What do you think when you hear the word Latin? Or Latina, to be more exact? Spicy? Or perhaps “loud,” “flamboyant” and “sexy”? Maybe the word just inspires images of women like Salma Hayek and J-Lo. Many of us are, sadly, very familiar with the image of what “Latinas” are supposed to look like. Just think of bombshell Gloria from Modern Family, hyper-sexual Gabrielle Solis from Desperate Housewives, or Michelle Rodríguez, the sexy tomboy, from Fast and Furious.
As a Latin American woman, these stereotypes have always bothered me, especially because, in some cases, the stereotypes surrounding “Latinas” are often perpetrated by some high-profile Latin Americans themselves who tend to abide by the sexualized stereotypes even outside their TV or movie characters.
Personally, I prefer the term Latin American to “Latina” which I see as a Western creation that conjures up these stereotypes.
Several things bother me about how Latin American women are portrayed in the media. It is not only that most of us look nothing like the women mentioned above, but also that I hate labels. I do not see myself as a bombshell, let alone as a hyper-sexual woman looking to please Western men. I do not see my self in the “Latina” image, which I see as a creation of the patriarchal Western imagination. Instead, I like to think of myself as a plain and simple Latin American woman… no one’s fantasy or stereotype.
This image of the hypersexual “available” woman can be parallel to the way Muslim women were represented in Orientalist depictions of the odalisque. Nowadays, of course, this has changed. While both Muslim women and Latin American women are seen as coming from communities with close family ties, cultural religiousness, and with an attachment to the traditional gender roles of women as mothers and wives, their images are very different.
Today, a common depiction is that of the niqabi, all covered in black, who represents a mystique that is not present in the Latina imagery. Apparently, Latinas have a lot to show and are happy to do so. They leave nothing to the imagination as opposed to Muslim women that “make” Western men work for it.
MMW has discussed, in several instances, the continuous attempts to portray Muslim women as mysterious figures underneath black robes and sheer face veils. One example that comes to mind is woodturtle’s piece on Sebastian Farmborough’s work depicting niqabis emerging from the water. I cannot help but thinking that if his work showed Latin women, they would be wearing skimpy bikinis and showing a lot of skin. Apparently it is either one or the other…either we show everything or we cover everything up!
Now, keeping that in mind, what happens when Latin women (sexy, voluptuous Latin women) become the new face of Islam?
By Guest Contributors Nicole Soojung Callahan and Shiuan Butler
About two months ago, my husband came home from a haircut and said, “Did you know that Hair Cuttery has a line of ‘Asian-inspired’ hair products by Cibu? They have something called ‘Geishalicious Shampoo.’” I went to Cibu International’s website to check out the rest of their products, and could hardly believe the awfulness of the names: Miso Knotty Detangler. Mousse Lee Volumizer. Spring Roll Hydrating Cleanser. Ancient Veil Oil Mist. Hi-Ya! Keratin Reconstructive Conditioner. Dry Kwon Do Dry Shampoo. Wok This Way Sculpting Sauce. Take Out Clarifying Shampoo (with a picture of a take-out box on the bottle). It was as if a bunch of people had all gotten in a room and brainstormed as many Asian stereotypes as they could, and then named beauty products after all of them.
(Pictured above: Cibu International’s (l-r) Wok This Way Styling Sauce, Sashini Thermal Shine Solution, Miso Knotty Detangler, Ancient Veil Oil Mist, and Ancient Serum Argan Oil Treatment. Provided by Nicole Soojung Callahan.)
Cibu is part of Ratner Companies, which also owns nearly 800 Hair Cuttery, Bubbles, Salon Cielo, Salon Plaza, and Colorworks salons in 19 states. Cibu’s product names are all based on reducing Asian cultures to a handful of food and martial-arts references, tasteless puns, and fetishizing Asian stereotypes. As if the names aren’t bad enough, Cibu’s Facebook page also includes a picture of a staff member dressed in an “Asian costume,” fans laughing at “me love you long time” jokes, and a horrible cartoon ad featuring a naked geisha on her knees, hands behind her back, with the ad copy “Seduced by Geishalicious.”
