Savannah André Talks Misogynoir and Bodily Integrity

Fashion Stories. Posted 9 months ago

Catalogue Staff

Savannah André photographed by James J. Robinson.

Savannah André is a NYC-based writer interested in the intersection of theory and everyday experience. She’s currently writing a book about misogynoir (misogyny directed towards black women in which both race and gender play a role) and hosts a podcast about things like Bodily Integrity (one’s right to exert autonomy over their own body). It shouldn’t surprise you then, that Savannah is a no bullshit kind of person who places a lot of stock in people who are willing to stand up against broken systems, and that’s because she’s experienced first-hand what happens when you don’t.

Catalogue: So you’re writing a book at the moment, can you tell me a bit about that?
Savannah André: It’s an autobiographical narrative I began writing in October of last year. Initially, I intended for this piece to be an essay, but approximately 15 pages into writing this “essay” I realised the lived experience I’m drawing from is far too complex to squeeze into anything shorter than a full length book. It focuses primarily on misogynoir and the psychological ramifications this can have on the individual it is directed toward depending on the circumstance it arises in, but there are other underlying themes, such as toxic monogamy and homophobia. At the moment, I’m writing aimlessly. I mean, my intention is to share my experience in an effort to spread awareness and provide some form of consolation to other women of colour who may feel ashamed or isolated in similar experiences I’m sure they’ve had. But I still have some introspecting to do, as well as a slew of research to complete, before I can bring this piece to its potential. The writing process has been incredibly cathartic.

Catalogue: Was there a specific event that triggered your interest in misogynoir?
Savannah André: I’ve been interested since I first heard the term three years ago. I had begun identifying as a feminist sometime before then, but as a woman of colour I had difficulty separating race and gender in any political or theoretical discourse. The implication that racism and misogyny are two separate issues which are always dealt with individually is simply not reflective of my lived experience and what I’ve witnessed fellow women of colour come into contact with. I decided to write this book shortly after I was subjected to a traumatic level of misogynoir. I was in an interracial romantic relationship for nearly two years with someone I realised, in hindsight, did not respect my identity, nor the struggles faced by marginalised groups of people. Throughout our relationship he vocalised his stance on patriarchy, white supremacy and heteronormativity, which seemingly exemplified compassion for women and minorities, but this stance was not accompanied with any real desire to dismantle or even challenge the systems he criticised. I discovered this in the worst way possible while spending a few weeks with his family in Texas, only to be spoken to, perceived and portrayed by them in ways which epitomised why many people of colour are reluctant to date outside of their race. Ways my then partner felt no sense of urgency to prevent or combat, despite my visible distress. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because these accounts are written in my book.

Catalogue: You recently took a break from Instagram, why was that?
Savannah André: To heal from this experience and focus on writing, to be completely honest with you. No other reason.

Catalogue: Who is in your creative support network?
Savannah André: Most of my friends are artists, and they encourage any and all concepts I present to them, but three friends of mine who are working with themes similar to those I’m currently focused on are Mark AghatiseShatina Dockery and Eva Woolridge. Mark is a photographer whose work has been publicized by VSCO, and earlier this year he taught an iPhone photography class for the Apple Store in my neighborhood and designed a beautiful zine inspired by A Seat at the Table. Subsequently he unrelatedly landed a part as a backup dancer in Solange’s groundbreaking Guggenheim performance. The Universe was listening. Shatina is a writer in the process of writing a very compelling memoir, and she will be featured on one of my upcoming podcast episodes to discuss the work of James Baldwin. Eva is a photographer whose work has been publicized by Cosmo and Business Insider, but more importantly she’s one of the founders of the non-profit organisation Red Dot, which focuses on destigmatising menstruation as well as collecting and donating menstrual hygiene products to homeless shelters, halfway houses and underfunded schools. I recently attended their charity art exhibition where the theme was sustainable menstrual practices.

I also have a couple of close friends who are not artists, but are also very vocal and proactive in their strive toward social justice, which inspires me every day. One of my closest female friends, Rebeccah, recently relocated to Nicaragua to work as an environmental sustainability teacher for elementary school children. Her and I have had endless discussions about ecofeminist theory, and I plan on applying this knowledge to my future projects. Another close female friend of mine, Michelle, is also a teacher. She is an immensely skilled painter who teaches art to middle schoolers here in New York City, and she has been, without a doubt, my loudest cheerleader these past few years. My creative support network is pretty exceptional.

