Tag Archives: sexual stereotypes

Hey, wanna decorate your house with some “ethnic people?”

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

If so, head on over to AllPosters.com, because it’s an actual subgenre under the color photography category. I mean literally, in those words, the category is called: Ethnic People.

Who wouldn’t want to decorate their home with posters of, say, a Middle Eastern woman’s kohl-rimmed eyes gazing at you provocatively through sheer swaths of orange fabric?

Or a black woman balancing a jug of water on her head with a baby strapped to her back?

Next time someone calls you a racist, you can be like, “I can’t be racist, I have Ethnic People on my walls at home!”

(Hat tip to my friend Karen, who discovered it late last week as she was looking through the site.)

So You Think You Can (Belly) Dance?

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

It’s time to set the record straight, everyone. So here it is: belly dancing is not a significant facet of Middle Eastern culture. It’s a dance, not a lifestyle (not according to most Middle Eastern people, anyway).

I’ve had one too many people ask me if I belly dance when they hear about my religion or ethnicity. Belly dancing is something that is present in some form of another in most Middle Eastern cultures, but is not really a part of our identity. And I assure you, nowhere in the Holy Qur’an does it say, “Thou shalt belly dance.” But because of Hollywood’s old Orientalist glamour, images of belly dancing have become almost synonymous with the Middle East.

I can’t help but get irritated when someone assumes that s/he and I automatically have something in common because s/he belly dances. The truth of a real-live Middle Eastern woman belly dancing seems to validate all those silly images that come into one’s head about spangly costumes and the Dance of the Seven Veils. Belly dancing has a host of sexualized and savage images attached to it, and if Middle Eastern/Muslim women confess to belly dancing (for exercise, as a career, for fun, or whatever), those images get attached to us, and we no longer have individual thoughts or lifestyles. We don’t take care of our parents or our children, we don’t have jobs or have opinions about health care reform, we just belly dance. Like it’s all we do, all day. This is why it’s insulting when someone thinks s/he knows what it’s like to be a Middle Eastern/Muslim woman because s/he’s taken a belly dancing class or read a book about it. The image of a Middle Eastern woman belly dancing seems to take away from our identity: it erases who we really are, our different nationalities and ethnicities, our emotions, our day-to-day existence.

Now, let me assure you: my problem isn’t with the dance itself. Belly dancing is a great way to connect with one’s sensuality, to exercise, and to appreciate the body that God gave you. Nor is my problem with non-Middle Eastern women (or men) belly dancing (or with Middle Eastern people dancing).

What bothers me is the adoption of a caricatured Middle Eastern identity through coin-bedazzled bras and Middle Eastern stage names like “Amina” or “Vashti.” If you’re a non-Middle Eastern performer, why give yourself a Middle Eastern stage name? What’s wrong with a name that reflects your own ethnicity or interests? Is it not “ethnic” or “exotic” enough? Besides, how would you feel if someone else used the name your parents gave you (that perhaps also belonged to your grandmother or aunt) as a stage name for an act that most people in your culture consider shameful if done publicly? (Cultural lesson: in most parts of the Middle East, belly dancing is often a cover for illicit activities.) Continue reading

Who are your favorite fictional, iconic female characters of color?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Hey Racialicious readers, I recently got the email below from an artist named Maureen. I suggested to her that I could post her email on the blog to tap into your collective wisdom, so that’s exactly what I’m doing here.

What suggestions do you have for Maureen?

—————————

Hi Carmen,

I am a visual arts/women’s studies student in Toronto, Canada. I am emailing you in the hopes of generating some advice or reference material about how to address some issues I am coming across with an art project I am working on.

My project is about the lack of visibility of aging women and also how in Western iconography of women, vitality and strength are directly linked to their attractiveness and youth. So my idea was to take fictional, iconic female characters, i.e. Wonder Woman, Buffy, Xena, Catwoman and so on, and age them with their costumes intact, and hopefully also, their dignity and the wisdom I like to think that comes with age. I have these subcategories: Film/T.V, Fairytales (which is really Disney depictions–which for some reason kind of irks me that as visual, recognizable icons they all come from there), Superheroines.

