Fook Mi?  Fook Yu!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a party where I met a young woman named Katrya who told me a very interesting story.  Effectively, it went like this.  Katrya (Ukrainian-Australian, pretty, dressed nicely but not glamorously, with shoulder-length blonde hair shaved above the ear on one side) loves goth metal, and while in Europe in July this year, she went to a goth music festival in Hungary.  At this festival, where she was dressed in goth clothing and make-up just like everyone else, she met a young, attractive German guy, and they got to talking and flirting and that.  She told him what she did (she’s an architect) and her background/nationality, and he did the same (he worked as an accountant in Hannover), and they joked and danced and were generally hitting it off.

An hour or so passed and the two had gotten to making out when the German turned to her and asked, “so, how does this work?  How much for the night?”  Not understanding, Katrya replied, “wait, what do you mean?”, to which the German replied, “well, like, you’re a hooker, right?”  Shocked and enraged, Katrya walked away and, well, that was the end of that love story.

Months later, at this party, Katrya still didn’t get it.  “I mean, where did he get the idea?  What was his problem?” she asked me.  An architect with a Master’s degree, two languages and several years of work experience in Australia and elsewhere under her belt, she was insulted by the presumption.  “I mean, it was at a goth festival.  Sure, I was wearing knee-high platform boots, but so were most of the guys there.”  After a few months’ reflection, she had come to two possible explanations for his question.  “Either he heard that I was from Eastern Europe and concluded that I was therefore obviously a Natasha*, OR he was so lacking in self-confidence that he couldn’t believe a good-looking woman such as myself would be interested in him.  So, either an idiot, or a loser.”

(* The term “Natasha” has been used as a label for Central and Eastern European women taken from Russia, Poland, Romania, etc, and sold as sex slaves and prostitutes to the rest of the world as part of the human trafficking underworld.  See Canadian journalist Victor Malarek’s 2003 book entitled, “The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade”.)

Thinking from a gender/nationality studies perspective, Katrya’s first explanation interested me the most.  It got me thinking.  How much does one’s nationality or ethnic background affect others’ presumptions about their sexuality?  Is a woman from Eastern European automatically a hooker?  Is an American girl automatically an easy lay?  Are all latino women automatically amazing in bed?

For certain of these stereotypes, unfortunate real-life situations are likely to be their sources – the high incidences of human trafficking from Eastern Europe probably started the link between Russian, Czech, Polish, etc, women and prostitution.  But there are other factors contributing to these generalisations.  Anybody seen the film American Pie?  Anybody remember “Nadia, the Czechoslovakian chick” who Jim tried to get with, and who, you know, all of her own accord, started masturbating in his room the MOMENT she was left alone one afternoon?  Or perhaps someone has seen Love Actually, where the hopelessly unlucky-in-love Brit goes to the US and is immediately jumped upon by the three “real friendly” American chicks?  Heck, even Austin Powers made his contribution.  Who can forget Fook Yu and Fook Mi, the Japanese twins who make the Spy Who Shagged Me’s champagne bottle pop when giving him a “top secret massage”?

The funnest part here is that these stereotypes mix sexism with racism.  It’s a fun cocktail.  To a very limited extent, if pop culture didn’t affect people’s behaviour and attitudes, this wouldn’t be too huge a problem.  However, obviously, that’s not the case, and I think my new friend Katrya would agree.  The question is what to do about it, and that’s I guess where feminism comes in.  Let’s get some consciousness-raising happening.  Let’s talk about these stereotypes, explore them to their fullest, and throw them out.  Maybe that way we can even combat growing practices like human trafficking and force the global trend in the other direction.  Maybe.

For the moment, though, I suppose the old canon fits perfectly here: it’s all fun and games until someone is presumed to be a hooker while innocently attending a goth metal music festival as a result of pop-culture-fuelled generalisations linking nationality and sexual habits.  Bit of a mouthful, but it definitely fits.

- Barry Blanc