Happily Oppressed

Have you noticed how the most oppressed groups tend to have quite “happy” stereotypes? In other words, how the most oppressed groups are expected to be the happiest?
The more I think about it, the more examples I find.
For african-americans there used to be the myth of the “happy slave”. Nowadays, I find that black people are often presented as cheerful and happy, especially women.
The case of latinos is particularly compelling. The whole of latinamerica is presented as this land of permanent partying, with permanently happy people. How could they not be happy with all those parties going on and all the pina colada sprouting from the ground of those happy white sand beaches?
For gay people, the idea is that they are, well, “gay”. And do we ever see them in any context outside of the tired cliche of partying semi naked in some parade or other?
What about disabled people? Is anyone interested in listening to the story of a severely disabled person who is not cheerfully happy despite the adverse circumstances? No, that wouldn’t be all that inspiring.
And last, but not least, we have the case of women. Women are always supposed to be happy and smiling to prove it. Women’s happiest day is when they get married. And we all know the myth of the “happy housewife”, which took all the energy of the second-wave feminists to debunk.
But this whole “happily oppressed” dealio reaches its highest, nastiest peak when we consider the myth of the “happy hooker”. The woman who is literally the least likely to be free to “choose”, the least likely to be “happy” (as long as we consider happiness to depend on freedom), that woman is the one who is supposedly the happiest. Indeed. On an entirely unrelated note, I was just listening to this podcast on poverty and drugs (and race) in the US and the woman speaking mentioned what a kid from Vegas told her: “I can’t stop working as a prostitute, I have two sisters to support”. Oh yeah, the happiness is so thick I cannot see through it.
I am not saying this is a perfect rule, nor am I saying that the happiness in the stereotype results directly from the oppression. But it is something to think about. Do we present these people with a happy face to ease the sense of guilt we might feel when we are the oppressors? Or maybe we do it to downright dismiss any claim that they might not have it all that happy and that somehow we might be benefiting from that? Could it be that they are actually happy because, since they cannot escape their oppression, well, why the Heck not be happy? Or maybe happiness is not tied to “freedom” but is actually in direct oposition to it?
At any rate, there is a big difference between oppressed people being happy and oppressors “expecting” oppressed people to be happy.


18 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    rmott62 said,

    Thanks for writing this.

    I remember when I first was interested in campaigning for humans rights, that many on the left were attracted to campaign if a country had good music, nice food and “pretty” people. Other countries with equal amounts of oppression were ignored, or the oppression is made to not exist.

    I find the “happy hooker” myth is very damaging for many exited prostituted women that try to say their reality.
    When I speak out, always I am told over and over that I should never forget that some women are happy being prostituted – when I would never deny that.

    But, I do believe that the “happy hooker” is a tiny minority, round 2-4% of all prostitued, and that their voices drown out the majority.
    I believe this is because to see the reality of the vicious oppression of prostituted women and girls would means seeing that men that choose to buy women and girls can see them as objects to use and throw away.
    Then we will see those men who have hate in ther hearts. It is not lust, it is not fun, it is not that they are being decadent, or on bet.
    Men possess prostituted women and girls in order to have complete control. It is that simple.

    Prostitutes have to be happy, it is a major way to survive.

  2. 2

    marytracy9 said,

    Hi Rebecca. Would you mind sharing more of your experience with campaigning for human rights? Like which countries were they interested in an why?

  3. 3

    rmott62 said,

    Before, I write I will say that today I am feeling very ill. This often makes me sarcastic especiially about the left and humans rights politics, which often about men’s rights and not women’s.

    I suppose because of living with abuse since I can remember, I have always had an interest in human suffering and how it is survivable.
    I first starting reading about the conditions of soldiers in WW1, when I was nine.
    I look at those photos, and connected the deadness in their eyes. That was a deadness I saw in porn.
    That was a deadness I had in the centre of my essence.

    I became interested in human rights, coz I didn’t care what system, what war, what organisation – no-one deserved to have their essence murdered for others to gain power.

    That is the language of a child, but it is what drives me now and then to speak out.

    When I was 14 I was in Chile Solidarity, for we had a lodger who had his family murdered and tortured by Pinochet. Like many this personal contract made it real. I was involved like most of my generation with Anti- Aparteid. I had Zimbewean friends, so went to many meetings before it’s independence.

    But I often found the meetings very male-oriented, and as I was living a double life quite surreal.

    I have always been a cynic, so I begun to notice that all countries abuse human rights, especially the rights of women and children just to live as full humans, and not just to be a possession of men.

    I was campaigning for humans rights, whilst being tortured, raped and brought onto the edge of death.
    But I had “chosen” to be prostituted, so then there no campaigning round my rights.

    I look beyond myself, look at what countries were chosen and what forgotten.

    Latin American were often chosen coz isn’t the music great, it is anti-American, damned good food. Ignore little things like arresting lesbians and gays, lack of access to abortions, macho attitudes.

    Africa was chosen because most Europeans never go there, too difficult to adapt to, it has great music, the locals are always happy and smiling. I ignore the starvation, that a small class of highly rich controlling the mass of the people.

    Then I look into Europe, seeing there was oppression in the East, but they were Communist, so it was not convenient to question those governments.

    I begun to believe that all countries has both good and bad. That all governments are capable of abusing humans rights, and it is either glamourise or fought against.

    Recently I have campaigned for Kurds, especially in Turkey, Iran and Iraq.

