Racial Hierarchies in Transnational Sexualities

Women who identify as members of a diaspora culture in lieu of a member of the host nation are subjects of discriminatory treatment based on race. Racial hierarchies and hierarchies surrounding the idea of virginity are constructed to control these women through their sexualities. In a few cases, immigrating has provided these women a heightened state of sexual subjectivity and freedom. For the majority, however, moving to a new area (especially for labor purposes) makes these women subject to sexual harassment and violence. Some diaspora bodies, particularly Filipina and Latina women, are historically viewed as more desirable than others, which in turn causes them to be more regulated than bodies of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Filipina live-in maids are viewed in a different sexual lens than their Ethiopian and Sri Lankan counterparts in Lebanon. According to Cynthia, a Lebanese madame interviewed by Hayeon Lee, “There are people who prefer a white girl… and the children aren’t afraid of them.” By “white girl,” Cynthia is referring to a Filipina woman. By equating the Filipina ethnicity to “whiteness”, these bodies are thrust upon a pedestal and are therefore more desired than many other races of women in Lebanon. In Lee’s article, a Lebanese employer known as Muhammad confirms this by saying, “In Lebanon, they say they [Filipinas] are [sexually] easy.”

The idea that Filipina women are “easy” allows the Lebanese madames and employers enforce strict rules to ensure that these bodies are controlled, thus minimizing the sexual subjectivity of these women. Lee’s article talks about how the majority of Filipina live-in maids are refused the right to go out on their days off. Madames and employers claim that this is for the safety and protection of the maid, and by extension, the entire household. They assert that they know about the tendencies of Lebanese men, and fear that, if they let their Filipina live-in maids go out on their own, they will eventually return pregnant or with an STI. This assumption is not only unfair to the Filipina employees, but it promotes stereotypes that these women are hypersexualized beings that would only desire leaving their home for the thrill of sexual promiscuity.

Hispanic women in the United States also face extremely increased risks of sexual assault. The documentary “Rape in the Fields” explains that their superiors are sexually assaulting an unprecedented number of female migrant workers. These women feel as though they are unable to report their rapes for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is due to their fear of deportation. A majority of these women are undocumented workers. If they make their presence known to American authorities, they run the risk of being sent away. A far more immediate reason almost all of these women stay silent about their rapes is that their rapists threaten to kill them if they report. Their assaulters most likely know about their illegal status and can surmise that they are likely alone in the country, and use that power to their advantage.

What is so troubling about the “Rape in the Fields” documentary is that, in my opinion, sever human rights violations are being committed, yet justice is almost never served do to the low status of these women in the United States. As members of a diaspora culture, Hispanic women have no support system to turn to in the all too likely event of sexual assault. The fact that these women are scared into silence is creating a completely counterproductive culture and further alienating them as second-class people in this country.

Ethnicity and racial hierarchy play an important role in determining the sexual subjectivity of women identifying with a diaspora culture. Because Filipina women are viewed as the “white” alternative to some other ethnic communities within Lebanon, they are often characterized both as the “best” type of live-in maid, yet also the most sexually promiscuous (and thus, a liability). The label of a liability allows Lebanese employers to enforce harsh restrictions on the activities of their Filipina maids, which in turn lessens the prospects of mobility within their communities. In a similar manner, the sexual subjectivity of Hispanic women, especially agricultural migrant workers, is almost non existent. The American legal system’s complete oversight of sexual assault among Hispanic women as created an extremely hostile work environment where their bodies are only viewed for pleasure.

What can the American legal system do, if anything to protect the rights of Hispanic women? How can Filipina women in Lebanon be seen as equal in the eyes of the patriarchal country?

One thought on “Racial Hierarchies in Transnational Sexualities

  1. This blog post was very eye-opening. It is interesting that celebrities always get so much attention for everything they do—but then again they are constantly in the public eye. In a way, I think it’s good that the world sees the negative responses people have towards the awful things famous people do (such as rape, murder etc…). This sets a bar for society. Yet criminals and sexual offenders who are not famous should most definitely receive the same amount of hatred and punishment as celebrities do.


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