In the sex industry, the bodies of women and girls are turned into commodities whose purpose is the pleasure and gratification of the men. The value of these human sexual commodities is determined by what these men are willing to pay. Understanding this, pimps ‘work their girls along racial lines’, peddling racial stereotypes in order to make them more saleable to sex buyers.
For example, in Amsterdam’s red light district, most prostituted women are from Romania and West Africa, with many rings of girls “trafficked into Holland from China and Eastern Europe to fill the exotic-submissive market niche.”1Humanity in Action (05.2014) The Exotic Other in Prostitution: Ethnic Fault-lines in Amsterdam’s Sex Industry As writer and political campaigner Julie Bindel observes, white Dutch women are such a rarity that sex sellers actively promote the fact with Dutch flag stickers in the windows for advertising.
Sex buyers are often quite open about their racial preferences: “For these men, selecting a woman of color is all about fulfilling a fantasy. These fantasies, however, are grounded in stereotypes shared throughout the industry – that Afro-Caribbean women are more sexually adventurous, Chinese and Eastern European women are more submissive, and Latina women more sensuous.”2Humanity in Action (05.2014) The Exotic Other in Prostitution: Ethnic Fault-lines in Amsterdam’s Sex Industry
A Humanity in Action article on the ethic fault-lines in Amsterdam’s sex industry outlines how, knowing sex buyers’ expectations, the women as well as the pimps ‘obligingly play out these conventional roles’, not least because in such a competitive space, it’s the easiest way to turn a profit. Of course, as a result, ‘clients and workers both become complicit in furthering the industry’s ethnic profiling.’3Humanity in Action (05.2014) The Exotic Other in Prostitution: Ethnic Fault-lines in Amsterdam’s Sex Industry
Many of these ethnic profiles are found in mainstream pornography, which perpetuates them not out of any ideological respect for people’s kinks and fetishes, but rather by the recognition that they are popular – and therefore lucrative. The (mostly white) porn industry is unashamed about profiting from overt and hostile racist content: this is white supremacist racial exploitation for the 21st century.
Roots of Racism
Objectification effectively reduces people’s complex humanity to a crude, one-dimensional stereotype. This is dangerous, because it paves the way for their inhumane treatment.
We rarely give much thought to where the stereotypical constructs of race come from but, when we do, we should be ready to confront the possibility that they’re rooted in white, Western efforts to gain some kind of power, control or advantage over other racial groups:
Black women: In Europe and the US, black women were historically viewed as community property. A black woman’s body was there for others’ power, pleasure and profit. As slaves in the 1800s, they were reduced to nothing more than “breeders”, and were frequently raped by slave owners. What’s more, “Black women were / are blamed for the sexual violence committed against them because of stereotypical beliefs that they invited this behavior.”4Ferris State University The Jezebel Stereotype
“The idea that black women are sexually deviant is nothing new; that they’re more hypersexualised, that they perform sexual acts that women from other ethnic groups would never dream of doing, is deeply rooted in nation’s history. Pornography profits from these images and stereotypes, but it didn’t create them.”Dr. Gail Dines
Black men: The notion that black men are aggressive, hypersexual and violent stems from the 19th and much of the early 20th century in the US, where intimacy between black men and white women was characterised as rape, even when the interest or relationship was consensual.
