In the article “The Public and Hidden Sexualities Of Filipina Women in Lebanon, Hayeon Lee examines how migrant women’s, specifically Filipina women’s, sexuality is socially regulated in Lebanon. The article explains that since 1975, migrant women have replaced Lebanese and other Arab women as the primary demographic for the domestic labor force. Filipina women have their sexuality regulated in Lebanon because they usually fulfill the role of live-in maid, so their employers are concerned with their sexual morality since they live in the house.
The article begins by recounting how an agent at a recruitment company for domestic workers describes Filipina women’s social status. They are often referred to as a “binit,” a term that carries a particular sexual connotation in the highly patriarchal society of Lebanon. A “binit” is expected to be sexually pure, and also subject to strict supervision because the prospect of losing their purity could be a liability to the social standing of the house they work for. Their sexual desires are viewed as unnatural because the expectation is that their sole purpose for being Lebanon is to work. The recruitment agencies that bring migrant women to Lebanon often encourage families who employ them to impose very strict limitations on their freedom. They are often not allowed days off outside of the house because of a paranoia that they might get pregnant or diseased. They are stereotyped as sexually naïve, prone to temptation, and hence highly in need of close supervision.
Next the article discusses the role of racial hierarchies in Lebanon’s live-in maid market. While many negative stereotypes are attached to Filipina women, there is a clear sense that they are superior to Sri Lankan or Ethiopian women, who are viewed as inferior both in terms of respectability and also professionalism. Since the article deals with how sexuality plays out between maids and the family they work for in the house, this section also discusses how race affects in house sexuality. Filipina women are “whiter” than Sri Lankans or Ethiopians and hence viewed as prettier. Some families seek them out for that exact reason, although the men and women of the house might have different goals in mind. Men often hope that the maid will be sexually available to them, whereas the women believe that employing a more attractive maid carries more social prestige.
Interestingly, all the negative stereotypes about Filipina women actually contribute to their sexual expression. The workers who are allowed days off often cultivate glamorous, sensuous images for themselves, because the view of Filipina women as promiscuous creates a space for them to do so. They enjoy being able to sexualize themselves on their days off because they feel as though they are reclaiming something that is taken from the on the other days of the week. Hence the suppression of the their sexuality and the expression of their sexuality actually exist somewhat symbiotically.
The article describes how more than half of Filipina migrant female workers in Lebanon seems to have boyfriends, even if they are married back home. Despite the intense sexual regulation of their bodies, Lebanon acts as space where they feel removed from the sexual mores of their home country. They can be sexually expressive, date boyfriends, and sometimes even multiple boyfriends in a manner that wouldn’t have been tolerated in the Philippines. The only stipulation is that they not overtly bring sexuality into the house where they work.
The idea of symbiosis between sexual suppression and expression is definitely a theme for this class. We saw it in the article “Sexualizing Male Bodies” to some extent. I also see it in pretty much every Nicki Minaj music video ever. It’s an interesting concept for sure, how people sexualize themselves in response to stereotypes society circulates about their sexuality. Seems like you could teach an entire class just on that one topic. Can you think of some examples of a symbiosis between stereotypes and sexual expression?
It reminds of the Diplo song “Express Yourself”
Plenty of sexual stereotyping about the people in the video, plenty of sexual expression. It’s interesting how both for the video and for the Filipina women the article describes, sexual expression works as an act of empowerment for marginalized people. Do you think the video ultimately has an empowering message? I always have such a hard time trusting feel-good anthems that invoke self-empowerment narratives.
Anyway, to me, that’s a reality deep in the heart of the sexual politics that play out at Vanderbilt. Overt, flashy sexual expression is associated with low-class marginalized groups, so many people take care to sexualize themselves in more subtle roundabout ways. It’s a really a tricky balancing act. People obviously want to sexualize themselves, but overly deliberate self-sexualization is faux-paus for the class image people want to portray, so it’s one more difficult negotiation to add to the stack! What a time to be in college. Can you think of times when you’ve seen someone squeezed between these two imperatives – trying to sexualize themselves but trying not to appear as though they tried to sexualize themselves?