Veena Malik is a starlet and a defender of Pakistani women’s right to hot pants. Famous for being sexy and half-naked, in some cases her antics and opinions are in fact rather amusing – in a very feminist way. Recently she managed to grab the Pakistani, Indian and British media headlines with her appearance on the cover of FHM India, where she posed naked with “ISI” (the acronym for Pakistan’s secret services) written on her arm.
So, how can the appearance on a male-oriented magazine, whose articles nobody is going to read anyway (except if they give advice on how to improve one’s sexual performance) could cause a stir? Apparently, some prominent conservative and religious Pakistanis thought that having one of “their” women posing naked was affecting the country’s image and values. Some asked that she got stripped from her Pakistani nationality and sent her death threats. The outrage uncovers some unsettling beliefs, as it reflects the idea that “their” women, the carriers of tradition and family honour, should remain virtuous and concealed. Malik, who is no stranger to criticism, was also infuriated, because, as she stated, she had actually posed in a thong (you know, the petit piece of fabric that covers next to nothing) which had been digitally erased.
A few days ago another interesting piece of South Asian gossip hit the British media. The Guardian, a highly respected British newspaper ran a story about Sunny Leone, a Canadian porn star born to Indian parents, that entered the house of Big Boss 5, the Indian edition of the Big Brother (Veena Malik had been part of the previous season). Her presence caused vivid discussions because of how decently she was behaving. She was polite, cooperative and… dressed. People seem to love her, as she is experiencing a tremendous success in the search engines in India. However, her presence resulted to complains by artists and members of the parliament alike. The most striking comment though, as reported on the Guardian, was made in an editorial in the Economic Times: “Maybe the notorious Indian hypocrisy has tired of its own weight [sic].” Another possibility was that Leone was not seen as authentically Indian and “no one minds a salacious Caucasian”.
Such an opinion, serious or ironic, is problematic and worrisome in many levels. Firstly, these stories highlight the role of that media in the representation of different groups or the reproduction of related stereotypes. Furthermore, the term “Caucasian” seems to be associated with individuals who don’t necessarily identify with the social-historical dimension of the word and only relate to its anthropological meaning. After all, people come in different shades and the “West” is a patchwork of cultures, narrations and civilisations. It also indicates that there is a widespread use of the word “Caucasian” as an umbrella term for everyone born and raised in the “West”. This shows that there is a division between the “East” and the “West” based in notions of culture, rather than race or financial circumstances. So, “Caucasian” women (of European or Indian or you name it descent) are different but sexy, part of a world outside the person’s community, so accessible for illicit, non-serious pleasure.
Nevertheless, the expression of such opinions can also take unexpected implications: these ideas are reproduced and read by women in western countries. Many Asian men travel, study and work abroad where they have many opportunities to meet and associate with local women. No dignified man, regardless of his social status or bank account, would enjoy meeting a lady for the first time and be looked at as a foreigner full of prejudices and negative assumptions about her. This could be an awkward moment for both parties who could feel that they have been labeled, categorised and attributed certain traits before they even have the chance to open their mouth. It may lead to a vicious circle of suspicion, self-awareness and, ultimately, lack intimacy in any level.
Is this an over-analysis of the impact of digital content meant for mindless, physical satisfaction? In his article “Asian Pornography”, after analysing the presence of Asian adult performers and the roles they are assigned in post-colonial terms of racial fetishism, José B. Capino decides to abandon the in-depth analysis and to try and read the images and videos in a superficial way. Then he suggests that the viewers of such material are people at least curious in interracial relations who simulate them through pornography. Therefore, he is of the opinion that the existence of ethnic pornography is a sign of progress in racial relations.
Could this idea be applied to the juicy white starlets that seem to dominate the sexy and sex industry? Are men interested in getting to experience how it would feel to be with a partner of a different mentality, expression of sexuality or even ethnicity? Even if this is true, it does not always lead to a healthy image of other races or cultures, especially in regions experiencing a booming demand for erotic-themed media. There is a need for the viewing of the sexual content to be complimented by the association with women of different origin who don’t walk around naked or dressed as nurses or dominatrices.