My issue is that many of the icons I am referencing are white (as am I), and while I am addressing the invisibility of aging women, I don’t want to in turn make invisible women of colour in my project. In my women’s studies degree, which informs most of my art, we talk often of how race/ism is made invisible or ignored or not properly considered in both canonical academic discourse and pop culture: I don’t want to contribute to that. I can actually come up with a number of Black-American icons to depict: Catwoman (who I am actually on the fence about after researching since there have been so many incarnations of her, far more of them white than Black), Storm from the X-Men, Foxy Brown (Pam Grier) and so on. But again, I don’t want to address racial inclusivity as either token or as simply about black and white.

I have thought about including some more Disney characters as I am already including Cinderella and Snow White (particularly because of the idea of aging them potentially puts them on the same side as their stepmothers they so revile): Mulan, Jasmine from Aladden, Pocahontas–but this does not seem satisfactory to me. Particularly Pocahontas, as she is based on a real figure straight out of colonial history–there are many issues of racism that come attached with her that could not go without addressing. I thought too about the character of Miss Saigon but again I think there are political issues there too that I’m not sure how to deal with. I am adding text to these images that will describe these women’s lives as I have aged them–I could address racial issues there. But how? Who else can I use? How do I address why I am having trouble coming up with iconic characters of colour or the overwhelming whiteness of my project? How can I make the issues of gender, age and race/ism intersect in this project? Can you recommend to me some resources I can look into? Recommend some iconic characters even that I am just being blind to?

I’m sorry if I am coming across as ignorant but I really feel like I need to address this in my project, especially since it is about the visibility and iconography of (Western) women. I’m just not quite sure how to go about it.

Thank you for your time;

Maureen.

Reasons I Hate Halloween

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch.

I hate Halloween. Now that I’m a grown-up, it’s just lost its appeal. Especially when I look at what some adults do for Halloween.

  1. Slutty costumes (I just had to say it)
  2. Slutty “ethnic” costumes: Native American girl, geisha, etc.

In particular:

1. Harem girl costumes
2. Belly dancer costumes
3. Genie costumes
4. Cleopatra costumes
5. Arab sheikh costumes

These costumes reinforce the eroticized and/or dangerous stereotypes associated with Muslim and Middle Eastern men and women. Plus, it’s doubly insulting because (usually) white people will “play dress-up” in these costumes, to supposedly “live like we do” for one night. The only missing detail is: none of the institutional oppression that we face as Muslims and Middle Easterners comes with the costume.

Just looking at the names of the costumes is informative enough: “Exotic Belly Dancer Costume” and “Sheik of Persia Arabian Costume” can tell you that these people have no idea about the culture they think they’re appropriating. (History lesson: Persia didn’t have sheikhs, they had shahs. And Persia and Arabia were two different places! AKH!)

Look at the women’s costumes: all are revealing and hypersexual. How many Middle Eastern women prance around in sheer pants and face veils? None. These costumes scream sexist Orientalism!

Don’t worry, guys! There are plenty of racist costumes for you, too! Take this “Arab Sheik” costume: of course he has a knife! All Middle Eastern men are dangerous, didn’t you know? You can even tell by his face: he’s pissed, and he’s going to take it out on some infidels!

And, if you’d like to pass on your racist Orientalist fantasies to your children, there are belly dancer costumes for little girls! That’s right! Make sure that your daughter learns that her self worth comes from how much her coin-bedazzled bra reveals and how pleasing her dancing is to a man! You can start as soon as she’s a toddler!

Ick. Enjoy your free candy!

Third Shot and I’m Starting to Feel It – Shot at Love Recap

by Racialicious special correspondent Latoya Peterson

Okay – I’m starting to get bored with the extensive recaps. So, I’m going to leave that to the official MTV blog and just highlight a couple interesting notes from the show.

