Reflection on 18th century values in a 21st C. world

Something that struck me while reading Sander Gilman’s essay “The Hottentot and the Prostitute: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality” was the focus during the eighteenth century on finding “scientific” reasoning for why the female, and particularly the black female, were considered an inferior species to the while male. It could be argued that this interest in scientific classification was accelerated by the end of the Industrial Revolution, but I think it stemmed from the drive in human nature to prove superiority to other creatures. Thus, these scientists (all white males), looked for differences in those they saw as “other” – specifically, people of color and females and in particular Hottentot women and Bushman – in order to classify them as separate.

As what can be considered an innate human drive to identify and categorize, are there places we still see this trend towards racial and sexual bias that leads to cultural superiority? Are there elements to Ellis’ book Studys in the Psychology of Sex (1905) that still hold true in culture today, even if general society denounces these ideas? Is there still an “absolute, totally objective scale of beauty” (pp. 124) that dictates what is seen as beautiful and thus, superior? I would argue yes, especially when it concerns race and sex, that there is still a bias against these groups in attaining positions of power within society, based on the outdated idea that they are somehow less adept than the white male in any situation. What you think though is up to you.


Ellee Banaszak, Hope College, Class of 2017


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