When moms migrate overseas …

Anonymous student post

As women’s rights in developed nations are slowly inching towards equality, it is practically a necessity for women to contribute to the household income in order to sustain a desirable level of living. Many women strive to pursue high paying careers, leaving them unable to tend to the task of raising their children. Thus, an increasing number of households hire women from third world countries to take care of their children. This has resulted in the Philippines becoming the world’s number one source of outsourced caretakers.

This is a great opportunity for Filipino women to financially support their family. Taking care of
someone else’s child full time requires the women to leave their countries, thus leaving a child without a parent. This has lead the government and the media to vilify these women. They claim that the absence of a parent makes these children a burden to society.

The lack of a parent in early childhood can lead to behavioral issues and have long term effects that
carry into adulthood and can affect the individuals’ self-esteem, feelings of self-worth, and ability to
express feelings; thus also affecting relationships. As a child encounters new experiences, learns, and
grows, there is no doubt that the presence of a parent and proper parenting is detrimental to the proper upbringing of a child. It increases the chances of his ability to fully integrate into society.

One has to wonder how one quantifies the appropriate amount of parenting? How does the lack of a parental figure affect the child, and is the parent actually missing from the child’s life? Does the sacrifice of not being able to touch and feel your child justify the financial gain, stabilizing the families financial situation? This varies from family to family, as it depends on the child’s perceived feeling of abandonment, which depends on the mother’s involvement in the child’s daily life even though they are separated by thousands of miles. The communication between parent and child helps strengthen the emotional bond, thus lessening the perceived loss. The quality of the relationships with the rest of the family also significantly affect the child’s ability to cope with the lack of a parent, as they could help the child understand the sacrifices that had to be made. Also, the fathers coping with the loss of a partner would affect their ability to function as a parent, leaving the child even more confused, with a lot more to process, and without the needed attention and explanations. A child could be completely unaffected if the void would be filled with the necessary support. Thus, the attitude and involvement of the family’s relatives is of great importance and greatly affect the child’s ability to cope with the family’s circumstances.

The Care Crisis and Role of Gender in the Philippines

Anonymous student post

I once saw this website that catered to parents looking for child minders. What fascinated me the most was the fact that most of them specifically asked for a Filipina. After seeing this, I did not know whether we Filipinos were seen as very good carers, or whether hiring Filipinas as opposed to non-Filipinos was cheaper.

I know my mother was one before and like the people interviewed by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, my mother left me while I was still young to work abroad. Reading the extract from Parreñas’s book, I can relate to everyone’s experiences; however, I mostly identified myself with Ellen who despite the lack of a motherly figure in her life turned out to be fine. It wasn’t easy for our family, but I never felt any sense of abandonment from my mother. Of course, as Parreñas mentions, not everyone is an Ellen and I do agree with that. I’ve met countless of people like me who were also left to the care of others by their parents at a young age to work abroad, and like Jeek in Parreñas’s book, they experienced emotional insecurity.

The lack of a mother figure in the family is seen as the cause of emotional insecurity because mothers are seen as the one who is in charge of child rearing. What I found intriguing the most in Parreñas’ work was how the Philippine government blames these migrant mothers for this “crisis of care” and even called for their return home.

I recently read an article by WEF about how the Philippines are 9th in the world in gender equality. Growing up in the Philippines, I can say that compared to other countries like Japan we definitely are more gender-equal. Women fare better in education and literacy, it’s also quite common to for women to hold top positions in the workplace and they also hold political positions.

On the other hand, we’re not fully gender-equal.Women are still being blamed for rape and infidelity.There still exist this idea of women having the traditional domestic role. Child rearing is still seen as a mother’s responsibility and not both parents’. Even if both parents are working, the mother is expected to take care of the children.

Relating this to what Parreñas wrote, the Philippine government pointing fingers at migrant mothers reflects how the Philippines still has this gender ideology that a “woman’s rightful place is in the home”. Instead of casting the blame to these women who are not only helping their families but also the economy, shouldn’t the government do their part first?

In the first place, these mothers only left either because there were no jobs available for them or their wages weren’t enough to sustain the family. These are issues that should be answered by the government and not caused by being a “bad mother”. Instead of asking migrant mothers to return, the government should give support to the children who were left behind.They could give support in their education or even providing some means of communication for transnational families. Maybe in that way we can eradicate the idea of stay-at-home mothers is the model of a good mother.

As I mentioned before, there is gender equality in the Philippines but there still a lot of work that needs to be done to be a fully gender equal country.