(Pictured above: deleted images from Cibu International’s Facebook page. Provided by Nicole Soojung Callahan.)
After participating in a comment thread on Cibu’s Facebook page in which many women of color, as well as white women, chimed in to express their concerns about Cibu’s offensive names, I began communicating with Cibu’s brand manager. Our discussions were cordial—though she called me a “radical”—she voiced some openness to changing the Geishalicious name at some point in the future, when existing stock had been sufficiently depleted. But there was no openness to changing other names. In the meantime, Cibu had deleted several critical comments from their Facebook page, including my friend Shiuan Butler’s. The brand manager told me it was because she did not want “[her] brand hijacked by negativity.”
At this point Shiuan suggested that I start a Change.org petition to encourage Cibu to change all of their names, not just Geishalicious. I didn’t think Cibu would listen, but I did think they should know we weren’t alone in finding their names offensive. With some advice from Shelby Knox at Change.org, we settled on the petition wording and uploaded it on January 28. Miss Representation, Katha Pollitt, Shelby Knox, Disgrasian, Angry Asian Man, Lela Lee, and many others signed and shared the petition. By February 6, the petition had garnered over 1,100 signatures—well beyond our wildest hopes.
On February 7, I received an email statement from Diane Daly, Director of Public and Community Relations at Ratner Companies, which she asked me to share with the petition signers: “Over the last several weeks, we have heard from numerous people expressing their objection to the names of some of our Cibu International hair styling products. Many have said they find some of the names to be offensive and racially insensitive, especially to Asians… [W]e deeply regret and apologize for any offense that we may have caused, both to our clients and to those who are concerned about the inappropriate depiction of peoples and cultures… Therefore, we have decided to embark on a process of transitioning out of the current product names and reintroducing them with new names.”
While we are glad for Cibu’s willingness to change, we know that this change would never have come about without public pressure. Just the day before Cibu’s announcement about the name changes, the company was still “liking” derailing statements made by some of their Facebook fans, such as, “I think racism takes on many forms. I also think that playing the race card as a knee-jerk reaction is dangerous and offensive.” Even after Cibu and Ratner Companies committed to renaming their products, several of their more enthusiastic fans just couldn’t let go—you can read their grumblings about “ultra-political-correctness” and how “some people need a life” in Cibu’s February 7 Facebook announcement about the change.
Yet, however reluctant Cibu may be in making these changes, Ratner Companies still took a positive and important step in promising to transition to new product names after hearing from over 1,100 people from all over the world. Many others recognized this and commended Cibu for their decision. One stylist wrote that she was thrilled with the change:
[A]s a stylist who is Asian in ethnicity the Asian theme is tacky and offensive. It makes me uncomfortable to tell people the name of the Cibu products I use on their hair. I can not express how happy I am to hear you break out of the glamorizing and fetishizing of the Asian culture as a whole. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.
We hope that Cibu and Ratner Companies will seek out, listen to, and involve a diverse group of employees, consultants, and consumers as they choose their new names—and that Asians and Asian Americans are a part of that group, especially if Cibu plans to pursue another “Asian-inspired” theme for their products. In the meantime, we want to thank everyone who signed the petition or wrote to encourage Cibu to reconsider its offensive branding—this change would never have happened if so many people hadn’t taken a stand against racism and harmful stereotypes in marketing. Many of us will be watching with great interest to see how Cibu proceeds with its rebranding.
While this was not the first petition I have created (my previous one protested an article stereotyping Asian women’s vaginas by 8asians) this was a wonderful learning experience, and best of all I got to meet fellow activist Asian sister, Nicole! (Thank you to T.F. Charlton for connecting us!)
I first became motivated to act when Cibu deleted my comments on their Facebook fan page immediately after posting. I had already thought of creating a petition. But with that one act, I was truly inspired.
In one of Nicole’s emails to me, she wrote that she felt as though she had “zero power over these people or their company.” I quickly disagreed: I explained that I had previously created a petition and that petitions can be powerful statements and a catalyst in changing a company’s policy by leveraging the power of individuals. It’s a perfect strategy in this day and age of viral, social-media activism.
