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Welcome to my blog. Here I share my successes and failures along my journey to becoming an anthropologist. My most prominent interest anthropologically are the new approaches to handing food security/healthy eating in the US, particularly in urban "food deserts". I enjoy the Anthropology of Tourism as well; combining food and tourism has scholarly promise. My other interests which have converted into anthropological hobbies of sorts include converts to Islam, diaspora of Muslims, and MENA in general. I also have some interest in historical archaeology.

I welcome comments, discussion and even respectful debating. I will however keep discussions to a respectable level. I reserve the right to ban anyone from this forum.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Women, Identity and Tourism: From “Hapa Haole” Dancing Girls in Hawaii to Those Who “Mother” in Post-Socialist Bulgaria

The ideal vacation for many in the West includes the ocean and the beach in some form. Hawaii for example, is aggressively advertised as a location destination for many mainlander Americans. The image that Hawaii generates in the minds of the majority of Americans has not been an accident but a purposefully marketed one (Desmond 1999:12). Women, specifically those who identify as ‘hapa haole’, or mixed Hawaiian and Caucasian ancestry have been the main identifiers for the Hawaiian image (Desmond 1999:23). In Hawaii, it is the image of the hula dancer that is being marketed to the potential tourist. The beach in Bulgaria, off the coast of the Black Sea has been a popular beach destination for Europeans (Ghodsee 2005:1). In Bulgaria, even during the Post-Socialist period, women continue to dominate the tourism industry despite having male competition for jobs (Ghodsee 2005:111). In both Hawaii and Bulgaria, women are fundamental to the identity of the tourism industry albeit with marked differences.

Two cultural anthropologists, Jane C. Desmond, author of Staging Tourism: Bodies on Display from Waikiki to Sea World (1999) and Kristin Ghodsee, author of The Red Riviera (2005) have written about how women are central to the identity within the tourism industry in their respective countries and areas of research. Both Desmond and Ghodsee have used participant observation and historical research as methodologies for their ethnographies.
At the time of this publication Desmond was an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Iowa and has completed research in the United States, specifically in Hawaii. Ghodsee is an assistant professor of gender and woman’s studies at Bowdoin College and has completed research in Post-Socialist Bulgaria and analyzed “women working in the tourism sector and how the process of economic transformation in 1989 irreversibly altered their trajectories” (Ghodsee 2005:5 ).
Here, I compare the work of both Desmond and Ghodsee regarding how in both discourses, women play important roles within the tourism sector. However, within this analysis, I will be omitting Desmond’s discussion pertaining to animal tourism. First, will situate my discussion by giving a brief historical overview of tourism in Hawaii and argue using evidence from the work of Desmond that the current ‘hapa haole’ identity of women in Hawaii is key to the economic survival of the tourist industry. Finally, I will analyze the role of women within the tourist sector in Bulgaria and argue using evidence from the work of Ghodsee that women are central to the tourist industry due to their “innate nurturing” abilities even in the highly competitive Post-Socialist job market.

In Hawaii, the historical beginnings of mass tourism “as a concerted commercial venture, was new and coincided with the end of the Hawaiian monarchy’s rule in 1893” (Desmond 1999:35). Hawaii was “annexed to the U.S in 1898 despite protests by Native Hawaiians and in 1900 became a territory of the U.S” (Desmond 1999:35). Hawaii was an addition to the “new U.S imperial archipelago” along with Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines (Desmond 1999:35). The official discussion of tourism began in 1901 by the Merchants Association in Honolulu and “by 1903, the Hawaiian Promotion Committee was created” (Desmond 1999:35). “By 1899, it was already being dubbed “The Paradise of the Pacific” as Desmond points out through her research (Desmond 1999:39). Tourism had taken root by the late 1920’s. By the end of the 1920’s, tourism ranked third economically after the sale of pineapple and sugar industries (Desmond 1999:4). With air travel affordability during the 1960’s, tourism increased dramatically. In 1968, “visitor tally topped one million and doubled again by 1973” (Desmond 1999:134).

Desmond points out that “the organized development of tourism in Hawai’i was part of a larger European and Euro-American fascination with things “exotic” , an aestheticization of imperialist expansion” (Desmond 1999:37). With the desire to commodify a place and/or a culture requires a need to advertise. There were advertisements linking “Hawai’i to the “glorious Orient”, however, the “native iconography of the hula girl had not yet appeared” in the ads. (Desmond 2009:36). Eventually, mainlander’s ideas about Hawaii and people came through “visual and verbal representations” (Desmond 1999:40). For example, the image proliferated through postcards. The time period between1898-1918 was “considered a golden age for post cards” and the Hawaiian tourist industry was just beginning to emerge (Desmond 1999:43). On the images on the postcards included not only images of nature scenes such as the beach but of hula dancers (Desmond 1999:44). As Desmond asserts, “gradually, the increasingly popular image of the hula dancer came to stand for the distinctiveness of Native Hawaiian culture and thus of Hawai’i” (Desmond 1999:45). “The use of these images would increase in later decades”, says Desmond (Desmond 1999:6).