Equality and Fairness: How Can We Get There?

Sexual equality symbol Català: Símbol de la ig...

Sexual equality symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Ludvig Bergman

In the endeavour towards income equality, there are many different paths available to reach the final goal, which in this case and in my opinion is an effort-based distribution of the money in the society, where those who work hard and are tasked with relatively difficult work are rewarded with a bigger piece that those who don’t.

To avoid the case of the unequal American society, where the top 1% of the population has almost all the money, and move towards something similar to Swedish society, with the top 20% having a larger amount of money than the other 80% but the distribution between the “steps” are much more even. There is the way of reducing the income for the top paid percentages of the population and raise it for the lower percentages, and just like Sweden maintain high taxes that can be redistributed among the population and used to improve the welfare system. 

The danger with a society like this is the fact that, which is mentioned by Kenworthy in the article “Is Equality Feasible?”, if you are deprived of the financial gain of your efforts and skill development, there will not be any motivation left to contribute to the society by getting a decent education and working hard. People might prefer to go through the mandatory school years just to live off the governmental subsidies, which in Sweden in my opinion are way too high.

A society with people without motivation to achieve anything will quickly detoriate. Isn’t a society where the hardworking highly educated people are providing for the “lazy” through high taxes who are beingdistributed by the government in fact an unfair or even unequal society? People are no longer being rewarded with what they deserve, the hard working are getting less and the “lazy” are getting more, which draws me towards the conclusion of this no longer being the equal society I earlier considered.

For this to be considered equal and per definition fair there can not be any freeloaders allowed. Considering economic equality and fairness of gender, in “Gender equality: why women are still held back,” Abigail Player discusses how women in our contemporary time have never had as many opportunities to lead and change the economical and political landscape. Women earn a distinguishably lower salary than men and Player claims that women in the UK earn as much as 140,000 pounds less than men during their lifetimes.

In Sweden we have a political party pushing the issue of gender inequality forward. My opinion of the matter is that if left alone the market and the inequalities in it will by themselves be evened. I believe that by forcing change upon the society by, for example, implementing quotas regarding gender in the work place is something that will hinder the most competent people from being chosen just because a quota has to be met. In the long run hindering the economic growth of companies and in the big picture the whole country.

References

Player, Abigail. “Gender Equality: Why women are still held back.” The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2013/dec/06/gender-equality-women-stereotypes-stop-progress

Kenworthy, Lane. 2007. “Is Equality Feasible?” Contexts 6(3):28-32.

“Racial” Discrimination in China: A Brief Overview through the Experiences of Chinese Han People

by Xu Yuan

“Race” as an English word has totally different meaning in China, another Chinese word “民族” [1](National Minority) is usually used to describe different ethnic groups instead. 91% of Chinese population is of the Han race, which is the the only non-minority in this country.

“Racial” discrimination in China should be more accurate as “ethnic discrimination” or “geographic discrimination” [2]. “Geographic discrimination” based on geographic differences and cultural gaps, because of national minority’s regional distribution of residence, most minority ethnic groups live separately from other different ethnic groups and have their own ethnic autonomous regions in China, as shown in the graph. Also, the Registered Residence policy makes ethnic identification and their privileges obviously and invidiously [2], which causes the current phenomenon of ethnic discrimination, which exists as one manifestation of geographic discrimination in China.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 1.25.45 PM

As a Chinese scholar Chen Guojie’s studies indicate [4], China’s geographic features cause the prosperous eastern part and poor western part. In the east, convenient transportation, comfortable climate, the large area of plains and the most of the nation’s population promote the sustained and rapid economic growth. In the west, high-altitude plateau and extremely climate affect the progress and integrity of infrastructure, thus result in economy of minority areas has always lagged behind the eastern coast areas. Discrimination caused by economic disparity widespread in the eastern coastal areas, and such discrimination has no connections with race, nation, or skin color. China’s ethnic discrimination comes from imbalance of regional development between less-developed western minority areas and highly-developed eastern coastal Han neighborhoods.

About the debate of whether geographical discrimination comes from ethnic discrimination or ethnic discrimination comes from geography, through my survey and interview of all my old classmates I can reach in high school and former university, 93% of the respondents care more about geography and wealthy status than ethnicity. Especially the data from college, all the classmates are from everywhere all over the country and several of them are minorities, 97% students hold the same opinions. The different opinions are focus on complaints and the feeling of unfair about ethnic privileges, such no one-child policy, less or no tax, allowed to carry weapons, free college tuition, free dormitory, regional autonomous and even monthly financial subsidy [5].

