What to Wear for Whiteness?
‘Whore’ Stigma and the East/West Politics of Race, Sexuality and Gender
Drawing on two ethnographic projects, one among Russian-speaking women engaged in commercial sex, the other among young Russian-speaking migrants in Finland, we interrogate how the construct of Eastern European female body is positioned in relation to the norm of (Western) Europeanness and white femininity. We show how Russian-speaking migrant women in Finland learn of their ‘Russianness’ and ‘Easternness’ through the circulation of the ‘whore’ stigma. We analyse these processes of racialisation and sexualisation in the context of the Finnish national project based on gender equality and women’s liberation norms. While normative Western Europeanness has recently been constructed through emancipated sexuality and the exclusion of non-Western Others as sexually repressed, the bodies of Russian-speaking women are perceived as sexually excessive and in need of toning down. Focusing on the (self-)policing of Russian-speaking migrant women’s bodies and the ways they navigate acceptable and unacceptable forms of gendered self-presentation, we demonstrate how these women are construed as not emancipated enough and hence not quite white. The article thereby contributes to understanding hierarchies of whiteness within the East/West dynamics of race as they pertain to gender and sexuality.
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