Both race and gender take a front row seat within this discussion on Hawaii. The tourist industry on the islands created an image of what they wanted to present to the consumer and a female “hapa haole” look was, and still is considered the ideal (Desmond 1999:23). At the time during the emergence of tourism in Hawai’i, the general ideas about “race as a system of bodily based cultural classification” and “Caucasians were ranked at the top of these typologies” (Desmond 1999:38). However, in Hawai’i, the people were exotic, yet safe opposed to “threatening” (Desmond 1999:40). Hawaiians “represented a pastoral vision of harmony with nature” (Desmond 1999:40). Hawaiians were not linked to the “black-white dichotomy and its (for the United States) troubling mixtures” and “were not black or white or mulatto” as Desmond points out (Desmond 1999:51). In contrast, Puerto Rico, under colonialization by the United States “seemed to call for civilizing through “whitening” (Desmond 1999:51). So, the tourism industry’s idea of what an “ideal native” is was “raced” and “gendered” in particular ways: female, not male and “brown,” not “back,” “yellow,” or “red” (Desmond 1999:5).

In Hawaii, female hula dancers are the purveyors of Native Hawaiian culture (Desmond 1999:79). The meaning of gender is an ideal of what a society believes are socially developed roles that people are expected to fulfill. In addition, it includes expectations about what women and men are expected to look like based on the particular culture. In Hawaii, “it is the image of the female dancer that stands for a paradisiacal past, unspoiled by modernity yet willing to be its entertaining hostess” expresses Desmond (Desmond 1999:88). The “hula girl” image is typifies Hawaiian tourism (Desmond 1999:6). Hawaiian scholar and activist Haunani-Kay Trask connects the “links between imperialist visions of soft primitivism and gender” by pointing out, “Hawai’i-the word, the vision, the sound in the mind-is the fragrance and feel of soft kindness. Above all, Hawai’i is ‘she’, the Western image of the Native ‘female’ in her magical allure” (Desmond 1999:11). The image that the industry generates is the “non-threatening hula girl”, “with her dark hair, bare skin, grass skirt, beckoning smile, and graceful gestures over swaying hips, the hula girl image evokes the feminized lushness of the tropics: accessible, hospitable, beautiful, exotic, and natural (Desmond 1999:12). It is this image that “successfully lures six million visitors a year to the islands and is crucial to the islands’ economic survival” (Desmond 1999:13). The tourist industry uses this “destination image” and “cultural difference” to set itself apart from other beach destinations that could be closer to home (Desmond 1999:12). Finally, despite the evidence that women represent Hawaii as a tourist destination, the stereotype image of Hawaiian men is not to be left out of this analysis. For example, in Tahitian dancing, says Desmond, “the solo fire-knife dancer is always male, emphasizing virility, danger, expertise and even painful endurance” (Desmond 1999:25).

As in Hawaii, Bulgarian women play a central role within the tourism industry although in different ways and under very different circumstances. Here I show, using the work of Ghodsee that women continue to dominate the tourist sector even in the highly competitive Post-Socialist job market while arguing that according to many Bulgarians, women are important to the industry as nurturers as they are “simply better” at giving tourists a positive experience (Ghodsee 2005:111). During the communist period up until 1989, the premise of the government was to offer “social and economic justice for all workers and total equality for women” (Ghodsee 2005:4). Some of that equality included a high level of human development such as a free higher education, childcare, and paid medical (Ghodsee 2005:33). In fact, as Ghodsee mentions, “countries of the Eastern bloc were able to boast some of the highest female labor participation rates in the world” (Ghodsee 2005: 34).

In addition, women were able to gain certain levels of capital to succeed in the very competitive tourist industry. Cultural capital for example consisted of extensive language training and a higher education (Ghodsee 2005:14). For example, social capital allowed those who were members of the Communist Party to use connections for job acquisition (Ghodsee 2005:14). Economic capital was acquired as “hard currency” in the tourist sector in the form of foreign tips. It gave people “some financial security in a time of wild economic fluctuation” by allowing people to “purchase rationed goods in the dollar stores where there were shortages in the years immediately following “the changes” (Ghodsee 2005:98-99).

All of these forms of capital were utilized during the communist period but it is the cultural capital that created success stories for those who had acquired it prior to the Post-Socialist period (Ghodsee 2005:14). For example, high levels of education and foreign language training were the keys to those who wanted a position within the industry (Ghodsee 2005:14). However, as Ghodsee points out, “cultural capital was allocated to socialist subjects along specifically gendered lines” (Ghodsee 2005:107). Women tended to be led into “general education” while men were “concentrated in the more technical colleges” (to be able to move into the industrial sector) (Ghodsee 2005:107). According to the research of Ghodsee, there was a “gendered division of labor in favor of the men who primarily worked in this sector” (Ghodsee 2005:107). For those holding cultural capital, particularly higher education and foreign language training, were well suited to move into the capitalist market much more easily than those with social capital (with the death of communism, social capital was useless) (Ghodsee 2005:108). Ghodsee also makes note that “tourism in Bulgaria had a high concentration of women with large amounts of the “good” cultural capital” (Ghodsee 2005:108).

