Brown had a father. Trayvon Martin had a father. Oscar Grant was a father. Countless other black men were fathers or had fathers in their lives, and yet they were subject to racist violence and a police system bent on upholding the status quo. When in the history of black civil and human rights have magic father/husband powers (whatever those may be) proven more adequate than the movements led by both black men and women against racist laws, white supremacy, and an unjust judicial system?
Secondly, Cutno seems to equate men with protection. While that is an ideal of masculinity, protection is not some trait indelible in the genetic code of men. For instance, when the mass killer James Holmes opened fire in a Colorado movie theater a few years ago, there was widespread media attention surrounding one young family in particular. In that case, Jamie Rohrs and Patricia Legarreta were with their young children when James Holmes attacked the theater. The father Jamie Rohrs initially had his infant son in his arms. However, when Holmes began his attack, Rohrs placed the son on the floor and ran out of the theater, leaving his children and their mother to an uncertain fate. Not once did he check up on his family in the aftermath, and it was only when the mother called her husband from the hospital did he reappear. While this is an extreme example, there are countless times when mothers, not fathers, took the lead in protecting their children, and many of us probably have stories of these moments in our own lives. When a child is left to be raised by a single parent, it is often the father, not the mother, that abandons his duty to protect his child.
Third, in automatically equating husbands and fathers with protection, Cutno makes a giant logical leap that Bland’s life would have somehow been spared. What was it exactly about having a husband or father that would have protected Sandra Bland? Let’s follow Cutno’s illogical train of thought for a moment here. Suppose Cutno’s ideal image of a husband or father would have been in Sandra’s life. Sandra was stopped in daylight, so presumably this ideal husband or father would have been at work, and not in the car with her. That aside, even a husband or father’s influence would not have necessarily protected Sandra from a man drunk on his authority and bent on being aggressive. According to Cutno, “all women on earth are part mean, sneaky, and dramatic” and “masculine leadership directs negative female emotion.” So perhaps, according to Cutno’s toxic stereotypes of men and women, this husband or father would have taught Sandra Bland lessons in being less emotional in stressful situations. Yet, when we view the video of Bland and the officer, it was the male officer who was “mean…and dramatic.” Up until the point the officer threatened her with a taser and yanked at her door commanding her to exit the vehicle, Sandra was calm as she honestly answered the officer’s questions. One would think that the male officer would have directed whatever “negative…emotion” he felt Sandra Bland exhibited and de-escalated the situation due to his supposed masculinity.
Going further with Cutno’s logic, even if Bland’s husband or father were present in the vehicle with her, no one can say with any shred of certainty that Bland would not have been arrested. Black men are notoriously over-policed and comprise a disproportionate number of prisoners. Black people in general comprise a disproportionate number of traffic stops and a disproportionate number of arrests, and this is gender neutral. Who’s to say both Bland and her hypothetical husband or father would not have been arrested? Much of the recent spate of police killings of unarmed black people have been against black men. The mere presence of black men for some white officers triggers hostility and aggression. Perhaps the officer would not have just threatened Bland with a taser, but he would have threatened both her and her husband or father with a gun.
Instead of directing her attention at the unjust system that perpetuates the imprisonment and police abuse of both black men and women, Cutno uses this opportunity to uphold irrelevant gender constructs and promote her book. Her advice is not only illogical, but it is harmful. It puts the onus on victims to be perpetually mindful of their behavior when police abuse, not black respectability and upbringing, is the problem. It undercuts the value of women who teach their children about de-escalating situations everyday in a world where men in positions of authority, not women victims, are often the most “dramatic” in police confrontations. Ultimately, Cutno’s words are merely another example of misogyny rearing its ugly head at a time when white supremacy needs to be the target, not Cutno’s archaic notions of feminism.
Malaika Jabali is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a lawyer with a J.D. and M.S. from Columbia University. Her proclivity for advanced degrees does not preclude her from communicating with cleverly placed emojis and on Instagram @missjabali. She also pretends to know about music and culture on her personal blog, www.freshphiles.com.