    My main focus is on giving back prostituted women and girls their dignity, and permission to be full humans.

    I fight that no-one has the dead eyes that I cannot close out of my being.

    No country is immune from those eyes.

  4. 4

    Level Best said,

    You are so right, marytracy9. When an oppressed person is expected upon penalty of disapproval and exclusion to be a happy little stereotype, that’s just another way of saying “Shut up!” Or, as women and girls are told all the time, “Smile!” Rebecca is awesome; I hope she can share some more of her insights and experience on your site.

  5. 5

    helzeph said,

    And all those happy childhoods we are supposed to have had, poor little children
    are always expected to be jolly.

  6. 6

    Polly Styrene said,

    Thanks Mary Tracy. There’s a complete lack of logic in saying that – and let’s assume for the sake of argument this is true – that because a certain percentage of women want to be sex workers as a matter of ‘choice’, that prostitution doesn’t harm other women. The second proposition doesn’t follow from the first and I can’t imagine why people think it does.

  7. 7

    marytracy9 said,

    Dang it! helzeph you are right, I forgot to include childhood as well.

    It’s gotten to the point where I am not going to even consider the “rights” of supposedly “happy hookers” to continue to be prostitutes. For several reasons:
    a) they are a tiny minority. If we are going to start talking about minorities, what about all those people who are murdered and wanted to die? Are all those tortured who enjoy BDSM?
    b) it serves to distract us from the main topic: why the heck do menz think they have a right to use a woman’s body?
    c) it derails the conversation. It’s just like the Right focusing on the supposed “disagreement” or “controversy” in the scientific community over Global Warming. There ain’t any! Everyone agrees!
    d) and this is the most important reason: we cannot make absolute moral abstactions. At some point we have to agree on something even if there is no proof and stick to it. For example. The state has made the assumption that living is better than dying. When someone wants to kill herself, the state intervenes. They don’t start a huge moral argument over whether someone has a “right” to end their lives or not. And the supposed “freedom” a person may have over the ending of her life vanishes in mid air. They defend this course of action by stating that “they’ll thank us later on”. So, I repeat: The state has made the assumption that living is better than dying. They work under that premise, and as far as I know, they haven’t subjected that premise to a “vote”.

    If the state can do it, so can I . 😀 Torture is bad, rape is bad and murder is bad. And prostitution can be seen as both torture and rape. The state wouldn’t have an ounce of problem is assuming that prostitution is bad without presenting any moral argument IF prostitution affected men.

    Enough of moral relativism!

  8. 8

    Polly Styrene said,

    I concur. Actually you just reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

  9. 9

    marytracy9 said,

    Oh, I’ also forgot about fat people. Aren’t they happy and cheeky? (Or rilly, rilly miserable ‘cuz they are fatz, either way).

  10. 10

    marytracy9 said,

    “just reminded me of something”

    What I’m here for 😀

  11. 11

    Gayle said,

    The happy hooker stereotype is used to alleviate male guilt. If she “wants” to do it, if she “chose” this lifestyle, why shouldn’t he indulge himself and buy her?

    Off topic: are you a graphic designer? This is one of the best looking blogs I’ve ever seen.

  12. 12

    marytracy9 said,

    OMG! Thanks so much Gayle, you’ve really made my day :D.

    No, I’m not a graphic designer, I just doodle and paint ocassionally. Though I should do it more often. This blog could use some extra work.

    Oh, and On topic: absolutely, word.

  13. 13

    Gayle said,

    You’re very welcome!

    I love the way you contrast color here. I’m surprised you’re not a graphic designer; you obviously have an artistic sensibility.

  14. 14

    Ireen said,

    That’s an interesting thought.

    Funnily though, I totally disagree with the “happy hooker” stereotyp, because seriously, I had never heard that before. The stereotyp about prostitution I keep finding is that all prostitues are forced to do so, after they’d been kidnapped and illegally brought to another country.

    Also I think that especially concerning Africa, there’s lots of myths around oppression. Images of Africa here in Europe center around either everyone being happy, singing, dancing and bright colours, as you’ve described it, OR Africa is a victim, starving, tortured, torn to pieces, dying of AIDS, and basically inhabited by little naked kids with begging for help. No inbetween. I don’t think that either of these images come anywhere near reality.

  15. 15

    kupetana said,

    There’s something in this… Like when guys say “Cheer up love” to absolute strangers (who happen to be listening to Radiohead on their mp3 and concentrating on not slipping on the pavement)

  16. 16

    Polly Styrene said,

    Hi kupetana.

    Smiling in primates is actually sign of appeasement to a ‘superior’ primate. So the reason the menz want you to smile when you’re listening to Radiohead is so they can feel superior.


  17. 17

    marytracy9 said,

    Polly, are you positively sure that there are “superiors” amongst primates? Just asking. ‘Cuz I’m sure some feminists would claim that that is the conclusion that the men who were studying primates arrived to because of their intrinsic patriarchal bias.

  18. 18

    That’s why ‘superior’ was in inverted commas. It means dominant really I s’pose. And I suppose they work out which are the dominant ones by observing the group behaviour.

    But menz definitely want you to smile to demonstrate their ‘superiority’. One fricking demanded I helped him carry his case up some stairs yesterday, no shit. I pointed out that there was a ramp he could use instead and he said it was too far to walk!

    Needless to say I did NOT oblige.

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