Photo by Paola. Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/paolags94/
Paola told me the Colombia was a salpicon of culture, and after translating salpicon (a fruit cocktail) she didn’t have to explain what she meant by it. Now, after two months in Colombia, one of the only ways I can describe it here is a salpicon.
She crossed her legs at the table of which we sat. She maintained a smile and friendly disposition which felt as though it’s more than the fact that I am a guest from AirBnb in her house. With a family in the hospitality industry Paola was introduced to a salpicon of foreigners, languages and cultures, many of which share perceived notions on Colombia and Colombian women. She was 15 years old when group of tourists tried to buy her for sex… from her mother. Paola murmurs “how much for the girl?” While incidents like this seem shocking and horrible, it brought me to question why and how this man, or more so, a group of men got the idea that a woman…. let alone a child can be bought.
Looking at international representations of Colombia there are two dominant discourses: cocaine and beautiful women. Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city is a popular destination for blow and blow jobs. For this reason, it is not surprising that Colombia is rated high on the ladder for international sex tourism. Paola relays stories of tourists who drink, salsa and “fuck” their way through the country.
The Colombian Government is working to change this discourse, however. While prostitution is legal, pimping is not. In July 2016, ‘Colombia Jake’, a US American sex tourism provider was arrested. He was the first foreigner on sexual exploitation charges including prostitution, trafficking, manufacturing and pimping a minor. But, this crack down is long overdue.
Colombian international media representatives such as Sofía Vergera are is pressured by the media to fit the niche of the stunning, hyper sexual, gold digging, criminal or seductress. Statistics show that Latinos are 37.5% more likely to be partially or fully naked in films than other women. While 36.1% are outfitted in sexualised attire. The industry makes little to no room for non-whites, especially Latinos in roles separate from those mentioned above. Therefore, it is not surprising though it should also not be easily forgiven when stereotypes are produced and enacted.
Needless to say, popular media heavily affects popular opinion. Therefore, the subordination and sexualisation of Latino women in the media such as Colombian women, is something that can be internalised by those subjugated. Women, especially Colombian women are taught to base their worth, like the media does on their bodies. Their worth becomes entangled with the discourses of fertility and hyper sexuality for the male gaze.
This is perfectly illustrated by Sofía Vergera’s skit at the 2014 Emmy awards where she stood on a rotating pedestal in what was supposed to be a comical skit. She stood as a prop to Bruce Rosenblum’s speech on the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. For an extremely successful model, actor and television presenter, one would be led to believe that she would be treated as more than just a sexual prop for men to gawk at while a man was giving a speech.
Patriarchy and the male gaze work together to communicate the message that women are here for your pleasure. Especially, the hyper sexualised Colombian or Latina. In Sex tourism, this idea is capitalised on. Women are here for your pleasure, just “throw some money at [them]”. Therefore, after consuming popular media and it is no surprise that tourists flock to Colombia for an ‘easy fuck’.
According to Paola, Colombians glorify the image of narco traffickers and hyper sexual women. And while trafficking, prostitution and drug exports are important socioeconomic assets of Colombia’s culture and history. It by no means defines Colombia and Colombian people. Paola argues, “when this is glorified we are allowing others to think that this is Colombia”.
Colombian culture has been turned into a violent and sexy cinema which discounts the every day experiences and nuances of every day Colombian people.
Colombia, like the rest of the world needs feminism. Moving away from stereotypes can be liberating.