Friday, August 22, 2008

Hottentot, Jezebel, Hootchie Kootch, the list goes on...

Since the earliest encounters between Europeans and indigenous populations, history can show us that women of 'colour' have been portrayed as being lascivious, seductive, alluring, tempting and over-sexualized. During early colonial times when European travellers to Africa came across scantily clad women for the first time, the semi-nudity was of course interpreted through a pakeha lense as being lewd and sexually overt, a misinterpretation that would go on to influence the lives of 'coloured' women throughout history.

A particular historical atrocity that can be considered as being paramount to this stereotype is the case of Saarjite Baartman. Baartman, a young Khosian woman from Southern Africa who became known as the 'Hottentot Venus', was brought to Europe from Cape Town in 1810 by an English ship's surgeon who wished to PUBLICLY EXHIBIT the woman's steatopygia, her enlarged buttocks. Her physique, particularly her steatopygic appendage, became the object of popular fascination when Baartman was exhibited naked in a cage at Piccadilly, England.

The spectacle of Baartman's body, however, continued even after her death at the age of twenty-six. Pseudo-scientists interested in investigating primitive sexuality DISSECTED AND CAST HER GENITALS IN WAX. Anatomist Georges Curvier presented Baartman's dissected labia before the Academie Royale de Medecine, in order to allow them to see the nature of the labia. Curvier and his contemporaries concluded that Baartman's oversized primitive genitalia was physical proof of the African women's PRIMITIVE SEXUAL APPETITE. Baartman's genitalia continued to be exhibited at La Musée de l'Homme, the institution to which Curvier belonged, long after her death.

...And I would argue that this type of stereotyping still thrives in our current social contexts. It may be more invisible, it may be disguised behind Arts degrees and pseudo-liberalism, but it's still there. And not only does it exist, it is also a stereotype that is reinforced and played out by 'coloured' women themselves. I AM ONE OF THOSE. AND I DO IT COZ ITS EASY.

What interests me in all this, is the historical projection of the white male's desire onto these women, and a reciprocated desire by these women to be validated by these men via a sexualization of their identites. I will leave you with a couple of slamming and extremely controversial quotes belonging to an old school philosopher - Frantz Fanon - who wrote about this projection in early colonial times. It's a fairly dated observation, but brave as fuck and deeply resonating:

"Paridoxically, the racial gaze produces a twisted recognition. The White racist, who subjugated, enslaved and colonized African peoples, transfers domination into sexual fantasy. He desires AND fears the Black, who is perceived as the source of virility. White civilizations sublimation of libidinous drives, primarily sexual, finds an outlet in the production of the Black as sexual Other - deviant, oversexed, and sensuous. The Black male is synonymous with the penis, to be set alongside the 'Hottentot Venus' with an enlarged clitoris and buttocks. The gaze is simultaneously haunted by hate, fear, anxiety and sexual desire of the Black body. The racist gaze thus suffers from double consciousness, the consciousness of superiority and the consciousness of inadequacy, incompleteness, and incompleteness that is manifest in the visual desire of the Other, the Black Other."

"The racial economy of the colonial city, which has been experienced since childhood, becomes flesh in the woman of colour's subjective certainty. She wants to live in a mansion on the hill, dominating the city, and that can be made real by magically turning White. For the Black, there is no way out of the social structure except through the White world."


Hayley J. said...

hey cat, well written blog, it opened up some emotional worms for me which is dope.
whats your views on mass media when it comes to imposing paradigms of beauty onto 'us' and i say 'us' in terms of black/brown/bruthas and sistas...
would like to have you write on that sometime, would love to hear you articulate your thoughts on that...
(basically you are real brainy so i wanna know what you think)
for example...
the 'white-washing' of Beyonce? this story blew up on the internet only a few weeks ago, NYTimes etc etc, check this...

peace x

coco said...


I think cuzzy simply describes the hardcore ancestry of a creepy problem that now manifests itself in many ways. Its embedded into our media and worse... social mindset. All of us.

To me, the Beyonce thing is a mere symptomatic example bordering on a "non-issue norm" because women getting all bleached and trimmed to look white (or hollywood exotic), small and horny is just 'the way of the world' and aint nothing new. Cue sad but relieved faces who love Beyonce in all her shades, fucked and non-fucked with lol.

The origins of the prob (like Venus Hottentot) are rooted in weird oppressive sexual anxiety. So today, so much sexually anxious and manipulative energy is put into advertising to pimp inadequacy as a weapon.

THEREFORE sexual anxiety is all consumers are gonna get out of it, no matter who they are.