Asian women: The characterisation of Asian women as meek and subservient stems from the time when, during the Second World War, Japanese women were forced to work in brothels as “comfort women.” In the Vietnam War, the U.S. military set up “rest and recreation” centres in Thailand, confirming the country’s “lasting pre-eminence as a ‘sex tourist’ destination where relatively wealthy white men come in their thousands to buy sexual access to poor Asian women, feeding off their poverty, disadvantages and suffering.”5Nordic Model Now (01.04.2019) Women of colour against the sex trade
“Asian women are packaged as products for men, raw materials for multi-billion-dollar profits: china dolls, geishas, Japanese schoolgirls, and willing, subservient girlfriends. Their small stature and “childlike” features are fetishised in porn and brothels everywhere.”Nordic Model Now6Nordic Model Now (01.04.2019) Women of colour against the sex trade
Asian men: The characterisation of Asian men as emasculated has its roots in the 19th century United States, where Chinese immigrants were welcomed as cheap labour. Known as “coolies”, these men were, “subject to a series of targeted laws that systematically stripped them of rights that signified manhood, such as property ownership, job opportunities and the ability to marry freely.”7The Hollywood Reporter R.Sun (13.01.2017)The Disturbing History Behind Steve Harvey’s “Asian Men” Jokes
Latina women: The bombastic, seductive, hot-blooded, quick-tempered, and passionate Latina stereotype evolved during the mid-20th century as part of a US foreign policy drive to improve relations with Latin America in the war against Communism. To cement their status as allies, the American government committed to helping boost local tourism and filmmaking. Central to this, they supported the construction of the stereotype of the exotic Latina bombshell to make Latin Americans seem fun and friendly to foreigners.
“This exoticism and fetishizing of Latina women’s bodies transforms them into mere objects. They become less human and more like prizes to be won and showcased.”Katherine Garcia in Everyday Feminism8Everyday Feminism, K.Garcia (07.12.2015) Where the ‘Spicy Latina’ Stereotype Came From – And Why It’s Still Racist Today
Racist sex stereotypes are not only an inherent part of the mainstream commercial sex trade: they also drive sex tourism. A significant proportion of sex tourists are white heterosexual men from the United States, Canada, Australia and Western Europe who “travel in order to secure cheap, easy, and safe sexual access to ‘Oriental,’ Asian, Black [and / ] or Latino[/a] women, men and / or children’ as sociologist Julie O’Connell Davidson observes.9J. O’Connell Davidson, Sex Tourism in Cuba, 38 RACE & CLASS 39,43-45 (1996). Cited in T.Hernandez(2000) Sexual Harassment and Racial Disparity: The Mutual Construction of Gender and Race, Fordham Law School FLASH: The Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History
Sociologist Julia O’Connell-Davis believes the term ‘sex tourist’ should apply not only to men visiting ‘formal’ prostitution (e.g. Asian brothels or ‘go-go bars’) but also those hoping for a holiday romance with a ‘friendly’ local woman.10J. O’Connell Davidson, Sex Tourism in Cuba, 38 RACE & CLASS 39,43-45 (1996). Cited in T.Hernandez(2000) Sexual Harassment and Racial Disparity: The Mutual Construction of Gender and Race, Fordham Law School FLASH: The Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History Ultimately, all forms of sex tourism amount to men using their economic power and status as capitalist foreigners to attain sexual command over the bodies of ‘native’ women.
It’s no accident that sex tourist destinations tend to be located away from Europe and in countries where people of colour predominate; indeed it makes sense when we consider how, “histories of militaristic imperialism and European colonialism have positioned women of colour as natural-born sex workers.”11(2001) K. Kempadoo Women of Color and the Global Sex Trade: Transnational Feminist PerspectivesMeridians Feminism Race Transnationalism 1(2):28-51 DOI:10.1215/15366936-1.2.28
O’Connell Davis believes that ‘sex tourists are conscious of the racial specificity of their activity’. She cites an internet article written for sex tourists which exemplifies this point. Entitled “Why No White Women?” it writes: “Q. Is it because white women demand more (in terms of performance) from their men during Sex? and white men cannot deliver? A: In my case, it’s just that my dick is not long enough to reach them up on the pedestal they like to stand on.”12J. O’Connell Davidson & J. Sanchez Taylor, Fantasy Islands: Exploring the Demand for Sex Tourism, in SUN, SEX AND GOLD: TOURISM AND SEX WORK IN THE CARIBBEAN Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, cited in T.Hernandez (2000) Sexual Harassment and Racial Disparity: The Mutual Construction of Gender and Race, Fordham Law School FLASH: The Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History