It is difficult to imagine living in a foreign world where you are basically forced to act a certain way, both sexually and emotionally, based on your occupation and stereotype. This is exactly what Filipina maids in Lebanon must do. These live-in maids face double standards, narrow stereotypes, and racial hierarchies that mold many of their personalities and sexualities in ways that appease Lebanese society. Hayeon Lee addresses this unique phenomenon in her article, “The Public and Hidden Sexualities of Filipina Women in Lebanon.”
The article begins by describing the extremely limited freedom that the Lebanese homeowners give to the Filipino maids. In fact, many Lebanese treat the maids similarly to the way they would treat their daughters, often referring to the maids as naive binits, or girls with virgin characteristics. At the same time, the Filipino women are also expected to be sexually promiscuous. This double standard represents Lebanese society’s expected, yet unreasonable image of Filipino house workers. The expectation of a sexually promiscuous Filipino woman is partly a result of racial hierarchy and stereotypes. Lena, a Lebanese woman, claims that “the Sri Lankans… they’re really idiots. The best are the Filipinas” (Lee 532). In short, the Filipinos are largely considered more presentable, hardworking, and beautiful than maids from other countries. Despite the fact that many Filipinos have husbands back in the Philippines, some of them also have boyfriends in Lebanon as a mode of sexual currency or appeasement for loneliness. On the flip side, some Filipino women avoid sex altogether as a way to fight against the stereotypes created for them. Overall however, Filipino house workers in Lebanon are heavily influenced by Lebanese stereotypes of sexuality.
Hayeon Lee does not provide her own opinions in the piece, but instead analyses the experiences and expectations of most Filipino housemaids. This represents a strength of the article because it provides an unbiased analysis of this transnational phenomenon. The incorporation of personal opinions and quotes also greatly strengthens the article because it portrays realistic personal mentalities. The article does not have a major limitation because Lee fully exposes the situation of most Filipino house workers in Lebanon through personal experience and the opinions of others. Lee concludes that “Among Filipina women, there is both acceptance and ambivalence towards their sexual conduct. Some resent them for perpetuating the bad reputation that Filipina women have acquired in Lebanon” (Lee 537). Bad reputation or not, it seems that practicing a particular sexual personality is a job requirement for many Filipino maids in Lebanon.
The concept of a double standard that is expected of Filipino women relates to the unreasonable expectations that many females in college experience. In Kathleen A. Bogle’s “Hooking Up”, this sexual double standard is addressed in chapter 6: Men, Women, and the Sexual Double Standard. Bogle explains that there are “prejudices against women who are seen as being too active in the hookup scene” (Bogle 104). Similarly, Filipino women are stigmatized and punished by their bosses if they go out and are too sexually active, yet male homeowners often consider it acceptable to sexually assault their maids. Filipino women are also expected to be sexually promiscuous and reveal virgin characteristics at the same time. This impossible double expectation that society places on these women is something that I personally see in modern college society. College women are supposed to limit the amount of times they have sex to avoid being considered a slut; however, many males also expect girls to eventually give in to his sexual plans (even if she plays hard to get in the beginning). A disconnect between the two situations is that the Filipino women often act in a certain sexual way for the sake of their occupation and to support themselves or their families. This form of sexual currency does not influence college women.
The concepts of racial hierarchies and sexual stereotypes also connect to Travis Kong’s article “Sexualizing Asian Male Bodies.” Similarly to how Lee describes the racial hierarchies between Filipino maids and maids from other countries, Kong describes a sexual hierarchy where Black and White men are stereotyped as more sexually appealing than Asian men. The stereotype is that Asian men are asexual and Filipino maids are hypersexual. Clearly these racial sexual hierarchies are quite different based on gender, but the idea is the same. Racial hierarchies and sexual stereotypes play a role in both US and Lebanese societies.
Personally, I have seen many of these same trends and stereotypes in our society. A few of my peers had maids and house-cleaning employees similar to the ones in Lebanon. Although my peers’ control over the housemaids did not compare to the Lebanese homeowners’, I realized that many of them saw their housemaids as inferior. Some of them would yell out disrespectful commands and talk negatively about the women behind their backs. This connects to the Lebanese mentality that owners have full control over the lives of the housemaids. With this control comes a sense of superiority that I have learned about from this article and from personal experience. I have also witnessed the racial stereotype that many Asian women are hypersexual. Pornography and the media have influenced the dominance of racial sexual stereotypes; the hypersexual Asian woman and the sexual superiority of light-skinned women among many others. I can see that these exact same racial stereotypes play a major sexual and occupational role in Lebanon. Clearly, these trends and stereotypes can cross national boundaries.
Do you think that these sexual and racial stereotypes are harmful to these Filipino women? Could they be helpful because they provide a form of sexual currency? Do you think succumbing to these stereotypes is worth it for financial support? Have you seen these Lebanese mentalities play out in the US? If so, how have you experienced these mentalities?