Local Area(s): Arizona, Montana, Planet Earth The World, Washington
| September 16, 2006 at 22:39:59 |
by Bill Wetzel
"She maybe is Puerto Rican or the same thing as Cuban. I mean they are all very hot. They have, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that, together, makes it." - Arnold Schwarzenegger
With those comments, Arnold has joined a growing list of Republican lawmakers who have recently made racially insensitive, if not downright racist comments. However, unlike George "Macaca" Allen and Conrad "Little Guatemalan Man" Burns, Schwarzenegger's comments have another disparaging tinge to them. One that is made even worse when you look at his own personal history.
You see, anybody can make a stupid comment. In fact, anybody can do a stupid thing or two. We all have. And, in today's media frenzied climate, a public figure is in constant danger of stepping on his tongue for almost any comment on any subject, however innocuous their intentions may be. It happens.
Although, the problem with Arnold is that he has one consistent running theme in his background. He has problems in dealing with women. His past is littered with unwelcome advances and misogynistic quotes. He has famously devalued women as a way of attacking men, because in his world associating femininity with masculinity (girly-men) is a horrible affliction.
Unfortunately, hardly anybody ever notices or cares about these issues.
Witness the reaction to his comments, which were made about a Republican female legislator, Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, who has condoned them. They almost exclusively were related to the RACIAL aspects of his comments and not the sexual objectification of women.
This makes me wonder if the problem is not so much Arnold Schwarzenegger as it is the position of women in society as whole. Because guys like Arnold would not have gotten a free pass for so long if we were not a society of like-minded enthusiasts and woeful enablers.
For one thing, men are practically raised as chauvinists. It is not only okay, it is ideal for us to sexual objectify women. From before we are even at a sexual age, we are bombarded with advertisements, pornography and entertainment, all with sexual overtones. Of course, sex is not only thrown at us, it is also somewhat taboo. Sex is portrayed as both pleasurable and dirty, so, by proxy, women are shed in this light as well. It dehumanizes women, and downplays their emotions. Women become little more than sperm receptacles, although at some point in time they are needed to cook, clean and bear children.
They live their lives as servants, in some way, shape or form, for men.
Our language is also filled with female denigration. In music, on television, in film and in our daily lives. Observe how terms associated with women are utilized to disparage men. Remember the "Girly-men" comment referenced earlier? Well, that type of negative confluence is commonplace in our vernacular. How many times have you heard a man/boy denigrate another by calling them a "pussy" or a "bitch?" How often is all of this considered a joke? Dismissed as one?
As a Blackfeet Indian, I habitually study literature, history, film and pop culture from a certain perspective. Most accounts of American Indians, and other minorities, are viewed through a Eurocentric prism, meaning that the history and portrayals of people of skin color are recorded through the eyes of Europeans and European descendents. Women face a similar situation, in that their history and societal roles are perpetuated by a white male power structure. Furthermore, women are raised and educated within this hostile power structure. They have to see the gendering of discourse in all aspects of their lives.
Women live in a world where femininity is weak. Masculinity is strong. Where being sexist is laughed off as a joke. Where Senators can make stupid comments on race and get excoriated, but a known misogynist can make a sexist comment which is virtually invisible to the world.
Is the race aspect of what Schwarzenegger said important? Yes, it is. Partly because he is dumb enough to look at race from that point of view, the notion of racial characteristics, explicitly inherent in the "blood" of someone of skin color. But, it's more important to understand the sexuality of minority women. There is a white male fetish for the
"dirtiness" of a minority woman. They are dehumanized. Willing and unrapeable. Female promiscuity and skin color are conflated in the eyes of men. Hood rats. Ghetto booty. Border Banger. It all means minority women are lascivious, sexual creatures.
Amerigo Vespucci used to write about the New World, in order to encourage adventurous men to come and colonize this far off and foreign place. He portrayed indigenous women as uncontrollably lustful. Naked and animal-like. These women would defile and prostitute themselves at the opportunity to copulate with Christians. He specifically noted that while they were immodest and libidinous, they were still clean and beautiful. This is a typical male fantasy. The sexy, dirty, yet somehow clean and beautiful brown woman.
Do not think men are all that much different nowadays.
Unless we recognize this and quit ignoring the problem five hundred years from now we will still be in the same place.
Bill Wetzel is a Blackfeet Indian and a coauthor of the short story collection The Acorn Gathering: Writer's Uniting Against Cancer. He has written for the Arizona Daily Wildcat and Red Ink Magazine. His latest essay about Blackfeet Indian author James Welch will be in the Studies In American Indian Literature series.