Nicole—even as a busy mom and student—quickly created the petition, which T.F. Charlton, Shelby Knox, and I all briefly edited before it was posted. Before we knew it, our petition had exploded to several hundred signatures within days! I agree with Nicole that Ratner Companies’ recently released statement is absolutely a direct consequence of all those who signed and shared our petition.
The statement from Cibu makes us feel hopeful. However, we won’t be content until we see that they have truly replaced all of Cibu’s horribly racist product names. We certainly hope that they hire diversity consultants in their new rebranding process.
You can sign the petition here if you haven’t already. If you’ve already signed, thank you! Feel free to share widely.
ETA: As of this post, Ratner has still not changed the Cibu product names — and hasn’t given a timeline for when they will. Please reblog this far and wide—and please sign the petition, if you haven’t done so—to let the company know this isn’t OK!
Shiuan Butler is a writer and relationship coach. She speaks and leads workshops empowering women’s relationships and sex lives. Find out more at www.shiuanbutler.com.
Nicole Soojung Callahan is a mother, Korean adoptee, writer, grad student, and publications director at a nonprofit. The story of her reunion with her sister was published in Somebody’s Child: Stories About Adoption (TouchWood Editions, 2011). Email her at nikki @ jhu.edu.
[T]here’s a very clear utilization of offensiveness in pornography, to some the idea of a pornographic film that doesn’t intentionally offend the viewers taste is useless. As a society we’ve fetishized the very idea of being offensive for offensiveness sake. A movie like Slant Eye For the White Guy might not actually ever refer to the Asian women as slurs durring the scene, but the taboo attached to “yellow fever” itself is part of the fetish being served to consumers. If any of the parties involved were trying to insult their audience like many porn films aim to do that would be entirely different that defending yellow face as completely innocent.
There were no such Asian Americans in the Walking Dead parody. The people who had the power decided to go with yellowface and are continuing to defend it. Interestingly, according to actor Danny Wylde in his apology, the role of Glenn was the last to be cast and not being familiar with the show he wasn’t even aware that he would be playing an Asian- American. After seeing himself in make up , he raise questions about racism. The reaction was mostly laughter.
Wylde was cast because he was already an considered an acceptable performer. Every person involved has mentioned that the casting was inevitable because the ONE Asian man in porn either wasn’t available, wasn’t Korean, or just wasn’t considered. Pistol and Warren weakly argue that people would have been just as upset if Keni Styles would be cast–something I highly doubt as the British Thai actor is somewhat of a Asian American folk hero and favorite among female viewers. He’s also one of the first award winning performers in the United States, but far from the first or the only Asian male doing straight porn. No one mentions actors from websites such as Asian-Man.com , Shelovesasiancock.com or PhuckFuMasters.com, the latter having 3 Asian, and Asian American male performers. Even more telling , no one mentioned the idea of finding a Korean American actor for the role.
Pistol smugly tells an Asian American actress vocally opposed to his film that if she could bring him a “a hung Korean American that can act” he would be open to using him in the sequel. If there was any actual interest in finding Asian talent, why didn’t he do that in the first place. It’s a low blow to tell a underrepresented and often looked over group that the reason they’re invisible is no one is bringing them to the light, but then shutting off that light when they actually have a chance present themselves.
Warren, Pistol and Wylde all write that there are plenty of stereotypical portrayals of Asians in American porn, they are absolutely correct. There are stereotypical and negative portrayals of every group, but what is uniquely lacking for Asian Americans is options. Black and Latinos can find content created with the intent to be consumed by Blacks and Latinos without racist overtones. Lesbians that are sick of seeing female sexuality performed for hetersexual male fantasy can check out Girlfriends Films. Buck Angel created Sexing the Transman for the often ignored female to male transgendered population to feel celebrated. If Asian Americans, want to see non-objectified Asian American sexuality performed by Asian American men and women together, where are the choices? If Asian American men want to see a reflection of themselves perform on screen where can they turn?
