The legacies of Orientalism and the exoticizing of women

[content note: Discussions of Orientalism, with mentions of racism,  sexualisation, rape, violence, slavery, genocide, and colonialism]

Orientalism is a way of thinking that gives rationalization for European/Western colonialism based on the oppressive history in which “the West” constructed “the East” as “exotic”, “backward”, less “enlightened”, and in need of imperialism to be rescued. Part of it involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, uncivilized — representing a widespread socialization of which Europeans/Westerners are seen as inherently superior in comparison.

A part of Orientalism includes exoticization against the “Orient”/”Other” (East), which also involves seeing women of color as needing to be liberated via hypersexualization. In history, Orientalism hugely affects religious women of color and seeks to suppress certain religious rights. For example, historic colonialist violence relies on Orientalism to unveil religious Muslim women of color. This is found in the example of when Lord Cromer, a British leader in Egypt, accused the Egyptians of degrading women through veiling. Thus he attempted to unveil Egyptian women, which can be said to be a form of hypersexualization; and he attempted to show himself as liberating the “Orient”, whilst using the opportunity to end the pre-existing Egyptian practice of training women to be doctors and furthering colonialist interest at the expense of women. However, due to the large legacies left behind by historic colonialism, Orientalism can encompass many things globally and is not exclusively a religious issue; thus it extends to structures of institutional racism that are still alive today, which also effect non-religious women of color.

Indigenous feminist Andrea Smith has said that the logic of Orientalism is considered the third pillar of white supremacy, and thus Orientalism has been used to defend the logics of slavery and genocide. An increasingly globalized, all encompassing Orientalism further strengthens widespread violence against women of color in this world.

Thus, relating back to exoticization, the socialization of the “exotic Other” not only gets passed down through certain explicit imperialistic agendas but also gets transmitted via worldwide entertainment industries like Disney.

Just one small example can be seen from this:

Disney's Jasmine. An example of the exotic and sexualised portrayal of WoC in western media.

Disney’s Jasmine. An example of the exotic and sexualised portrayal of WoC in western media.

“Often times, white people think they’re complimenting me by saying I look ‘exotic’. They don’t realize that the word ‘exotic’ itself is bloodstained with a history of colonial rape, or what it means for me, as a WOC, to be the exotic Other in a white supremacist world. Or white women will sigh with longing over Jasmine tropes and evince a desire to embody/consume the Other: darkening their hair, wearing black eyeliner, big earrings or saris. They like to play at being what they think I am, what they think Jasmine is. For them, Jasmine is a an exciting adventure, a garment they can put on and take off at will. For me, she’s real, she’s my everyday, she walks in my skin and looks through my eyes. The degradation and violence that she endures is done to me. The brilliant Emi Koyama once said “There’s no innocent way of being in this world”, meaning that no one, not even the most enlightened among us, can exist outside of history, outside of the legacies of colonial violence that shaped the world we inhabit.” — Tassja, The Jasmine Diaries Part II: ‘Exotic’ is Not a Compliment.

Why is this relevant to feminism? This is because Orientalism is very much tied with racism, xenophobia and violence against women, especially women of color. This particularly impact women of color as Orientalism involves an imperialistic mindset which normalizes historic colonialist violence against the “Orient”.  As Tassja quotes, “This is how the First World regards the lands and people of the Third World whose resources they have gleefully plundered and monopolized, and this is how women of color are symbolically, culturally and sociopolitically situated in white colonial hegemony. Thus the politics of land theft and resource usurpation, of cultural imperialism, systematic rape and dehumanization, intersect on our bodies and shape our sexual self-awareness.”  Today, similarly imperialistic mindsets still thrive. Such oppression tend to be tied in with today’s Othering and Western privilege, as Kamali says that the legacy of Orientalism demonstrates itself in governmental and communal policies for integration of immigrant groups in host societies. The assumption is that “they” are different and culturally the opposite of “us”. ‘Knowing is to subordinate’, therefore, “we” must understand “them” in order to be able to change them and make them adjusted to our society. “We” already know that “they” are different and strange, since they come from “the Orient”. When the element of exoticization is added to the Othering, it becomes an added form of fetishizing of conquest, of which women of color experience a threefold discrimination of patriarchal rape culture, cultural discrimination in the form of xenophobia, and white colonialist supremacy. Although this disproportionately affects of women of color, this also impacts women with white privilege. This is because Orientalism supports the idea that the European/Western cis male should remain the overseer of women’s issues over centuries, even if it requires imperialism and genocide.

