Yale Daily News

A new study by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and the School of Medicine looked at how the stereotypes produced by gendered racism can impact the lives of Black teenage girls aged 14-18. 

The study emerged from a larger project to create a video game called InvestiDate to help Black teenage girls make healthy dating decisions. While conducting research to develop the game, the team collected data to see what Black girls would want out of the project. Although the focus group questions were centered around the game’s development, many participants provided detailed accounts of their experiences of gendered racism. 

“Once they gave Black girls a voice to tell them what they wanted to see in sexual health prevention programming, stories about their experiences involving fondling, colorism, discrimination and gendered racist stereotypes, emerged on its own,” Ijeoma Opara, assistant professor of public health and lead author of the study, wrote in an email.

The team looked specifically at Black teenage girls and how they are affected by the combined effects of racism and misogyny. According to Opara, the unique form of discrimination faced by girls and women of color is known as gendered racism.

“Gendered racism is different than the racism that Black boys and men experience and different from the sexism that White girls and women experience,” Opara explained. “It’s a form of discrimination that is harmful and contributes to increase stressors and vulnerability among Black girls and women and other girls and women of color.”

According to Brandon Sands, a research assistant at the School of Medicine and co-author of the study, some examples of gendered racism that Black girls frequently experience include hypersexualization and the stereotype of the “loud” Black girl. He also noted that the girls faced such forms of discrimination and internalized racial biases in several different spaces, including home, school and online.

Opara noted that she was surprised by how aware the girls were of the negative treatment they faced due to gendered racism. They knew that adults treated them unfairly due to racial biases, and they understood that they would often be judged negatively despite their actions.

“What bothered me the most is how ignored girls in the study felt by not only their teachers but even members of their family when it came to reporting instances of being fondled and disrespected by boys,” Opara said.

Veronica Weser, an associate research scientist at the School of Medicine and co-author of the study, said that the invalidation experienced by many of the girls was part of the reason why the paper was titled “Feeling Invisible and Unheard…” When the girls tried to tell a parent or teacher about an issue that they experienced, they were not taken seriously or supported.

Sands also noted that many Black girls do not feel like their experiences and identities are validated at home and at school. 

Going forward, Sands said that it is important to make parents and teachers aware of these problems. He emphasized the need to provide the information and tools necessary to address inaccurate biases and prevent them from being reproduced. 

According to Opara, more attention in the classroom should be devoted to countering these stereotypes. This includes listening when Black girls feel harmed or threatened, empowering Black girls through leadership positions and incorporating positive images of Black girls and women.

In addition to listening, Opara stressed that adult allies should reflect on their own biases against Black girls, which they may not even be aware of. In order to undo the effects of gendered racism, she said that adults need to think about how they react to Black girls as opposed to white girls and why. 

Weser noted that many of the girls who reported incidents of sexual harassment to adults did not receive the response that most people would hope for.

“A teen told us about how she was in class, and a boy slapped her butt and she yelled at him, and the teacher told her that she didn’t handle the situation appropriately,” Weser said.

Another example that Weser gave was a girl who went outside in her pajamas and was harassed by an adult man. When the girl told her mom about the incident, her mom told her not to go outside while wearing her pajamas.

Opara said that her research focuses on sexual health and drug use among youth, with prevention interventions that are specific to race and gender. The findings from this study will be incorporated into several of the education programs that Opara and her colleagues are developing in their research labs.

“It is important to me to teach youth not only to recognize gendered racism but to become advocates against gendered racism and understand how such stereotypes contribute to their sense of self and behaviors,” Opara wrote.

According to projections by the U.S. census, the majority of women in the U.S. will be women of color by the year 2060.