Tourism as an industry “came to be associated with certain stereotypical “feminine” characteristics” (Ghodsee 2005:108). In fact, no one position is “better” suited than another. As Ghodsee explains, “even at the managerial sphere, women claimed that tourism work is feminine” (Ghodsee 2005:111). In fact Hristo, one of the men whom Ghodsee interviewed, “felt that because women had to deal with very small children they were simply more patient and polite with foreigners” (Ghodsee 2005:109). According to Ghodsee, even women had “justified their domination of the sector based on their role as mothers” (Ghodsee 2005:109) Dora, a woman whom Ghodsee interviewed “believed that women have a greater understanding of the tourist’s needs” (Ghodsee 2005:110). Not only do Bulgarians believe tourism is a better fit for a woman in terms of her temperament, but they believe that it also works with their lives better. As Ghodsee explains, “Bulgarians still believe that women have something to do in the off-season (i.e., take care of their families and household responsibilities)” while “men are perceived as having “nothing” to do when the summer or winter season ends” (Ghodsee 2005:113). Even though men began to move into some areas traditionally dominated by women (law, banking, finance, and medicine) due to displacement from other industries, “tourism remained distinctly feminine” (Ghodsee 2005:109).

In Post-Socialist Bulgaria, as Ghodsee explains, there was a new “democratic” concept of femininity appearing in the popular culture, a new gender paradigm for women” (Ghodsee 2005: 109). The advent of capitalism meant an introduction of many Western ideas through “women’s magazines and on billboards around the major cities” (Ghodsee 2005:109). The “new feminine ideal” included according to Ghodsee, things like music videos where “sultry Bulgarian vixens glorified a brand of predatory femininity where a woman’s “love” could be gained only in exchange for expensive cars, clothes, and jewelry” (Ghodsee 2005:109). Importantly, “privatization, employment expansion, and the sudden popularity of tourism degree programs for both young women and men had done nothing to change the socialist measure of tourism as a woman’s sector” asserts Ghodsee (Ghodsee 2005:109).

To conclude, I analyzed two ethnographies on tourism focusing on very distinctly different parts of the world and in different contexts. Like I showed in my discussion on Hawaii, women are central to the image that the tourism industry wants to convey. That image is not only gendered but racialized as well. That image is used in advertising, on postcards, and of course in the infamous luaus. The image, like I pointed out here, is still unfortunately paramount to the success of Hawaii marketing itself as distinct from other, possibly more inexpensive places to travel.

In sharp contrast, in my discussion about Bulgaria, I showed how women are also gendered within the tourism industry but in different contexts. I spoke about how important certain kinds of capital have been important to those in the tourism industry during the socialist years and also how specific capital such as social capital was devalued after the communist years while cultural capital became critical to those in tourism. Finally, I showed that women are culturally considered the purveyors of quality service due to their “natural mothering skills” and that despite a highly competitive Post-Socialist job market, women still continue to dominate the sector. From a personal perspective, I have now added the Black Sea in Bulgaria to my long list of places to see in this wonderful world of ours. However, the opposite has occurred upon reading the ethnography on Hawaii.


Anthrogeek10 said...

Just for the record, I am not very competent at uploading pics within this medium. I have a few duplicates! LOL I am not worrying about it.

Chiara said...

Interesting essay. Tourism has greater potential as an anthropology topic than I thought.

I wonder how much the ideal of women being calming, nurturing, and hostesses plays in to both settings' feminization of the tourist industry or its images (beyond the sexualization for the male pocket book I mean).

Looking forward to your next essay too!

Susanne said...

Great pictures!

Anthrogeek10 said...

I earned an A- on this paper. Her comments revolved around my lack of analysis about gender. I need to take a gender theory course. I am not sure how to talk about gender. Oh well. It was in the 'A' range...that's important. lol

Anthrogeek10 said...


You are speaking about gender....a topic I would love to explore further.

For the research paper, I should have chosen a topic such as Muslim vacation travel post 9/11 or something. I am nto digging this fishing tourism paper as well as I had hoped. Lack of data is only a small part of it.

Anthrogeek10 said...

I am not sure if I should post part of my research paper or not when it is finished. Fishing tourism and the enviornment may not be so exciting for my audience. :-)

@Susanne--thanks! I took them from the internet. LOL

Chiara said...

Good idea to learn more about gender theory and gender in academia speak.

Post the paper in the spirit of showing an Anthropologist in the Making.

Very true that in picking research topics play to your strengths and interests!