The issues of nature and the interpretation of the external and gender differences of human communities have concerned scientists and philosophers throughout the history of humanity. However, very often, anthropological studies were carried out with the selfish purpose of proving the superiority of one social group over others, especially this was characteristic of European scientists.
According to Fausto-Sterling, “the colonial expansion of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries shaped European science; Cuvier’s dissection of Baartman was a natural extension of that shaping” (20). This paper will discuss the cultural implications of Saartjie Baartman’s body study and the Somerville’s perspective on 19th-century anthropology.
Saartjie Baartman’s and the Issue of Interpretation in Early Western Anthropology
The story of Saartjie Baartman’s body research is a striking example of the problem of bias and racism among European male scientists. In their works, Cuvier and de Blainville explained Baartman’s and her tribespeople’ physiological characteristics and even equated them with apes using outdated comparative anatomy (Fausto-Sterling 34). Her passion and openness were viewed from the perspective of pseudoscientific principles of physiognomy, where such concepts belonged to the animal kingdom (Fausto-Sterling 34).
Yet, Saartjie’s free behavior attracted men but scared Cuvier, who was afraid of liberation uprisings (Fausto-Sterling 42). This anxiety has led to the rooting of sexist and racist stereotypes and distancing female representatives of “primitive” traditional societies away from European women in the scientific sphere through terms such as “civilization” (Fausto-Sterling 41). Sommerville confirms the presence of neglect of women and people of color in those days by the examples of recapitulation and the popular notion that the structure of people determines their intellectual abilities (24). Such disrespectful, insulting, and false theories have been refuted, and they have no place in the 21st century.
This paper explores the consequences of a racist interpretation in the field of early anthropology and the role of Saartjie Baartman’s body study in it. Wrong research techniques and the fear of the destruction of the Western patriarchal system drove to the forced promotion of sexist and racist theoretical basis that lasted for a long time. Somerville also agrees with the presence of a racially and gender-biased anthropological theory in the 19th century.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Gender, Race, and Nation.” Deviant Bodies: Critical Perspectives on Difference in Science and Popular Culture, edited by Jennifer Terry and Jacqueline Urla, Indiana University Press, 1995, pp.19-48.
Somerville, Siobhan B. Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture. Duke University Press, 2000.