Saturday, June 18, 2011

Singapore Girl: You're a great Orientalist stereotype.

I've taken Singapore Airlines (SIA) maybe twice in my life, and besides the strangely bad food and thickly made up stewardesses, I never thought much of it.

Until I read the article "No Longer in a Future Heaven" by Anne McClintock (1991), in a module last term, where Nira Yuval-Davis and Flora Anthias (1989) mention the "Singapore Girl" as an example of using women as the 'symbols and signifiers of national difference'.

I did a Google search for SIA ads and there's the Singapore Girl in every pictures - even those of engines and food. How to construct an exotic, subservient, in-need-of-love-and-domination Asian woman through these ads?

Use a young, fair-skinned, Chinese (haven't seen a Malay or Indian Singapore girl yet!) girl, with a shy, demure smile and display her long locks and neck.

Use fans, umbrellas and the setting sun when talking about the Far East.

Or just be obvious. Use the word "exotic" and drawings of the 'tropics'.

In his 1978 work titled Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient, Edward said argued that Oriental women are “usually the creatures of the a male power fantasy.  They express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing” (207). The Oriental woman is both eager to be dominated and strikingly exotic.

No surprise, the advertising agency (Batey Ads) that created this campaign many decades ago was led by Australian Ian Batey and a French designer, Pierre Balmain, came up with the kebaya uniform.

The exotic Oriental women willingly serves you, the white passenger.
She doesn't just serve white men.
(Interestingly, I found two versions of this image - the version above had an Asian-looking woman cropped out to fit the Orientalist stereotype.)

Not only is she domestic (serving food, making beds), she loves you and you can fall in love with her too.
As for the real SIA women, they have to follow strict rules: long hair must be worn up, only prescribed shades of bright red lipstick, bright red finger and toenail polish and blue or brown eyeshadow. Yikes!


visigeerent said...

I think the first Singapore Girl was a Malay. Her picture is the one from the link sixtysecondview DOT COM. :)

Sya said...

Yes you're right, she is Malay! Her name is Ms Kasmah Abdul Hamid.

Bee Bbee said...

The Singapore Girl I saw caught my eye as she walked past and I thought she looks tired. I wandered around the airport awaiting the flight to Singapore and stopped at an empty spot against the wall when she suddenly appeared next to me asking if it was alright to stop there and wait. I was surprised and began talking and hmm she is pretty, and a little flirtatious but I fell in love with the pretty Chinese air hostess never to see her again.


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