The word “Race” in Asia and Western world means totally different things, especially in countries with tens of hundreds of national minorities like China. According to Chinese scholars’ analysis about legal system [6], with the population and trade integration, more and more African Southeast Asian migrants have been in China and the population is increasing rapidly in recent years, racial barriers and inadequate legal system would be problematic.

Reference
[1]. 《“中华民族多元⼀一体”理论的创⽴立、内涵及其影响》. 中国社会科学院
[2]. 《地域歧视背后的社会⼼心理分析》. (2010年). 《中国新闻周刊》
[3]. Scanned from《中国少数民族⻛风情⼤大观》.(1992年). 中国民族摄影艺术出版社
[4]. 陈国阶. 《我国东中⻄西部发展差异原因分析》. 《地理科学》. 中国科学院⽔水利部. 成都⼭山 地灾害与环境研究所.
[5].⻢马启智. (2012年). 《我国的民族政策及其法制保障》.《中国⼈人⼤大》
[6].冯博林. ⺩王婧. 李思洋. 胡晋煜. 徐韬. 《全球化冲击下我国⾮非洲移民相关法律问题研究—— 以⼲⼴广州市⾮非洲移民及其聚集区为例》. 中国⼈人民⼤大学 法学院

Why Everyone Can’t Be Equal

English: Vector derivative of File:Gini Coeffi...

English: Vector derivative of File:Gini Coefficient World CIA Report 2009.png Based on https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2172.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anonymous student post

Companies that outsource work abroad allow people in the lower classes from more affluent countries to live beyond their means. Such as a middle class family that chooses to bring a maid from the Philippines versus hiring a maid from a company in their own country. Most people like bargains yet they don’t think about the consequences of a cheaper price. Migrant workers who are willing to work for less pressure the wages to decrease or remain the same. Corporations such as Walmart import a large amount of their goods from China and they also pressure manufactures to lower their prices.

A problem with many countries is that they support exporting their citizens to bring money home from overseas, yet when a foreign company arrives with its own workers it causes issues. Also the Philippines encouraged its female population to work abroad, but then they decided to contradict themselves by discouraging mothers from working abroad. High unemployment rates in certain areas causes discrimination against foreign migrant workers in that the ‘natives’ may not be able to find work and thus the foreign migrant workers are the scapegoat because many illegal immigrants have tainted their image.

The main issue is that the jobs do not pay sufficiently and that respect of persons and laws prevent people from obtaining available work. That reason causes people to migrate abroad for higher paying opportunities and even then migrant workers are mostly contract workers and contract workers don’t receive benefits.

The majority of exported workers from the Philippines are female. They leave as contract workers who can only begin to make a profit once they’ve paid off their contract. The affluent families in Europe and the Middle East tend to hire foreign maids as the laws are lax on the treatment of foreign workers and as such many Filipina caretakers experience abuse at the hands of their employers, especially in the Middle East.

In Japan many Filipina women work as hostesses. Also these women make enough money from working abroad that they can send gifts and money and in some cases hire a caregiver to take care of their family at home. Japan is reluctant in considering a hostess visa due to Japan’s nationalistic mirage of being a moral country.

Also the Dagongmei from China; the female working population who come from rural areas are treated poorly on the job. They work many hours for a very low wage yet that wage is high enough for them to send money home. Their work in the factory is temporal as the majority have plans to return home.

Besides engendering work enables men to be exempt from working as nannies and nurturing their children. Also many female migrant workers from Mexico and the Philippines tend to be more highly educated than the male migrant worker population, but low-paid jobs have pressured them to seek work abroad. Also countries that have a high export of female migrant workers tend to have a high unemployment rate among males.

Poor people in the US, specifically those who receive welfare and government aid cost the middle-class and lower a substantial amount of tax dollars. Companies such as Walmart that pay low wages tend to have many if not most of its workers receiving government benefits because they do not earn enough. Even with large tax breaks such companies would rather have tax payers fund the welfare programs. According to many economic analysts raising the minimum wage would decrease the number of available jobs. Also with an increased wage prices would also increase which would cause customers to complain.

Equality is necessary, just as inequality is, but for different reasons. Income inequality is important in order for capitalism to work, yet too much inequality is adverse to economic growth, as is too little. Also socialism is not truly equal in that it removes rights by silencing people. Besides a burger flipper should not earn the same wages as a doctor. Where equality is necessary is in women’s rights and in ending unlawful discrimination of people for various reasons.