The Trouble Same Sex Reality Shows

I’m going to let Dan Savage speak on this one, because he nailed it a couple years back:

Sometimes the mail is sooooooooo depressing that I just want to think about other things.

Like Next. Last weekend I was stuck in a hotel room in Portland, Oregon, on account of a teensy, weensy hangover, and I caught a marathon of the MTV dating show. Here’s how the show works: One person—say, a boy—goes on a blind date with a girl. If the boy doesn’t like the girl, he says “Next!” and one of four other girls, all waiting on a bus, takes the first girl’s place. The rejected girl returns to the bus to be cruelly mocked by her rivals. The boy continues barking “Next!” until he finds a girl he likes. Sometimes there are five boys on the bus and a girl barks “Next!”, and every once in a while five gay boys are on the bus and another gay boy barks “Next!”

While the gay episodes demonstrate to MTV’s impressionable viewers that young gay people are really no different—they’re every bit as shallow, vapid, and crude as their straight counterparts—not one of the gay episodes really worked. Instead of anxiously waiting to see which of the five will be chosen, viewers of the gay installments of Next anxiously wait for the five boys on the bus to strip down and get it on. The gay boys on the Next bus aren’t rivals, MTV, they’re all potential matches, which makes the one guy who isn’t on the bus nearly irrelevant. In all three of the gay episodes I saw, the boys on the bus were more into each other than they were into the boy for whose affections they were supposedly competing; in gay Next, the boy who “won” a second date with the boy-who-wasn’t-on-the-bus declined, preferring to run off with one of the other guys on the bus.

Recreating the “five bitchy rivals” dynamic that makes the hetero episodes of Next so entertaining wouldn’t be that hard, MTV. Here’s all you need to do: Put five hairy bears on the bus that are only attracted to pretty twinks, and let them compete for the, er, hand of one pretty twink. Or five white guys that are only into Asian guys competing for an Asian guy. Or five tops and one bottom. Or five Log Cabin Republicans and one CPA. Take a little more care with the casting and preinterviews, MTV, and you’ll be able to solve Next’s gay problem. You’re welcome.

Dan Savage, July 5, 2006

MTV, Tila…why are we acting surprised when some of the non-butch, lipstick lesbians (who are attracted to other, non-butch, lipstick lesbians) start hooking up? You knew that was going to happen. And you’re on a reality show – which means you know at least half those people are lying about their motives/background/sexual orientation just to get on TV.

Snitching Clusterfuck

I personally can’t stand those fucking “Stop Snitching” tee shirts. Every time I see one, I have to forcibly restrain myself from lunging at the wearer and choking them out on the metro. However, while watching Domenico and Ashley screw over Brandi, Rebecca, and Steve, I was overcome with the urge to grab one of those shirts and add the phrase “on yourself.” Seriously, yo! It’s the oldest trick in the book. Domenico said nothing, and Steve snitched on himself. Brandi said nothing and Rebecca snitched on herself. If this was a scripted program, we could have at least got a laugh track. Or a “dun-dun-DUN!”

The Ellen Factor?

Everyone loves Dani. Seriously. From my friends to the commenters on the message boards, it seems like most of the support is behind Dani. According to societal standards, we should not be cheering on the futch as she is outside of society’s prescribed roles for lesbians. She isn’t porno ready. There are other girls who are using their T & A a lot more and accomplishing a lot less. So what is it about Dani? Why is she just so damn likeable?

“She kind of reminds me of Ellen DeGeneres,” commented my boyfriend during the last show.

It was as if someone hit me over the head with a squeaky hammer. She IS like Ellen. Is that why we like her? Has Ellen DeGeneres become the archetype for the acceptable butch? Is Ellen the original futch? Hopefully, someone a bit better versed in queer politics and theory can school me in the comments section… Continue reading

The Madonna/Whore Complex, Islamic-Style!