Shout outs for owning up to using the gothic stereotype to your ONE benefit too girl lol thats haaaard out. We all know that bullshit mulatto allure has two sides (ba-doom-crash). I reckon wahine like us should feel proud of the confusion and anxiety we inspire (um cos it aint our fault) but word people up when its all getting a bit too romanticised.

Damn... I just realised my booty-bass records didn't appear on my shelf themselves!


kinakoJam said...
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kinakoJam said...

that last paragraph by fanon is intense.

this reminds me of Orientalism, and Edward Said's shiz, about the 'west's attitude to the 'east' (Arabia, Asia etc). According to Said the west saw asian women as exotic sexual objects who needed to be saved. Asian men were shifty , other, and dangerous.

fear of a black, brown and yellow planet...

nothing wrong or cliched about sexuality as long as the person, um, rooting for it, has other stuff that they are standing up for and believe in, and they are not doing it to 'fit in' to a stereotype in mainstream media.... maybe it's being a little bit punk rock, tom-boyish or (gasp) intelligent.
that's the difference between rihanna or jessica simpson and LiL Kim and Peaches.

all these women like camille paglia and naomi wolf were a bit crackers but i think it's true that women shouldn't have to feel like there's a duality between whore & virgin.......... and women shouldn't be apologetic for their sexuality..... ya know as long as they don't, in paglia's words, spend their lives bobbing their boobs in the faces of men....

Cat Gwynne said...

Wow! Kiaora to the homegirls Hayley J, Coco, and Kinako Jam for the awesome discussions. I need to go and marinade on your ideas and write another blog...Youz have got me thinking.... x o x

Lisa Loves Life said...

Great comments ladies. I hear ya, Kinakojam, the "yellow fever" has been around a while...western men have long viewed eastern women as submissive and sexualised. Thailand's economy runs on this type of bullshit.

As for the whitewashing of Beyonce...didn't Whitney Houston do the same thing to sell records? A concerning and similar phenomenon is sweeping through Asia...Asian women in the droves are using skin whitening products to bleach their skins. Partly cos tanned people are viewed as "peasants" (I was quite often called a peasant as I travelled thru Asia, which I took as a compliment, thank you very much!), and in no small part influenced guessed it...the white person's standard of beauty thru mass bombardment of marketing and media.

There's a theme here, and it's the aame old shiz that runs thru every situation of inequality and oppression in the world...the "shifty, other, and dangerous" that Kinako describes is not, in fact, the Asian man, but the white men on top.

Sex is the new tool of female empowerment? Perhaps - but in all too many instances, it actually means that a women's worth continues to be determined by how she looks, and it means that the selling of women's bodies is still the norm. Ros Gill, an academic at the London School of Economics, has named this the "super-sexualise me" culture.

And who's conning women into thinking that this is empowering? Who's doing the marketing and the media? Rich, white men. It's the same ol tune, ladies. Keep those that threaten the rich, white men on an unequal footing...and that includes women, even though we are now the majority!

Hayley J. said...

oh wow, word to that!
you opened my eyes, i'd never thought of it like that before... being told that sex is the new tool of female empowerment, but is it really? who says? is that all we got?
wicked lisa, this is why i love this blog, because i'm looking at something so differently!, i use to think that lil kim and foxy brown were like idols of mine, feminists, powerful... then i was blown away by NYOil's track (which is on the mentaldetox) and it blew my mind cause it was almost like i was conditioned to believe they were 'powerful', when perhaps they are just as flawed as their male rapping counterparts, black women playing minstrel for The Man...
it's the system we're against here, The Man... i just wanna say that cause i know alotta white dudes read this and may dismiss this as white men hating but, i don't hate you, don't dismiss what you've read... i want you 'with' us in this and loving us for who we are... tapu/noa styles...
but yo, that's yet ANOTHER blog eh hahaha
thanks for blowing my mind ladies... you are all really incredible and i can't wait to read more blogs from you all.

EZ x

Lisa Loves Life said...

thanks for bringing the "white man" point up, hayley!!! when i say rich, white men, that's what i mean - anyone who's not part of the world's powerful elite are not with them, they're against them, other white men included.

sorry if there's been any be honest, my own mister, who happens to be a white man, said e felt marginalised after he read my last blog about racism against asians in nz. i don't mean to marginalise the average white kiwi!!! like hayley says, we're talking about The Man. i always try to be vigilant and be specific about exactly what "white folks" i'm talking about, so i hope i haven't generalised and offended anyone.

def room for another blog!

coco said...

Hmmmmmm the 'is Lil Kim a feminist or contributing to the problem' debate is a touchy one with me and has seen me excluded from heaps of so-called 'feminist punk' zines because I believe on an abstract level femcees like her play their part (and at times inspired me into action).

