“You’re Russian? That’s so hot.”
The number of times I have heard this and similar phrases makes me visibly cringe. Being of Russian and Mexican heritage, I take pride in both cultures and sides of my family. However, that pride is sometimes undermined when my cultural background, particularly the Russian half, is treated like a fetish and used to sexually objectify me.
While this has probably been going on for many years -- I am now starting to remember instances in high school -- I did not really notice until recently how often this fetishization occurs. When I started using Tinder, I had in my bio that I could speak three languages: English, Russian, and French. People I matched with would, of course, ask about me being trilingual, which would then lead to discussions of my heritage. When I would say that I am part Mexican, they would be very surprised since I look very white due to the Mexican side of my family being very light-skinned and white-washed. Then, when I explained that I am also half-Russian, the reaction would be one of both awe and lust. Automatically, I would be bombarded with remarks of how gorgeous, exotic, and unbelievably sexy Russian girls are. Some people would even swipe right just because they saw “Russian” mentioned in my bio. At one point, I just took that section out of my bio completely. While I never said anything or paid too much into it, the sexualization was subtly making me feel unnerved and slightly uncomfortable.
I did not become fully aware of my culture being treated as a fetish until toward the end of last semester. I was engaging in sexual activities with a guy when suddenly he asked me to say something sexy in Russian. Earlier in the evening, I had noticed he was quite fascinated with my heritage, but never in my life did I expect a request like this. I was completely taken aback and quite bewildered, but I did not want to kill the mood so I just kind of prattled something random in Russian, all while internally cringing very hard. It seemed to please him immensely, but I felt so uncomfortable that I mentally prayed he would not ask me to do it again. After he left, I began to think more in-depth about this situation and similar instances in the past where people had spoken to me with the mindset that because I was Russian, suddenly I was the real-life equivalent of a spam email advertising “sexy Russian girls in your area” or a mail-order bride. This revelation disturbed me and continues to lurk in the back of my mind.
Fetishizing any culture or race is repulsive, to say the least. It shows that you do not value a person or care enough to treat them as a human being, but instead want to use them as a foreign sex object shrouded in hurtful stereotypes. It is one thing to be fascinated with and appreciate someone’s culture on account that it can be an important part of that person’s identity. However, it is not okay to treat that person’s heritage and identity like a fetish due to gross stereotypes that encourage objectification and dehumanization.