We often find ourselves outraged when we see members of the white community diminish our women, and rightfully so. When Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) attacked the First Lady’s work to promote healthy eating by saying “She lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself,” who among us wouldn’t be mad? How did he mistake her curvy body for being unhealthy? And why are we talking about her body at all? There is a long history of such disrespect, but there is also a history of the black community marginalizing and stereotyping our women as well. This isn’t to let the white community off the hook, but is to say we can’t let ourselves off the hook either. And Iconic comes out at a time when there has been much debate over the images of black women perpetuated throughout the black community.
While Iconic underscores the great affects the music and film industry has on images of black women, it leaves out one important industry: social media, where snide remarks can be elevated to public discourse. This summer, much attention was paid to the criticism of Gabby Douglas, whose pulled back hair was criticized by many black women on Twitter for not being properly done. Blog commenters also criticized Solange Knowles’ natural look for being “unkempt” and giving natural hair a bad name. Social media enables us to share our opinions in very public ways, making it possible for criticism and comments to be consumed and felt by those we’re discussing. Luckily, these two women let the comments roll off their shoulders. Just as Iconic highlights the power of styling black women’s hair, Douglas’ and Knowles’ ‘dos signify the practical hairstyling of an Olympian and the carefree spirit of an individual.
While these debates reveal the need for us to do better by black women, they also highlight the fact that in every instance, black women are the ones stepping up and expressing frustration that we’re still talking about these things–that the concept of the video girl is alive and well, that the angry black woman and mammy are go-to characters, and that our hair seems like it will always be a topic of conversation. Johnson concludes Iconic showing how the black women she features are able to combat negative stereotypes and pursue their goals, saying “their knowledge of these stereotypes helps them develop counterimages that support truths about themselves.” While we need to do better as a community, it’s not going to change overnight, but Iconic reminds us that black women have always risen above it all and will continue to rise.
Did any of y’all catch the Hardball show, after Obama’s speech, last night?
Chris Matthews covered the ‘Latino’ vote and had on his show America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson.
At some point, he turned to both of them, after each described how they got into voters’ rights initiatives and said,
‘Is EVERYONE in the Latino community as beautiful as you two?’
Yes. That is what Chris Matthews said, on national TV, to two Latina actresses, when discussing elections.
In case you missed it, Victoria’s Secret recently launched a new lingerie collection. Entitled “Go East,” it’s the kind of overt racism masked behind claims of inspired fashion and exploring sexual fantasy that makes my skin crawl.
From the website: “Your ticket to an exotic adventure: a sexy mesh teddy with flirty cutouts and Eastern-inspired florals. Sexy little fantasies, there’s one for every sexy you.” The collection varies in its level of exoticism. The “Sexy Little Geisha” is a perversion of its reference, featuring a sultry white model donned in lingerie, chopsticks in her hair, fan in her hand. Other items in the collection include red sleepwear and nightgowns with cherry blossoms. I might have glossed over some of these pieces entirely–except the catalog descriptions had me reeling. “Indulge in touches of Eastern delight.” Translation: “Buying these clothes can help you experience the Exotic East and all the sexual fantasies that come along with it, without all the messy racial politics!”
When someone creates a collection like this, making inauthentic references to “Eastern culture” (whatever that means) with hints of red or a fan accessory or floral designs, it reinforces a narrative that says that all Asian cultures–and their women–are exotic, far away but easy to access. It’s a narrative that says the culture can be completely stripped of its realness in order to fulfill our fantasies of a safe and non-threatening, mysterious East.
But when a company takes it one step further by developing a story about how the clothes can offer a sort of escape using explicit sexualized and exploitive language, it takes the whole thing to another level. It’s a troubling attempt to sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a culture and opt instead for racialized fetishizing against Asian women.
Since I’ve been responding to the harassment, some men listen to what I have to say & even apologize for their behavior. Others become even more obnoxious & vulgar, it depends on the individual. Unfortunately, most of the harassment came from Black men no matter what borough or neighborhood I was in. I also observed in my newly gentrified neighborhood that the white women were not receiving the same sort of harassment from Black men. No one was calling them a bitch or threatening to steal their phones because of not responding to a “hey baby!” It was more like, “Excuse me miss may I walk with you? Would you mind if I got your number?”