My opinion that feminism and liberation lye in the hands of said 'man' and he at times is infact our target audience has lost me friends too. Some institutional things are to be fought against... but some are to be introduced as an appealing prospect for all - otherwise we are preaching to the converted. Unfortunately sometimes donning a sneaky sub-textual disguise is the only way to sneak a revolutionary idea through. Its a gothic balancing act for many female artists and 'minorities'.

Minorities. LOL-age.

We can take our deadly female focus group of 'diversity' onto another whole planet of pain - which is the obligations and role that plagues the female artist, fuuuuuck. Maybe people can watch on freaked out for THAT upcoming post too HAHAHAHA. Po marie girls

kinakoJam said...
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kinakoJam said...

Here's an excerpt from about ideals of beauty in the Heian period in Japan:

Heian aristocrats made a cult out of beauty. Of course, what a Heian aristocrat might consider beautiful, someone in different cultural circumstances might consider ugly. In terms of personal appearance, for example, Heian aristocrats regarded white teeth as ugly, particularly for women. "They look just like peeled caterpillars" wrote one critic of a woman who refused to blacken her teeth. To blacken their teeth Heian women applied a sticky black dye to their teeth so that their mouths resembled a dark, toothless oval when open. This particular custom of blackening the teeth (haguro) persisted until the 1870s among certain elite groups of Japanese women.

There were many other aspects of a beautiful personal appearance. Both men and women prized a rounded, plump figure. The face in particular would ideally have been round and puffy. Small eyes were ideal for both sexes, as was powdery white skin. Aristocrats with dark complexions, both men and women, frequently had to apply makeup to appear more pale. Even most capital military officers, many of whom were civilian aristocrats with no military training at all, would not have dared appear in public on formal occasions without makeup.

The majority of Japanese at the time must have appeared quite the opposite of the aristocrats. Peasants and laborers engaged in demanding physical work out of doors. Food was often scarce. These conditions tended to produce lean physiques and dark skin. It seems that in nearly all human societies, beauty and wealth go hand-in-hand. In the Heian period, the plump, pale courtier was obviously someone of privilege, wealth, and leisure. Such a person had the time and resources to attend to her or his appearance.

kinakoJam said...

i had to delete my post because it was waaaay too long

i need an anti-rant button!

anyway it was bla bla beth from the gossip bla bla sexuality ain't a sin bla bla incremental changes,


Flowsion said...

Kia Ora...

Frist I’d like to say massive respect due to Kat for the great post. Secondly to all the comments and dialouge about this topic - mind blowing.

I’d just like to add to this by giving my POV. Reading all of this has deff made an impact on me personally and I think it can come down to how social ideals of sexuality have in some ways shaped me. I got to thinking about my white ancestors who came to the Hokianga and married into the local iwi - did they love the wahine they had dozens of kids with? Was it for land? Was it for survival and social status? Maybe all of the above...

I agree totally with Coco about the advertising world is capitalizing on sexual anxieties. This works both ways too. I remember watching Porn as a kid with my tutu cousins and that experience has in many ways moulded me as to what sexuality is to me – and of course isnt.

Take the porn category for guys who like to watch their wives get fucked by a black dude. It’s just another stereotyping of the black men. The BBD (Big Black Dick) anxieties that white males have in porn world have long been doccumented and contorted to oversexualize the "other”... But hey, whatever blows your hair back I guess??

I cant front like Im a saint though and to quote Redhead Kingpin from the song 321PUMP "I love all the ladies and my word is my bond" but over the years growing up I have been subjected to all kinds of ideas about who I sould be attracted too etc... (Blond bimbos with big tits blah blah.) In regards to the dusky maidens/exotic others I wish I could say that my attraction is based purely on interlectual stimulation and common interests - but sometimes its not. Sometimes it can be shallow.

I think it’s a power thing for men really, and that contest of power can be used by some women to attain a certain status, or other personal goals.

As a Maori male in THIS country it can be heartbreaking to see young beautiful Polynesian girls have identity probs when all around they are slammed with what should be the status quo. Even Queen B herself I feel is a victim of stereohype - Beautiful Buxum Poly maiden, altheltic and graceful on the dancefloor yet at the Olympics she was demonized for being upset at not wining gold - heaven forbid!

I guess Im just happy to be able to discuss this issue open mindedly and honestly as I can – thanks again to all the contributors.

Mauri Ora

Cat Gwynne said...

Fuck you're cool Warren

Flowsion said...

well, I do try LOL! But you're only as funky as your last cut, so I better put a up a post instead of jumping on yours haha