References

2009. “Filipino Maids in Mideast Jobs Say They Face Abuse.” Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/LandedPages/PrintArticle.aspx?id=130055

Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Hochschild, eds. 2003. Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New EconomyNew York: New York Metropolitan.

Hasanov, Fuad, and Oded Izraeli. 2012. “How Much Inequality Is Necessary for Growth?” Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2012/01/how-much-inequality-is-necessary-for-growth/ar/1

Kenworthy, Lane. 2007. “Is Equality Feasible?” Contexts 6(3):28-32.

Ngai, Pun. Becoming Dagongmei: Subject, Gender and Power in a Global Workplace.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2003. “The Care Crisis in the Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy,” pp. 39-54, in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. New York: New York Metropolitan.

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Pennington, Maura. 2013. “To Fix Income Inequality, the Have-Nots Must Become the Do Somethings.” Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurapennington/2013/03/08/to-fix-income-inequality-the-have-nots-must-become-the-do-somethings/

Standing, Guy. 2011. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Train, Amy. 2012. “NOT Made in America: Top 10 Ways Walmart Destroys US Manufacturing Jobs.” Demos.org. http://www.demos.org/publication/not-made-america-top-10-ways-walmart-destroys-us-manufacturing-jobs

Worstall, Tim. 2014. “Fantastical Nonsense About WalMart, The Waltons And $7.8 Billion In Tax Breaks.” Forbes.com. http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/04/14/phantastical-nonsense-about-walmart-the-waltons-and-7-8-billion-in-tax-breaks/

Ydstie, John. 2014. “The Merits of Income Inequality: What’s the Right Amount?” NPR.org. http://www.npr.org/2014/05/18/313137739/the-merits-of-income-inequality-whats-the-right-amount

Are equality and fairness feasible? A view from Denmark

English: (Green) Denmark. (Light-green) The Eu...

English: (Green) Denmark. (Light-green) The European Union (EU). (Grey) Europe. (Light-grey) The surrounding region. See also: Category:SVG locator maps of countries of Europe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Lisbeth Lyngs

Lane Kenworthy poses the question “Is equality feasible?” in his text on income equality, and then continues to answer this himself in the first sentence: yes. A high rate of income equality is feasible, as he mentions is the case in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The Scandinavian model, where the people get many societal benefits in return for paying high taxes is, according to Kenworthy, indirectly connected to the countries’ low income inequality and “fairness” of the system. As a Dane myself I find this view interesting, and I would like to give my input on the Danish welfare model’s good and bad points and further discuss the “fairness” of this system.

Every child, regardless of where they live or what their parents’ occupation and income is, starts off on equal social ground. Free daycare institutions, public schools and education allow them equal possibility to utilize their abilities—not to worry about getting sick either, since universal health care is also free. Parents get payed child benefits from the state until the child is 18 years old, whereafter every Dane over the age of 18 is entitled to a public support for his or her further education—and should they suddenly be without work, they will receive social security benefits regardless of their position.

All this is only made possible by our taxing fee, which is one of the world’s highest. It is nearly 40% for the average wage receiver, and over 50% for the high wage receiver. In other words, the richer you are, the more you also pay in taxes.

Now, I do not think many Danes would argue that this is not “fair”—they give as much as they take from society. Still, problems arise, e.g. when immigrants gets incorporated in this system. Denmark has a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Eastern Europeans tend to cross the border to find temporary work, while the majority of people from the Middle East come to Denmark in the hopes of finding better life conditions for themselves and stay. And as with the Danes, these people are entitled to receive the social benefits too, after having either worked or lived in Denmark for a certain amount of time.

It is then, that the “fairness” of this system suddenly gets put into question because admittedly, a lot of Danes do not like immigrants “leaching” off of their money in this particular manner. The Polish worker, who has a wife and two kids back in Poland, comes to Denmark to work and thus entitles himself to receive child benefits—which he sends straight home to his family, meaning his Danish colleagues are suddenly paying for people outside their country and society. Meanwhile the Middle Eastern families may experience tough times without work, receive money from the state, and thus further revoke the Danes’ question as to what is a fair handling of their money.

This has been an issue in Danish politics for as long as I can remember. More so since the economic crisis broke out, and Denmark’s economy dropped low and the unemployment rate went up, putting even more pressure on the welfare system’s dependency on people receiving wages and paying tax. The system may be good in creating equality and high social security for its people, but I would argue that just as it has its strength in the people, it also has its weakness. It promises to secure the people in its society, but if too many lose their jobs due to e.g. labor cuts, or their will to pay tax becomes poisoned by the “unfairness”, then where does that lead us?