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslima Media Watch

Talking about access in my post awhile ago, I touched on sexuality. Since this is one of my favorite topics, it got me thinking about sexuality in the Muslim world, and the binaries that Orientalism creates for Muslim women’s sexuality.

When you think of a Muslim woman in the context of sexuality, which images come up? If you watch movies, Muslim women are usually seen in one of two lights, sort of like a Madonna/whore complex. Except it’s with bellydancers and niqabs: the exotic, hypersexual belly dancer, or the forbidding, stern niqabi whose eyes say “No way are you getting under these robes.” Instead of the Madonna/Whore Complex, we have the Belly Dancer/Burqa complex.

The belly dancer half of this dichotomy is always hypersexual and hypersexy. Scantily-clad, of course; jewelry with coins, armbands with snakes, and usually really thick eyeliner are her trademarks. She’s there to please, please, please (sexually, of course). Usually, the belly dancer is featured by herself (when she’s not with the rest of the harem girls) and she’s aiming to entertain/seduce/serve the main man: movies like Lawrence of Arabia and From Russia With Love are excellent examples. I even found a list of all of the western movies that have bellydancers in them. Even on TV we see this crap: I Dream of Jeannie wasn’t a belly dancer, but she was a genie in Orientalist garb with an intent to please her master. (shudder)

The burqa half is sightly more fluid (it includes burqas, niqabs, and hejabs, oh my), but they all have the same attitude: no sex. Purity is paramount, and purity means virginity. Usually, the burqa half will also exhibit very Madonna-like (or in our case, Fatima-like) characteristics: selfless, she is always a “good” mother and wife (meaning never thinking about herself, only thinking about her family).

However, the ladies in scarves are never the main female role. They’re usually featured in groups, erasing any individuality, and always in black, erasing their humanity. They’re really just scenery…scary, asexual, “native” scenery: Not Without My Daughter is a perfect example here.

Both of these images are just tired (especially considering that Orientalism has been churning out these images for centuries). I think it’s time we shelved this make-believe binary. Besides, I’m really tired of seeing genie and belly dancer “costumes” every Halloween.

The Words of Asian American Men

by guest contributor Jennifer Fang, originally published at Reappropriate

A little less than a month ago, a panel discussion was put together by The Asian Society focusing on Asian American male identity. The panel, consisting of three prominent Asian American men in pop culture today: The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi, the single best Asian American writer of contemporary pop culture, Jeff Yang, and the ever so swoon-worthy Yul Kwon of Survivor: Cook Islands (whom this blog dubbed the real Super Asian Man back when his show was on the air). These three men chatted for a night on issues affecting Asian American men, and The Asia Society graciously put an edited “clip show” of the event on YouTube for us to view.

One of the central thrusts of the discussion was the emasculation stereotype. I agree with all three panelists in their emphasis of Hollywood as being the primary source of the asexualization of Asian males, and how this perception has a deleterious effect on developing young Asian American boys. Kwon said,

When I was growing up, I was very much influenced by what I saw, and more importantly what I didn’t see, on television. Whenever I saw an Asian American man on television, he was inevitably a kung-fu master who could kick ass but he couldn’t speak English, or a computer geek who could figure out algorithms but couldn’t figure out how to get a date. And for myself, I really think I internalized a lot of these images.

All three panelists emphasized the need to change Hollywood’s depictions of Asian Americans, viewing mainstream media as the primary source of the stereotype. After all, the true insidiousness of APIA male asexualization is its effect on the self-image of young boys, which is communicated to them beginning at childhood. In this way, the asexualization stereotype is no different than anti-feminist socialization that promotes gender roles for young girls; in both cases, the images are designed to control those who are principally “The Other” in American society.

