Spicy, Subservient and Stupid: Latina Stereotypes in 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.

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

Turn on your TV and you will see Sofia Vergara perpetuating racial stereotypes as a fiery, voluptuous trophy wife on “Modern Family.” Listen to the radio and you will hear Jennifer Lopez, an intelligent and multi-talented mother of two, singing about what she is famous for: her butt. Even Consuela in “Family Guy,” Lupe in “Arrested Development” and the entire premise of Eva Longoria’s “Devious Maids” are harmful offenders that paint Latina women primarily as passive domestics with a poor grasp of the English language.

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. At this year’s Emmy Awards ceremony, to spice up the part when the Academy’s accountant dully discusses the voting process, easily the most boring part of every award show, Vergara was literally placed on a slowly rotating pedestal so we could all gawk at her perfect body. Her body was literally used to distract and entertain us.

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, 77 percent 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.

On a personal level, my mom is an intelligent, classy, professional Latina woman. She immigrated to the United States from Dominican Republic when she started her bachelor’s degree in computer science. Since graduating from the University of Houston, she has taught computer science classes in English to Spanish-speaking community college students, has worked for Xerox as a computer consultant, and currently manages a Latin American cloud support field engagement group for Microsoft. Yet, she often encounters bossy cashiers who talk down to her and annoyed clerks who impatiently give her instructions just because she still has an accent. Whenever my mother approaches someone with a question, that person already has a preconceived idea of her personality and level of intelligence based on overexaggerated stereotypes and responds rudely.

The fact that my mother, an accomplished and experienced leader, gets pushed around in public frequently based on her race and gender is degrading. The fact that Vergara and Lopez need to advertise their hypersexualized body parts to be relevant is disgusting. 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.

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