For further reading and references, here are a few links:

Conceptualizing the “Other”, Institutionalized Discrimination, and Cultural Racism
What is Orientalism?
Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy.
The Jasmine Diaries Part 1: Colonial Legacies and Modern Dilemmas.
The Jasmine Diaries Part 2: ‘Exotic’ is not a compliment.
The Jasmine Diaries Part 3: Beyond the ‘Exotic.’

Advertisements

An open letter to American feminists on the death of Margaret Thatcher

So yesterday was a Big Thing for Brits on the Internet. And then this happened, a statement that needed saying:

A couple of HFC members have become dismayed at some American feminist pages’ lauding of Thatcher as a feminist icon. This is not the case. She described feminism as poison. But in lauding her they are often at pains to make clear that they ‘don’t agree with the politics but as a woman in power she deserves celebrating’. This is reducing her to her gender, and ignoring the harmful effect she had on women, on the LGBTQ community, and her supporting of racist, classist and genocidal regimes. One cannot laud someone’s office whilst ignoring the crimes they do whilst there, and to reduce anyone to their gender is being sexist.

For those not in the UK, it’s easy to see her as an abstract landmark event. For the people living in the UK we have her legacy, it isn’t historic. It’s going on NOW. It’s a pretty fucked up legacy, that is hurting women, people with disabilities, and is making the UK a more and more unequal society. This is not an abstract to us. We are living this.

When a couple of us took the page in question to task on these very issues, they ignored the testimony of a 33 year old woman who was raised in poverty in Thatcher’s Britain. But in a bizarre possible form of sexism reserved all their replies for the male member of HFC.

We find the idea of forced solidarity with Thatcher based upon her gender highly patronising, and would rather celebrate the women of Greenham Common, the miner’s wives and all other women who opposed Thatcher, not because of their gender, but because of what they stood for.

(SC + PIX + IZZI) [from our Facebook page]

When we as feminists call out Caitlin Moran for racism, when we call out transphobic radical feminists — we hope to make some points about how a feminism without intersectionality isn’t a feminism we want any part of, and why bigotry isn’t feminist.

When we call FEMEN out for racism, we hope to do the same. Izzi is a Muslim and a feminist; no one is asking her to stand in solidarity with FEMEN just because they are women.

One of these pages on FB has a massive focus on intersectionality normally; we were BEYOND pissed off. Pix is the member raised in poverty by a single mum and DV survivor. Pix’s mum used to go without food to feed her and her siblings. And Pix’s mum and women like her were vilified by the government of the time. (See study here)

Pix is 33 and joked, ‘I feel like aping the bad Vietnam movie trope of “YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN.”’

When you laud Thatcher as a feminist icon, you erase that experience. You uphold a racist, homophobic, classist woman who was probably one of the best examples of internalised misogyny to ever hit the halls of power in the UK, or as one of our members put it, ‘Holding Thatcher up as a feminist icon is like kicking intersectionality in the stomach.’

Thatcherism is alive and well in the UK today. We dare American feminists to say that she is a feminist icon to feminists with disabilities in the UK, when they fail to consider her legacy, in the demonization of the working class and people on benefits, disability hate crimes as result of Tory rhetoric, and the ATOS medical tests that have deemed people fit for work who later died, or committed suicide in 2012. We dare them to say that to women like Pix, and her mum, who lived in social housing whilst it was being sold off, and communities in these less affluent areas crumbled. (An excerpt from Owen Jones’s Chavs: The Demonisation Of The Working Class)

Another member found this today, from Tumblr. And it says what we were attempting to say so, so well.

My feminism doesn’t support women who go to immense lengths to cut services that directly help and benefit other women.

My feminism doesn’t support all women simply because they’re women.

My feminism doesn’t support women who use their power to plunder, steal and exacerbate class gaps.

My feminism doesn’t support warmongering and bigoted propaganda wielding.

My feminism doesn’t support anyone who upholds an apartheid state as the beacon of civilization while referring to resistance organizations as “terrorism”.

My feminism doesn’t support white supremacy, exploitation of the proletariat, imperialism and misogyny (wow, shocker, women can perpetuate misogyny!!!!) all of which thatcher was disgustingly guilty of.

My feminism doesn’t support women who reinforce the idea of a heteronormative nuclear family structure, while publicly referring to feminism as poison.

My feminism doesn’t support systematic oppression, full stop.

maarnayeri

So, American feminists, please THINK before you get all misty eyed about ‘The Iron Lady’. Please, don’t patronise British people in marginalised sections of our society. Please don’t erase our experiences, and don’t forget your intersectionality when it comes to Lady T.

With thanks,

Hampshire Feminist Collective

Further things you may want to read as to the political landscape of the 1980s in the UK: