Racial Hierarchies among Global and Transnational Sexualities

I googled “Racial Hierarchy” and this is the image provided…

Global and transnational sexualities have led to discussions of culture and sexual expression. The sexual identities of immigrant women in their new country do not necessarily align with their identities in their native countries. The readings and documentaries explore the sexualities of Mexican immigrants to America as well as Filipina immigrants to Lebanon as domestic workers. Some behaviors and ideologies are consistent across these cultures, suggesting predisposed patterns in society. It becomes clear that racial hierarchies confine immigrant women to a status of diminished personhood in which their sexual agency is not given the same regard as those who identify as the dominant race in the diaspora culture.

Relocating to a new country entails more than just physically moving from one place to another. The ideals and practices in various social aspects can differ greatly between countries. The PBS documentary exposes the unjust treatment of these female field workers. The women who were Mexican immigrants to the United States came to realize that their sexuality was seen as a commodity in the work environment and the expression, or in their cases protection, of their sexuality was not as “free” as they had anticipated. They thought that coming to America meant that they had equal rights to everyone else, which is what should be the case. However, what they actually experienced was much different. The main example of this came from the reports of rape from female field workers in central California. For these women, their sexuality was treated as a commodity. Essentially, they were able to retain employment in exchange for their sexuality. This idea that sexuality is treated as something with economic value relates to the term “capital feminino” that Gloria González-López used in her research of virginity. In her studies, González-López discovered a doctor that had been conducting hymen repair surgery on women in her town in Mexico (NSS 539). Through a number of interviews she began to understand that virginity was a characteristic that men desired in women that they would potentially marry (NSS 540). Thus, women were afraid that as non-virgins they would not find an accepting husband, and therefore would not have socioeconomic stability in their future (NSS 540). In the case of the immigrant field workers, their jobs, or their means of financial stability, were jeopardized by their willingness to comply with the sexual demands of their supervisors. Sexual encounters dominated their work environment, turning it into a dangerous place. This was obviously not a consensual process; the female field workers were assaulted by their male supervisors and violently threatened until they had no choice but to give into the male’s demands. They were in a difficult position because if they were to report the incidents they would lose their jobs and possibly be deported because most of them did not have legal citizenship. The company owners wouldn’t respond to sexual assault complaints from their workers; they didn’t consider these acts to be violations to the rights of the female workers. The owners of these produce fields were, as shown in the documentary, white males. They did not help their workers but instead sided with the supervisors in these cases. The rights and freedoms of sexuality for these Mexican women are not acknowledged; in fact the white men running the companies dismiss them as nonexistent. Whether or not they are legal citizens, they are still humans with basic human rights. As a society, we should be working to protect those rights for everyone because we are all entitled to them. Would the owners respond differently to a white woman who came to them claiming their male workers had sexually assaulted her?

Racial hierarchies also play a role in the lives of Filipina immigrants who work domestically in Lebanon. In an interview in “The public and hidden sexualities of Filipina women in Lebanon,” Hayeon Lee discovered that Lebanese employers valued Filipina workers over Sri Lankans or Ethiopians, for example (NSS 532). Some of the “madams,” or employers, that he interviewed had real experience with workers of different races, making their judgments of who they preferred based on that experience (NSS 532). However, the majority of the Lebanese employers that were asked to describe domestic workers relayed racial stereotyping and ideas of racial hierarchy in their interviews (NSS 532). It was even said that because they were “whiter” the Filipina women were more beautiful than the domestic workers of other races, indicating that fairer skin pigmentation granted the Filipina women in a higher position in society than colored people. How is it that skin color is still such a factor in determining social hierarchy? It seems like the world we live in is continuously progressing and becoming more conscious of equality, yet under all of this still lays racial hierarchy.

As described by Hayeon Lee in the article, these female domestic workers are seen in two ways, as girls or as whores. Their “madams,” or employers, find it necessary to guard their Filipina workers from the outer world in order to keep them from being corrupted (NSS 533). The Filipinas in Lebanon that have deviated from their domestic work seem to express their sexualities in extreme ways, shown in their acquirement of multiple boyfriends, their sexual dress, and explicit behaviors. In the Philippines, these women are not allowed as much freedom as they have in Lebanon. This goes to show that there is a shift in their sexualities when they are exposed to the culture of a new nation. For some, taking part in this behavior is their way of embracing and expressing their sexuality. The Filipina women find that this lifestyle comes easily because they are seen as desirable women, according to the racial hierarchy described by the Lebanese society (NSS 534). Others, however, have the perspective that they need to have a man to take care of them in that society, to provide them with food, housing and clothing (NSS 535). An intimate, sexual relationship is exchanged for “financial security,” repeating the idea that sexuality, or a person as a sexual being, is often seen as an economic commodity.

The readings and documentaries exposed the racial hierarchies and sexual ideologies in America, Mexico, and Lebanon. It is interesting to note how cultures express sexuality and how variations in expression affect immigrants coming from different countries. It also became evident in the studies that the idea of sexuality as a commodity remained consistent across the cultures. The Mexican women working in the fields in America did not experience the freedom they had anticipated when they came to this country, the domestic workers in Lebanon were ranked based on the color of their skin, and in many circumstances women were relying on men to provide them with economic stability. What is this saying about our society? It seems that no matter how far we progress, there are still issues that remain unchanging. How can we as a society change this? Or do these issues have roots to deep that they are impossible to confront?




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