Stop the presses, what is going on here?! Are race & color stereotypes influencing how I am harassed too?! I asked around and found that other Black women in the community noticed that the white women did not have to endure the same type of street harassment as they did. And a few light-skinned Black women, depending on just how fair they were, seemed to experience “street harassment lite” as well or none at all. I think this last observation is definitely influenced by the colorism that plagues and divides the Black community. Which means light-skinned Black women are treated with more grace if you will, because historically they have been labeled as more desirable, attractive and delicate than dark-skinned Black women.
The simple act of walking down the street as a Black woman and/or a LGBTQ person in America takes guts, takes, courage, takes heart. My goddess it takes heart & Knowing the truth of who you really are. Even though the “strong Black woman” stereotype creates the idea that Black women lack the vulnerability necessary to be affected by such things. That we can take any abuse in stride, from degrading street harassment to rape & other forms of sexual abuse, because we are that strong. Or that LGBTQ persons somehow deserve to be harassed because folks have warped ideas of our lifestyle, categorizing us as immoral. Thank goodness I have taken the time to measure myself right. I understand that we have been taught to feel shame around our bodies, our sexuality, taught not to speak out when sexually abused or sexually assaulted because nothing would be done. I have taken into account the hills & valleys Black women & LGBTQ people in this country have been through, thanks to the magnificent propaganda campaign against our very image. Although I acknowledge that we live in a world of isms: racism, sexism, colorism, classism, along with homophobia & transphobia that make it that much more difficult to measure us right, its imperative that we do.
Much-needed criticisms of The Help and the characters of Aibileen and Minny have come from sources like the Association of Black Women Historians, which, in its own open letter, challenged various aspects of the book and film, including misrepresentations of elements of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism. But there is something else floating in the ether: the idea that the role of a maid is simply too ignoble for a 21st-century black actress. That idea is merely respectability politics at work.
Respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems “respectable.” The approach emerged in reaction to white racism that labeled blackness as “other”—degenerate and substandard—with roots in an assimilationist narrative that prevailed in the late-19th-century United States. Black activists and allies believed that acceptance and respect for African-Americans would come by showing the majority culture “we are just like you.”
Black women in particular had their own set of stereotypes to battle, as they had long been labeled by white society as lascivious Jezebels, animalistic beasts of burden, and disreputable antiwomen. According to Dr. Sarah Jackson, a race and media studies scholar at Boston’s Northeastern University, to counter these stereotypes newly freed African-American women were forced to adhere to the sexist strictures of the Cult of True Womanhood, which positioned white women as inherently chaste, pious, childlike, submissive, and (as Sojourner Truth famously said in her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech) in need of being “helped over mud puddles.” In other words: respectable.
And here emerges one fallacy of respectability politics: An oppressed community can implicitly endorse deeply flawed values, including many that form the foundation of their own oppression. The idea that domestic work is shameful is a product of class bias that disdains the working class, and of gender bias that devalues “women’s work.” And while Truth spoke longingly about the delicate way white women were treated, that treatment was deeply sexist.
On the other hand, respectability has been important for marginalized people throughout history. Black women’s clubs that formed in the early 20th century, spearheaded by women like Ida B. Wells, uplifted the black community and “proved” the respectability of African-American women by replicating similar organizations led by white women. Black civil rights activists showed up at marches and protests in their Sunday best—despite discomfort, and sometimes only to be spat on or sprayed by fire hoses. Those jackets and ties, heels and hats, sent a message: Your stereotypes are untrue; we deserve equality; we, too, are respectable. Jackson notes, “Assimilation was an effective way to join the national conversation at a time when there was a great disparity in not just the visibility of black Americans, but in the opportunity and legal protections afforded them.”
Negative views of blackness have surely not disappeared in the 21st century. And the black community still uses respectability politics as a form of resistance. But perhaps now more than ever—when there are so many different ways to be black and to be a woman—respectability politics have the potential to harm as much as uplift. As often happens, black women carry a double burden, as they are asked to uphold a respectability built on both racist and sexist foundations. And the burden isn’t just about professional decisions—say, which roles an actress should choose—but personal ones as well.