Lane Kenworthy says equality is feasible, and if the Scandinavian model is proof of this, then yes. But even so, this equal society faces its hardships, relying heavily on the people to support it. Immigrants and a higher rate of unemployed people may put pressure on this system by raising questions of what is “fair” and “just”. An equal society may be feasible, but even then its questionable whether it is “just” and what then makes a society “fair”.

Reference

Kenworthy, Lane. 2007. “Is Equality Feasible?” Contexts 6(3):28-32.

Choosing Your Future from behind the Veil of Ignorance

Philosopher John Rawls

by Alonso Meraz

The Veil of ignorance is a concept that was argued by John Rawls. “If we didn’t know our status in society (wealth, race, gender, class, skills, talents, etc.), what kind of society would we think was just? If we were behind the veil of ignorance, the kind of society we would agree to would be a just society.”

This was brought up in class and I found it very interesting and made me think a lot about it. The way many people think about how a society should be is based on their position in that society. Poor people may want the rich people to pay higher taxes, and rich people could care less about what’s going on with the poor people and their rights. Maybe men think woman rights aren’t important, or maybe some people don’t think about the other races in their society. So if you asked someone what would make a just society, they would answer based on their position in that society.

From “Easy As Pie: Inequality In Downloadable Charts” (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/easy-as-pie-inequality-in-down/)

But what if they didn’t know where they stood in that society, what if they couldn’t decide if they were born into a poor or rich family, or a man or woman, white or black. What if it was all random and just the luck of the draw, what kind of society would you like to live in? This question was asked in class, and I was shown three pie charts. One where the rich have most of the wealth in the country, one where it was pretty evenly distributed and had no huge gaps between social classes, and one that was exactly perfectly distributed between the social classes. I chose the second one because it looked equal and fair to me. But actually the first one where the rich had most of the wealth is the country where I am from, U.S.A.

Why did I choose the middle one? Well, If I was placed under the veil of ignorance, and didn’t know anything about where I would end up in society, I would like a society where everyone has the same opportunities, where even the people at the very bottom have the ability to move up, and even the people at the top can fall down the social ladder if they don’t fulfill their duties. Of course there has to be freedom and everyone must follow the same laws. I would like a society where hard work is rewarded. The middle one best represented this kind of society in my opinion. There weren’t any big gaps between the social classes, so it seemed to me that everyone was given the same opportunities, and everyone was in the social class that they deserved to be in. It looked like the people in the top were there because they worked hard to get there.

Why didn’t I choose the first one? Even though it is my country? That’s because most the wealth was in the top social class. More than half of the wealth belonged to the top. What if I chose that one and ended up at the very bottom, what would I do? There has to be a huge gap for a certain reason, right? Maybe the bottom people were born to poor families, didn’t get the same opportunities as everyone else, and cannot join the top social class. I wouldn’t want to be born in that situation and have no way out. So the middle one was more appealing to me. I think the veil of ignorance makes people think about the very worst possible situation. Because if they were put at the bottom, they would still want the opportunity to be successful and happy. And that would be by giving everyone the same opportunities, freedom, and laws. And that in my opinion is a just society.

Mythologies of Skin Color and Race in Ethiopia

Slave Market

Slave Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Keb Meh

Blumenbach…singled out a particular group as closest to the created ideal and then characterized all other groups by relative degrees of departure from this archetypal standard. He ended up with a system that placed a single race [Caucasian] at the pinnacle, and then envisioned two symmetrical lines of departure from this ideal toward greater and greater degeneration… his ideas have reverberated in ways that he never could have anticipated… (Gates, 2013, p. 5)”

The often told myth of creation in Ethiopia is that God, when He went to create man, placed a lump of clay (or dough) into His oven. God’s first effort was a failure, He had taken out the mixture too early and it was white, and from it white-skinned peoples were created. God, not happy with that creation, would try again but on this occasion He kept the mixture in the oven for too long. Contrary to His previous effort, it was black and from that God made black peoples. God, unhappy still, would place a third mixture in His oven. On this occasion, it would appear that the oft-repeated cliché ‘third time’s a charm’ rings true even for the God of Abraham. It would seem that having learnt from His previous failures that God knew when to take the clay-dough out of the oven and from this well-baked specimen were born the Ethiopians.

