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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Today in Racist Sexism

As Renee of Womanist Musings often points out, Black women in our society are in the double, (triple, I can't even figure out how many) bind of being constantly sexualized while also having the standard of beauty be explicitly based in Whiteness. They are accused of looking ugly and "masculine," but are assumed to be available at all times for sex (which feeds into rape culture). They are stereotyped as angry, but also expected to be "Mammy" figures who care for all around them.

This comes out in particularly horrifying ways when Black women athletes are reported on in the media. Caster Semenya comes to mind for me, and so does Venus Williams, and it is the treatment of Venus Williams in the linked article that I want to look at.

The title of this banal (but still incredibly offensive) "article" is "Venus Williams wears a racy dress..." and the actual website address calls her dress "see-through." Which is to say, that she designed (I've read elsewhere that she designs all her tenis outfits, correct me if I'm wrong) a dress where she has black lace overlaying brown cloth where the brown of the cloth shows through. The brown of the cloth is matched exceedingly well to her skin tone (given how off "skin tone" things usually are, regardless of the pigmentation of the wearer, I feel this is no small feat, just think of those ice skating outfits where the "skin tone" bits are just an entirely different color, even with White skaters). So of course, the first major error of this short (5 sentence) article is in the website address, and it is that the dress is "see-through". It is no more "see through" than my pants I am wearing right now.
(I also remember that a while ago, a similarly ridiculous article was written about another outfit that she wore where she again matched her skin tone and the cloth color in order to not show her underwear (I believe). Again they described this as "shocking" or "scandalous.")

Another error of the article is referring to the outfit as a "can-can" outfit, given that it does not share the key requirement of can-can outfits in that it doesn't have a long flouncy skirt (with frills underneath) for the high kicking necessary to rate her activity as the can-can.

The next bit of offensiveness is in the first sentence, where they state that Venus Williams could "find work" at the Moulin Rouge. They then clarify that they mean the historical Moulin Rouge in the third sentence when they reference her "auditioning for a spot at a 19th century cabaret."
For context, the wikipedia article on the Moulin Rouge euphemistically refers to the original dancers at the Moulin Rouge as "courtesans." Of course, it also describes them as the originators of the striptease, and states that the can-can as developed by the courtesans was "an attempt to seduce potential clients" (ummm, what type of clients could they possibly be referencing?) and that in the course of the dance, the revealing of genitals sometimes happened (because that happens all the time at the ballet!). To really hit home what the Moulin Rouge was (and what the dancers were considered to be), even though the article doesn't *explicitly* state that it was a whore-house, it nevertheless refers to when the Moulin Rouge suddenly became a "legitimate nightclub" and that it had a "reputation as a 'high-class brothel'" (which would hardly be necessary to state if it was truly a nightclub in the beginning). So let's just acknowledge it for what it was at the time: a strip club where the workers probably often had sex with the clients.

So, back to the article (sorry for the digression), they are explicitly referring to the historical Moulin Rouge and saying that she could "find some work" there. So they are saying that a strong Black woman athlete is equivalent to a prostitute (or at "best" a stripper).

I want to state for the record that I do not view sex work as an immoral thing/profession. I do not believe that individuals who engage in non-coercive sex work (so, leaving out pimps for instance) are immoral for doing so. However, in our society it is extremely stigmatized to be a sex worker of any stripe, and the most stigmatized group are prostitutes.

And this article compared Venus Williams to a sex worker/prostitute in an effort to shame her.


That is all in: Today in Racist Sexism.

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