Blog 1: The Sexy Gypsy

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Typical “Gypsy” Halloween costume from Yandy.com

For this blog response, I’d like you to read Ian Hancock’s article, “The ‘Gypsy’ Stereotype and the sexualization of Romani women” and then select a pop culture artifact (a TV show, movie, clothing/costume, song, blog or blog post, fashion spread, picture, ad, etc) that uses the Sexy Gypsy stereotype to analyze in 300 words.

Hancock explains that the”sexualized Gypsy” trope draws on a history of slavery, segregation, forced sterilization, and sexual exploitation of Romani people. This is problematic first because many of those human rights violations still plague the Romani people, and normalizing the stereotype of the sexualized, objectified, and dehumanized Gypsy woman, who’s spiritually and physically dirty and an object of pleasure, only serves to perpetuate misconceptions about Romani culture and Romani women. And worst of all, these misconceptions fuel the current human rights crisis. Hancock adds that this is not only true for Romani women– this is a facet of the wider problem that minority women are too often reduced to their sexuality and depicted and solely objects of desire in popular culture.

Also, from a writing craft perspective, stereotypes are cliched and one-dimensional. They are flat characters with nothing to add or say, instead, they function as props. In short, they’re bad writing. Three-dimensional characters step closer to depicting the human condition because they are closer to human nature, and consequently, they are far more compelling than stereotypes. Three-dimensional characters exist in art. As writers, we have compelling aesthetic and humanitarian reasons for forgoing stereotypes.

So, with Hancock in mind, include a link to the Sexy Gypsy example that you’ve selected and answer these questions:

1. How does the example sexualize Romani women?

2. What is problematic about the depiction? Use Hancock’s article to explain. Think about current and/or historical social problems that your example might evoke or reference as well as the repercussions of the stereotypes that the example reinforces. Be sure to cite Hancock, the example’s source, and anyone else you may use.

If you’re feeling stuck, consider this scene of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame as an example of the Sexy Gypsy stereotype. Esmeralda is the only Disney character to pole dance (and, later, to perform an unmarried makeout scene). In this way, she is unusually sexualized. The film is set in the 1400’s when Romani slavery in the Balkans was in full swing and Romani women were regularly sexually exploited by the men who enslaved them. While The Hunchback of Notre Dame  highlighted the social injustices that complicated Esmeralda’s life (segregation, prejudice, and genocide, to name a few), it also reinforced age-old misconceptions about Romani women such as promiscuity and loose morals, misconceptions which fuel the same anti-gypsyist sentiment that oppress Romani people both in the film and in reality.

So scour the internet! Let’s talk about The Sexy Gypsy.

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4 thoughts on “Blog 1: The Sexy Gypsy

  1. Hello, as a writer I’ve kind of been reverse-inspired by movies like Hunchback and trying to do “fairy tale” type stories with better representation or that tackles and de-constructs common tropes.

    I’m trying to write Romani characters in my stories but it’s extremely difficult, in the context of a setting where most of the characters are queer magic users, not to come across as offensive and it seems to be a very sensitive subject. I recognise because of the sort of the fiction I write I’m probably not the idea person but I’ve been trying to come up with ideas to make it work.

    I would be very interested in talking about this – not simply for the purposes of being educated but to your general thoughts and ideas for what can be done.

    • Your work sounds really interesting! I’ve been thinking about your question for a while (hence the long wait for a reply) and this is my advice: in general, you want to avoid using Roma (or other minorities) as props in narrative to make it more exotic or romantic. Dr. Ian Hancock has a great article on RADOC called “The Origin and Function of the Gypsy Image in Children’s Literature” in which he discusses the necessary Gypsy (the one-dimensional, functional prop) and the incidentally Gypsy character (the dynamic character whose function isn’t race-reliant). The article is a good place to start. Also, Roma are not a homogeneous group so make sure you don’t represent them as such– for instance, don’t mix traditions. It sounds like Romani people would not be the only magic users in the story, and in some way, that levels the playing field. My advice is, if you want to write about Roma, work on developing compelling and dynamic characters. Steer away from stereotypes, of course, but don’t shy away from history. For example, if you have a Romani beggar in the story, it’s important to foreground the persecution and discrimination that has forced the character into poverty. Similarly, it’s unrealistic to depict all Roma as beggars. Also, read work written by Romani people. I’ve posted about our text book, Roads of the Roma, and that’s a good place to start. If you depict Romani people as magic-users it would be helpful to make the magic culturally relevant. Romani people have a rich culture and spirituality that includes a belief in magic, especially healing magic. Look for trustworthy information about this– there is A LOT of misinformation about Romani culture. Rombase , The Gypsy Chronicles, RADOC, Romedia Foundation, Lolo Diklo Reviews, and Patrin are good places to start. Even though you’re writing fantasy, if you are sensitive to real Romani culture and the Romani rights crisis, you can draw empowering and realistic that are artistically important and informative. I think writers do the most damage by glazing over details– for example, a few really good books, like Gypsy Boy, have been written about what it’s like being gay in a traditional Romani community. Gypsy Boy is a memoir, of course, and there are many gay Roma who do not face the same kind of hardship that Walsh did, but he highlights a very real problem in the community. There are a few Romani Gay Rights groups and Romani Tolerance groups (like Lolo Diklo) that show that times are changing (and are leading the way in changing the times). I hope my ideas were helpful– students and readers, feel free to weigh-in. Let me know if you have any more questions– your project sounds really interesting. Good luck!

      • Hey Jessica – thanks for your reply, I’ve also been thinking about it for a while. I would really like to have a one on one email exchange or chat about this. I’ve talked to other Roma but a lot of them are understandably very awkward about the idea and I find it hard to communicate my ideas. The most important part is that I’m trying to be inclusive of various groups rather than writing about Romani culture – something I believe is up to Romani people – if you understand.

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