Hermeneutical approaches have typically (and rightly) recognized that this creation story should be read as a metaphorical explanation rather than a literal explanation (the literal explanation accepted by the Northern Highlanders of Ethiopia was and is the Orthodox Church’s Genesis Story). However, in this creation story there is an obvious rhetoric vision; the Ethiopian as the racial ideal with two symmetrical lines of departure, on one side stood black people and on the other stood white people – both below.

Slavery had been a custom in Ethiopia since antiquity as it had been for all of the trading empires of antiquity. However, the institution evolved from being a product of trade with other empires of antiquity (Rome, Greece, Egypt, Persia) to a consequence of warfare between the Muslims of north Sudan and the Christians of northern Ethiopia. Slavery, or rather slaves, was tied to warfare as opposed to racial constructs. Nonetheless, the Middle Ages and Early Modern would see Ethiopia enveloped in the extensive Arab slave trade and it is here one can trace the racialization of slavery.

From the Middle Ages, Ethiopian “people made careful distinction between themselves and Negroid people,” this was a consequence of Ethiopian merchants having been at the forefront of fulfilling the insatiable demands of the Indian Ocean slave trade. Ethiopians by being Christians were (technically) not to enslave one another. The result of Ethiopia’s participation in this international slave trade was the creation of what was to become a firmly entrenched pseudo-scientific racial hierarchy which placed the black peoples hunted for sale (denigratingly referred to as barya), who lived on the periphery of imperial Ethiopia’s then expanding boundaries, at the bottom and justified that brutal exploitation. Their intellect, religious customs, civilizations, and, most importantly, appearance would all come to be a racialized phenotype that could not be ‘cleansed’ by being included in the Ethiopian empire nor through inter-marriage.

So potent were these phenotypical delineations that a linguistic culture of slave/non-slave dialectic emerged to describe barya physicality (very dark skin, nappy hair, flat nose, thick lips) and behavior (oversexed, jovial, child-like, stupid). Furthermore, a complex (and ridiculous) racial classification came to be to categorize the children of mixed-heritage (slave and that of their Ethiopian slaveowner). There were names to describe those of 1/16th black heritage.

It is tempting for Western scholars to relate these racial constructs to Western ones. P. T. Tucker described Ethiopia’s racial distinctions between their brown, yellow and red selves from the darker peoples they enslaved as “peculiar kind of prejudiced” because it existed “in both America and Ethiopia”. Tucker makes a truly false comparison, ignoring that Ethiopia’s peculiar prejudices extended to the ‘poorly baked’ white races. The disastrous Jesuit efforts in the 16th century and the interactions of Ethiopian slave merchants with Muslim Arab traders as early as late antiquity had crafted an image of white peoples as ungodly, untrustworthy, mischievous and oversexed. Blackness was equated with a filial piety comparable to beasts of burden but whiteness with jackals, and that was so much worse. Furthermore, in Tucker’s determination to relate Ethiopia’s prejudicial racial structures he ignores the nuances that existed between the dominant ethnic groups of Ethiopia’s Empire (Tigrayans, Amharas, Oromos) and the minority castes that inhabited the middle ground between the black slaves, and the Northern Highlanders.

In our classes, we have critically discussed the use of historical narratives as explanations for the transnational constructs that exist in modernity. In these classes, we have touched upon authors that have discussed the historicity of lightness and its valorization in India, Korea, China and Japan. In this short essay, I wished to discuss the historical narratives behind Ethiopia’s beauty ideals (or rather the beauty ideals of Northern Ethiopia). Ethiopia in many ways makes for a fascinating discussion on beauty. The infrastructure of domestic slavery, black peoples as serfs tasked with menial and agricultural tasks, in Ethiopia existed until the overthrow of the ruling Imperial House of the Ethiopian Empire in 1974. The head of Ethiopia’s Stalinist Junta Mengistu Haile Mariam said, “In this country some aristocratic families automatically categorise people with dark skin, thick lips and kinky hair as ‘Barias’. Let it be clear to everybody that I shall make these ignoramuses stoop and grind corn!”

That system of enslavement was inextricably tied with a racial hierarchy and pseudo-racial myths for many centuries. It is, sadly, still a well-remembered institution among Ethiopia’s war generation, baby boomers and Generation X. Therefore, it still reverberates throughout society. Ethiopia is only now beginning to industrialise, its middle income minority is slowly burgeoning and consuming foreign media content. It is here, at this cross-roads that it will be interesting to see how beauty standards informed by Ethiopia’s centuries old racial hierarchy will evolve.

