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Gender and Racism

January 9, 2010

Recently, I undertook quite a few hours of movie watching. Several of which were old classics. I don’t know if any of you ever heard of The French Connection with Gene Hackman, but it’s a pretty famous movie. It took home several oscars in 1972, including the oscar for best picture. After seeing it, I really can’t tell you why it was so popular. It was kind of boring actually, or maybe that was just the mood I was in. 

One scene in particular got me thinking though. In the first half hour of the film there’s a scene where two cops rough up a guy in the hopes of getting information from him. In the course of this interrogation (err beat down), the suspect (err patsy) takes out a knife and cuts one of the detectives. In the next scene Gene Hackman refers to the guy they were roughing up as a nig**r. Did that ever catch me by surprise. The use of the word was gratuitous and it really struck a chord when immediately afterwards the two cops went to have a drink in a jazz nightclub where the clientele was predominantly black. What pissed me off is that Gene Hackman’s character who had just used the word  nig**r  was obviously checking out some good looking black ladies and thoroughly enjoying himself in this nightclub. 

This sequence of scenes is what prompted the question: Are women subjected to a different kind of racism than men? I had never really thought of it before, at least not in such clear cut terms. Without doing any research, but by simply looking at certain interactions between people, I have to say the answer is YES. Why this is exactly, I don’ know. With my limited knowledge of the subject, I can only put out a few guesses. Obviously, it has to do with the way women are portrayed and treated as a whole. Sex, gender, and social roles have a lot to do with it and when superimposed on top of racism the problem gets even more complicated. I would go as far as saying that at first glance women aren’t as subjected to the kind of obvious hatred perpetuated by racism, but that is a superficial observation and when looked at a little bit closer immediately falls apart. 

If I stick to the nightclub scene in The French Connection I was talking about, Gene Hackman’s character didn’t show any obvious contempt to the women in the bar, because they offered the possibility or at least the very idea of beauty and sex. I’m sure this would hold true, in the case of his character, with all beautiful young women no matter their cultural background. I am also equally certain that this facade would not hold very long if the women in question became an obstacle in his quest for something, whether it be information or sex. 

What are your thoughts or experiences in regards to gender and racism? 

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Wayne permalink
    January 9, 2010 5:00 pm

    Keep in mind that the French Connection, when it was released, was breaking ground in many ways. It represented what were very real attitudes and shed light on police attitudes in that era. As for the racism / gender issue I can only speak for myself, but I think that the way racism, or perhaps more acurately prejudice is aaplied IS diferent depending on the gender of the person being targeted. I’m not proud to say that despite my awareness and detest for racist attitudes, I am just as guilty in some ways as any skin head or neo nazi. I certainly am more distrustful of strangers who are members of certain races than I might be of a stranger who is a middle class, middle aged white guy from the midwest. And while my distrust of males in some categories might manifest itself by my being distinctly cool or vague if I am engaged in a conversation where I feel that that person is asking me personal questions, the same conversations with a female of the same race might be made manifest by my being superficialy friendly or engaging in over the top flirting to make it obvious that I’m not going to be forming any close connections with that person in the near future. I can HONESTLY say that I have never in my life harrassed, intimidated, discriminated against, or otherwise persecuted a person because of their race. But I can also honestly say that I have been the victim of such treatment at the hands of persons, of both genders, of another race, including being placed in physical danger, and even being physicaly assaulted and harmed. So yeah, despite all my good intentions and my “evovled” and modern attitudes I have to say that I DO have some racist attitudes. The way those manifest themselves may differ by gender, but they are still there.

  2. Daveoh permalink
    January 10, 2010 6:03 pm

    It’s a tad ironic that you have a blog called Cuntlove yet can’t bring yourself to spell out the word “nigger”. In 1971 when that movie came out it was quite the opposite, believe me. Cunt was just about the worst word you could utter in the English language while “nigger” was used quite freely. No one died, either- at least from uttering words we now find unpalatable.

    I don’t think there is a connection (French, or otherwise) or a disconnect between Popeye Doyle (as I recall the character’s name) eying the black women with appreciation after calling a man a nigger. He referred to the Frenchman as “Frog” and everyone else with some derogatory or “racist” epithet. That is the way some people spoke back then. He was an “equal-opportunity” scumbag. They were just words to him.

    But I do remember that while many people used epithets that would now drive weak little modern-day sensibilities into a coma, they still were not necessarily horrible racists. It was often- as it is now- the nice, polite smiling ones you had to watch out for the most. Indeed, that film is a perfect piece of the time- the character is basically a low life who catches criminals any way he can- and is, morally, barely better than the crooks he chases. Somehow I am comforted that those who do that for a living are not exactly choirboys themselves.

    One other thing: Making words “illegal” in some way gives them more power. They are just words and making them politically incorrect gives words a power they should not have. And, worse, in so doing you ignore the REAL racism that exists by pretending it isn’t there because you have “banned the language”. Racist, or sexist attitudes will not go away by changing the lexicon to something more palatable.

  3. January 10, 2010 6:22 pm

    Good comment. On the movie and my post.

    An “equal-opportunity” scum bag is still a scum bag, whether those were just words to him or not, it doesn’t discount the actions that followed, which is to say some pretty uncouth behavior. And I don’t think that any word is “just a word”, especially not when it has such a history of hatred and colonialism. Making those words “Illegal” or “un-pc” clearly doesn’t solve the problem since they are simply a superficial representation of a deeper issue in regards to racism, sexism or what have you, but their use is definitely an indicator of their being a problem there in the first place. It’s not the language that I want to ban, it’s the attitudes that go with it. No, not ban, I’m not out to ban anything, maybe at the very least point some shit out.

  4. January 11, 2010 3:02 pm

    @Daveoh – “They are just words and making them politically incorrect gives words a power they should not have.”

    As a white woman, I personally do not feel it is my choice how or when that word is used, or to what degree of PC-ness it attains. To people of color, that is more than just a word, and out of respect to that pain I choose not to use it.

    @Olga – I feel that black women are just as discriminated against as black men, just in different ways. The fact that Gene Hackman was looking the black women up and down is indicative of this. Women of color are often over-sexualizing, portrayed as sexually insatiable, or ravenous, so it makes sense that that sterotype would be played out in this movie.

    By the way, it bored me to tears as well.

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