Spicy and Sexual Latinas : Stereotypes Courtesy of the Media

Thick. Steamy. Browned to perfection.

These three labels are used to describe things that satisfy every man’s needs: a succulent, juicy steak and, according to the media, a Latina woman (Cocuy 2014).

In an era where there are Latina doctors, lawyers, Congresswomen, governors, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and even astronauts, the media still treats Latina women like drool-worthy pieces of meat.

More movies are showing it. More magazines are showing it. Television shows are showing it.

Why is that?

The reason is simple – sex sells and Latinas have always been very much a part of that equation. When it comes to the bankability of the “Luscious Latina,” dramatized throughout history by actresses like Dolores Del Rio, Rita Hayworth, and today’s Salma Hayek, no explanation is necessary.

But what has evolved is a stereotype with a double edge — the positive side of the stereotype is a powerful and sexy Latina epitomized by Hayek, and the negative side is a boisterous, oversexed Latina, such as Charo.

Turn on your TV and you will see Sofia Vergara perpetuating racial stereotypes as a fiery, voluptuous trophy wife on ‘Modern Family’. Sofia Vergara also paint the stereotype of Latina women who primarily is passive domestics with a poor grasp of the English language.

Meanwhile, on the radio you can hear Jennifer Lopez, an intelligent and multi-talented mother of two, singing about what she is famous for: her butt.

Latina women are limited to roles as either exotic, sultry sex symbols or ultra-religious, submissive housemaids –roles that rarely exhibit any substance or intelligence. Both stereotypes, the desirable temptress and the obedient housekeeper are extreme versions of what society deems as every man’s dream woman: a curvy, passionate lover who oozes with sex appeal and a subservient, family-oriented wife who can cook and clean.

These dehumanizing caricatures are demeaning. The sole role of a Latina woman in the media is to support and fulfill someone else’s needs over her own, rather than pursue any personal goals, produce any original thought or express any acknowledged opinion. Because the media creates Latina characters that have nothing to contribute to society other than their hypersexualized body parts and subservience, it excuses racist objectification in real life.

A fictional Latina woman’s passivity and overt sexuality are impossible to be taken seriously in the work place. It paves the way for bosses, coworkers and even employees to push over professional Latina women and even sexually harass them. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (cited in Cocuy 2014), 77% of Latina women have stated that sexual harassment is a significant issue in their work place. Latina women are objectified, even in professional settings, because the media condones this behavior.

Jessica Beltran created and directed a short documentary called, ‘Shackles of Sex: Stereotypes of Latinas in Film and Media’. It concerns the problem of Latina stereotypes in the media. Beltran singles out the ‘spitfire’, the ‘female clown’ and the ‘dark lady’ as three primary Latina stereotypes, and argues that these stereotypes are characterized by negative qualities such as hypersexualisation, lack of education or intelligence, and laziness.

For Beltran, these stereotypes are problematic as they are negative representations with no actual basis in reality, and they are limiting to Latina actors and Latina women generally. The fact that TV shows and movies reserve Latina actresses for roles that are caricatures of harmful stereotypes is racist. Latina women are so much more than maids and trophy wives and the media needs to recognize that.

  

References

Cocuy, N 2014, ‘Spicy, Subservient and Stupid: Latina Stereotypes in the Media’ University Wire. Available from: ProQuest. [9 May 2016].

Menard, V 1997, ‘Luscious Latinas: The pros and cons of an evolving stereotype’, Hispanic, pp. 21. Available from: ProQuest. [9 May 2016].

The Critical Media Project n.d., Shackles of sex: Stereotypes of Latinas in film. Available from: http://www.criticalmediaproject.org/cml/media/shackles-of-sex-stereotypes-of-latinas-in-film/. [9 May 2016].

10 thoughts on “Spicy and Sexual Latinas : Stereotypes Courtesy of the Media

  1. Wow, I wonder what other women from Latin America would say about it?
    Do you think that digital media have added something different to these stereotypes known already from mainstream media?
    I am also thinking how much we, in our writing about it here, contribute to further ‘promoting’ these stereotypes in our society .

  2. Great post! In the case of Modern Family, it’s fascinating how a show that’s often lauded for bucking ‘traditional’ representations trades so heavily in stereotypes. I’d argue that a character like Gloria is at least as positive as it is negative – I’d much rather see a Columbian-American actress in a leading role in a mainstream American sitcom, and while she’s the butt of some jokes I think the vast majority of the laughs come from Sofia Vergara’s massive comic talent. As she herself says, the problem is less one actress playing a stereotypical character than it is not having enough Latinos and Latinas writing and working in the industry (which of course comes from prejudice, lack of opportunity and incentives, etc). But I totally take your point and agree that it’s the sheer volume of stereotypical portrayals that lean into those cliched archetypes that does the harm.

    Your post also made me curious as to how many Australians would identify as Latin (by birth or heritage) – what’s the size of the audience here who might be affected, or offended? I was surprised to learn it’s much higher than I thought – around 0.91% of the population (according to ten-years old census data). That’s a lot of people who might have a stake in more fully dimensional portrayals of Latin women. I think it’s also worth reflecting on how our local digital media portrays them, and to the extent they even do, I don’t think it’s flattering. Just consider any taco-related ad you’d hear on the radio, or how The Australian drew Telstra boss Sol Trujillo (an American with Mexican heritage) as a droopy-eyed, burro-riding, sombrero-wearing caricature. It’s important for people to be able to see ‘themselves’ on screens, and both American media and local media aren’t doing a great job.

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