The Privilege of Beauty

by Ellen Brookes

“Because society is stratified along lines of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, disability status, citizenship, geography, and other cleavages, some bodies are publicly and visually dissected while others are vulnerable to erasure and marginalization” (Casper & Moore, 2007)

This quote is genuinely puzzling as it does not disclose who is being spoken about in which area. Is it all about white people? Or is it whites versus those of ethnic minorities? Or is it even just all about ethnic minorities? And are these bodies that are being dissected being dissected in a positive or a negative way? Are the bodies prone to erasure just fading into the background or are they fading due to “fitting in”?

It is really difficult to figure out exactly who is being talked about in which way.

One thing is for certain, looks are not mentioned here. The aesthetic appeal of one human being is not referred to in this quotation. Yet people seem to believe that beauty is also a level of stratification within societies. The Alexander Edmonds’ article “The poor have the right to be beautiful” (2007) looks at a similar argument, saying that people want to be beautiful because with their status in life, it may be all they have to use in order to move up. This would imply that outward appearance is a form of cultural capital that can be utilized in order to climb the social hierarchy ladder.

It must be noted that this article did only provide a view of one community within Brazil. At first “low self-esteem” is blamed as a major reason to undergo cosmetic plastic surgery, or plástica, in Brazil, but the issue has more to do with class privilege than it does to any one human being. This reasoning, however, goes against the reasoning that would be used in another society.

Trends in the U.S point to the fact that about 4.8% of people will have plastic surgery in a year). Given that the current population of the U.S. is over 317 million people, and plastic surgery in the last year was 15,116,353 surgeries, that number seems rather high (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2013; Schlesinger, 2013).

To put this into further perspective, this is only cosmetic surgeries, not reconstructive for those who were in accidents or had birth deformities.

A person would not say that this number occurred because of economic problems, or need for social mobility. In fact, people would imply that these people were middle-to-upper-class people who either felt the need to look “prettier” within their social circles, or that these people may have had mental issues that were directly linked to their appearance. Admittedly, health care does cost more in the U.S., and cosmetic surgery is not cheap, which would imply that these people were most definitely within a higher class than those in Brazil. Yet, if Brazil and American’s populations were equal, there is only about a ten percent difference in relative poverty levels, so why is the argument for plastic surgery and its implications so different between these two countries? (Hunkar, 2011).

The answer comes down to race and racial preference. Brazil is eroticized in the way it is portrayed globally. It is sold as being a country full of brown-skinned, “sun-kissed” girls in bikinis with almost unrealistic body proportions (Beauty Check, 2007). This is the ideal held within Brazil and most women in Edmonds’ article are shown to aspire to it in order to achieve social mobility; their own personal Cinderella story.

America is stereotyped as being a land of white privilege, and one where being white automatically affords a person a “free pass” to beauty (Luckey, 2013; Jackson, & Greene, 2000). However, via influence of the media, the attitudes are slightly different. Plastic surgery is not noted in a positive light and the media will constantly tear down women who have gone under the knife (Northrop, 2012). White women who undergo cosmetic procedures are shamed, and this could be directly linked to the fact that they could be seen to be abusing the privilege already afforded to them.

It all comes down to racial privilege. For Brazil, fitting the ethnic stereotype is considered the ideal; specifically conforming to the exported idealistic looks is considered paramount. With looks, a majority of Brazilian society believes they would have a higher chance of social mobility. Edmonds’ Brazil is portrayed as a culture that would seem to promote “faking it to make it”.

White people have privilege, so they do not need this plastic surgery for the same reasons, as they can use their “whiteness” to afford them the same treatment the Brazilians are looking for. White people do not have these “ethnic traits” that make them “not beautiful”, meaning they have no dire need to change. Those who do change are considered to be abusing the system, and have a social stigma that follows them. It sticks even if the person tried to use the argument of “low self-esteem” that is shown in the article. Yes, white privilege does offer a person more cultural capital, but it does not protect them from any or all stigmas.

For Brazil, investment in aesthetics is seem as profitable; while in America, it may be profitable for a time, but the social stigma may counteract that profit. It is this that brings us back to the comment on the starting quote – who is really “fitting in” and who is having their bodies “dissected”? In this age of “white is right”, does it really imply that only positive consequences occur to white people?

References

American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2013). 2013 Plastic Surgery Statistics. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/plastic-surgery-statistics/2013.html

Beauty Check. (2007). Beautiful Figure. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.uni-regensburg.de/Fakultaeten/phil_Fak_II/Psychologie/Psy_II/beautycheck/english/figur/figur.htm

Casper, M.J., & Moore, L.J. (2007). Missing bodies: The Politics of Visibility. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have the right to be beautiful': cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 13(2), 363-381.