Exposed to image after image of Asian Americans as nothing more than the Perpetual Foreigner and the Geek diminishes the self-esteem of boys and introduces an internalized racial self-hatred where one associates one’s racial identity with limited personal and social success. Particularly damaging, however, is how this diminished self-esteem actually discourages radical activism to change the root source of the problem; race and masculinity become linked. This internalized relationship is problematic because Asian American men rarely challenge the association between race and masculine self-worth. They advocate changing the stereotypes of Asian American men (a solution destined to failure as it still promotes dehumanization and objectification), rather than to advocate an elimination of race-based sexual stereotypes altogether.

As a community, we should not prioritize advocating for a hypersexualization of the Asian American male body, but for a humanization. To define us based on race is still to limit our evolution as people to pre-defined narratives externally applied to us based on our race. Stereotypes limit us because it stifles our own self-growth and opportunities, regardless of whether those stereotypes are “positive” or “negative”. As Jeff Yang said in the panel discussion,

…[C]oming from my own perspective, every time I hear people say Asian American men shouldn’t be portrayed as geeky-looking and having glasses and being nerdy and all this, and I’m like, “you guys are all protesting in front of my mirror”. It’s kind of unfair to hold us all to these standards, as incredible as it is to see people like yourself and Daniel Dae Kim and Aasif transcend the historical representation of what Asian American men are, there’s also a sense in which it leaves some of us behind. And I think the notion of manhood is changing. Continue reading

Denial and Delusion – Why Public Conversations About Race Fail Before They Begin

by Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson

I am done, done, done.

I intended to work on my follow up to Internalizing Stereotypes.

Key word: intended.

However, the sequel is not happening this week.

The sequel is not happening because my mind is cluttered with two articles that came to my attention in the last half of the week.

The first was a blog post on GameDaily Biz, a site and blog dedicated to the video game industry housed on Game Daily. I peruse GameDaily Biz every few days to find news and trends to discuss in the online gaming magazine Cerise. In addition to writing first person and opinion pieces about gaming, I also write their Gaming in the Media column. So, when I came across a “Your Turn” first person post on GameDaily Biz by Chris Mottes, CEO of Deadline Games, I was intrigued to see what he had to say.

Particularly because the post was titled, “That’s Racist! The Unjust Crusade Against Video Games.”

The article begins:

Members of the media often attack video games for being racist, sexist, mean-spirited, callous, unpleasant, insensitive, or just generally nasty. As a developer, I find most of these claims not only a touch insulting but also extremely tenuous, and in the majority of cases unfounded.

Fascinating. The majority of these cases are unfounded? As a black, female console gamer, I can definitively say that many of the video games I play (and enjoy) can be considered both sexist and racist. Sexism is rampant, particularly when you consider character design, costuming, and forced gender roles in play. Most female characters are designed for maximum sex appeal, relegated to damsel in distress roles, or physically limited and/or forced to contribute to the game in a limited capacity. Major female characters in RPGs tend to be healers or magic-users, normally devastated in battle by a few hits from a stronger male character. While there are a few standout exceptions – Samus from Metroid, Joanna Dark from Perfect Dark, and the oft-debated Lara Croft – most women in video games are side characters.

To illustrate the issue of racism, let’s play a little game. Off the top of your head, name 5 black video game characters. Now, exclude any characters that were not main characters. Now exclude any that appear in a sports game or hip-hop based game. Finally, exclude any characters that embody stereotypical representations of African Americans. (Yes, that means excluding CJ from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.) How many are left in your list?

Or, let’s look at Asian Americans in video games. Again, off the top of your head, name five Asian video game characters – you can use both side characters and main characters. (For this one, we will exclude RPGs from the discussion since character ethnicity a murky subject). Now exclude fighting games. How many are left on your list?

Name five Latino game characters. Can you? I cannot – I have a vague memory of heavy accents in certain video games, but I am not able to bring up one latino character that wasn’t in a historical game like Age of Empires (which technically means I remember playing the game as an Incan and as a Spaniard). For those who can, what stands out about these characters? Continue reading