Catalogue: Do you find female friendships particularly important within the New York creative scene?
Savannah André: Absolutely. In any scene. Especially if you’re producing content that touches on subjects which can only be fully understood and empathised with by women. Plus, self-care is a vital component in my creative process, and my female friendships are what motivate me to take care of myself. I carry that solidarity with me everywhere I go. I channel that love into everything I create. But it’s important to have friendships with women who are truly “down with the cause” I guess you could say, because I’ve met women who would “like” all of my social media content related to identity politics… but then they’d proceed to casually and unwarrantedly slander or poke fun at other women, or they were only visibly disturbed by female degradation once they were directly subjected to it, and this, of course, has always been an ill omen. I actually discuss this in my book. I cannot stress enough that you shouldn’t befriend another woman simply because she’s a woman. This can stunt your growth creatively, intellectually and spiritually if her persona is a product of patriarchy. It doesn’t matter if she’s a seemingly sweet person otherwise. I can recognise ignorance and indoctrination underneath a “zen” image, and being soft-spoken doesn’t excuse being a bystander or enabler. Develop relationships with women who would never react condescendingly to your autonomy. Develop relationships with women who, even if they just met you, would never allow a person to speak to you or about you in a way which causes you to cave into yourself. I feel very fortunate to have a circle of forward thinking female friends who take sisterhood as seriously as I do.

How would you describe your personal feminism at the moment?
Savannah André: My feminism has always been and will always be intersectional, urban and spiritual. Intersectional in that it is inclusive and does not pretend race, sexual orientation and gender identity are not factors within the system of oppression I am attempting to dismantle. Urban in that I put more time and effort into shedding light on how this system of oppression disproportionately affects women of colour who were raised in and are currently living in lower income neighbourhoods. Spiritual in that I perceive this system of oppression as an attack on female consciousness and kinship, and I am determined to continue and restore the practices which existed amongst women of indigenous civilisations that were colonised. More recently, my personal feminism has evolved in that it is more introspective, ecological and unapologetic.

Catalogue: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Savannah André: Never apologise for taking up space — my father.

Catalogue: On your podcast you discuss a lot of theory, do you think these ideas need to have more of a presence in mainstream media?
Savannah André: Definitely. This is one of the reasons why I decided to create a podcast series. One of my focuses while I was a student was Gender Studies, and every single lesson I sat through in a theoretical course was a revelation. I want to provide others with this knowledge in an accessible format.

Catalogue: Your first podcast centres on Bodily Integrity, what made you choose that theme?
Savannah André: Because I want the first episode to be a topic everyone can resonate with to some extent, and manipulation is omnipresent. It’s a violation of psychological boundaries which I firmly believe we have all perpetrated and fell victim to at some point in our lives. Some far worse than others. Bodily Integrity has also become increasingly relevant in my personal life within this past year, due to the lived experience my book is focused on.

Catalogue: What’s it like to be a young person in America right now?
Savannah André: I cannot speak for every young person in America, because some of us are disproportionately affected by the current political climate while others remain unbothered. Although we should all be outraged and collectively resisting, some narratives should not be universalised. We are not all enduring the same level of anguish. For example, while I am negatively impacted to a significant degree by the plague that is white supremacy, I do ultimately benefit from lightskin privilege. I have always acknowledged this, despite the preconception many individuals (mostly white) have had when they’ve seen me speak about race or refer to myself as a “black woman”. At the same time, I won’t pretend that being a lightskin/multiracial black person in this country doesn’t propel someone into a series of distinct encounters with racism. More recently, in the wake of the terrorist gathering in Charlottesville, people of colour are now, more than ever, being aggravated with inappropriate and unwanted suggestions on how to navigate through racism. I am incredibly jaded by this *kill them with kindness* trope. While I do practice love and empathy and I believe these emotions have the power to mobilise in less threatening circumstances, I also believe that those who advocate “love” and exploit the words of MLK in the midst of these monstrosities have most likely never experienced any form of debilitating racial prejudice. “Love” is often used as a euphemism for “complacency”, but love is not complacent. To imply someone is less of a spiritual being simply because they are not meek in the presence of systemic violence, both blatant and insidious, is dismissive and condescending. In a nutshell, as a young person in America right now, I’m weary.

Catalogue: What’s one thing that you would like to see change in your lifetime?
Savannah André: I want to see the United States criminal justice system completely dismantle and rebuild upon a rehabilitative framework in contrast to the retributive and anti-black framework it has historically clung to.

Catalogue: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Savannah André: A filmmaker who puts the vast majority of her proceeds toward ensuring people in lower income neighborhoods throughout the United States have healthy and affordable meal options within close proximity.

Catalogue: Words to live by:
Savannah André: Reclaiming my time — Maxine Waters

Photography: James J. Robinson
Model: Savannah André

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