Hunkar, D. (2011). A Shocking Comparison of Poverty Levels Between The U.S. And Brazil. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://seekingalpha.com/article/306094-a-shocking-comparison-of-poverty-levels-between-the-u-s-and-brazil

Jackson, L. M., & Greene, B. (2000). Psychotherapy with African American women: Innovations in psychodynamic perspectives and practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Luckey, S. (2013). Why Reverse Racism Isn’t Real. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://feminspire.com/why-reverse-racism-isnt-real/

Northrop, J. M. (2012). Reflecting on Cosmetic Surgery: Body image, Shame and Narcissism. London, UK: Routledge

Schlesinger, R. (2013). The 2014 U.S. and World Populations. U.S. News. Retrieved on November 20th, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2013/12/31/us-population-2014-317-million-and-71-billion-in-the-world

The Era of Plastic Surgery Culture

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate p...

English: Plastic surgery; Otoplasty; 2-plate photograph; otopexy correction; Woman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hanna Byun

This is a very interesting and educative topic entailing the cultural dynamics of different communities regarding beauty and appearance. Plastic surgery has become so standardized that everyone talks about it. Instead of “where did you get your designer handbag?” people might ask you where you got your chin, eyes or nose done. To understand these insights, two sources of information will serve as the basis for ideas of the authors about plastic cosmetic surgery.

The article by Alexander Edmonds titled, “‘The Poor have the right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil” discuss the dynamics of the cosmetics industry in Brazil over the last two decades. He focuses on the poor population of Brazil that has recorded a high rate of plastic surgeries, and that has been influenced by the diverse social origins of the general population. According to Edmond, poor people in Brazil have judged their appearance from different social origins as an “aesthetic defect”. The beauty industry, therefore, became a solution to the problem by diagnosing and treating it through plastic surgery. He cites a racialized “beauty myth” in clinical practice and marketing as one of the main motivators for the pursuit of plastic surgery. Outward appearance affects social mobility, glamour, and an individual’s association with modernity. By having plastic surgery, poor people believe that it gives them the means to compete in the Brazilian neoliberal economy. In Edmonds’ perspective, the capital flows of the modern capitalist economy are to blame for the commercialization of beauty and the absence of regulations in the cosmetic industry. The poor are simply doing so to achieve a class body that society has unknowingly decreed as the quintessential appearance of a person who fits in a higher social stratum.

The blog post by Jennifer Bagalawis-Simes discusses about the increasing number of plastic surgery penchants among Asian Americans. She observes that more Asian Americans are going for plastic surgery to improve their appearance without necessarily changing their ethnic appearance. The blog identifies different reasons that prompt Asian Americans to go for plastic surgery. Her reasons are:

  1. Some Asian plastic surgery seekers want to boost the confidence while attending job interviews;
  2. They want to achieve romantic success by looking younger;
  3. It is a way of trying to assimilate into mainstream Americans.

For instance, many want to brighten their eyes a little a bit without altering their ethnic appearance. Others want their nose reshaped just to look better than they think. All they want is to retain their natural looks, but bridge them with the mainstream American appearance. I personally agree with her on the fact that more and more young Asians are getting their faces done. People in younger generations, who are in middle school or high school, and also their parents, accept and believe that earlier they get ‘work done’, the more natural look they look they will have as they grow. And it is very common nowadays get plastic (cosmetic) surgery as a graduation or birthday gift from adults.

Both insights from Edmonds and Bagala, have one thing in common: the tendency of plastic surgery seekers to conform with ‘appearance myths’ in their respective societies. Appearing in a way that conforms to the ‘myth’ improves the seekers’ self-esteem as they move up the social ladder or attempt to fit into contemporary culture. As long as plastic surgery continues to be a psychological issue largely influenced by the ethnographic differences of the society, it is likely to may not end soon.  Furthermore, it is also bolstered by the market economy with massive influential marketing techniques. It is quite difficult to regulate the cosmetics industry without infringing on people’s rights on their bodies.

References

Bagalawis-Simes, J. (2010). Saving Face: More Asian Americans opting for plastic surgery. Hyphen Asian America Unabridged, 22. http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-22-throwback/saving-face-more-asian-americans-opting-plastic-surgery

Edmonds, A. (2007). The poor have the right to be beautiful: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13:363-381.