Sarah Baartman: Pseudo-scientific Ideas about Race and Gender

Sarah Baartman was demonstrated as an anomaly because of her rare bodily characteristics, was laid to rest nearly two centuries after her departure from Cape Town for London. Baartman’s corpses were entombed on August 9th, 2002, Women’s Day, in Gamtoos River Valley a region believed to be her birthplace (Holmes 14). She was brought forth in 1789 and labored as a serf in Cape Town where Baartman “noticed” by Medic William Dunlop. Doctor Dunlop convinced Baartman to journey with him to Britain (Baartman). Nonetheless, it has been unclear what was promised to persuade her to board a ship for London. In London, she was used as an exhibition especially displaying her genitals and buttocks with Dunlop among other whites aiming to prove that blacks are oversexed and inferior. In this light, it is clear that pseudo-science ideas about race and gender based on appearance and public opinion amid Sarah Baartman’s era facilitated erasing her humanity in numerous ways. For example, an unscientifically proven postulation such as black female physique is intrinsically subhuman facilitated demeaning Baartman.

Black females in the Baartman era

In the first place, Qureshi (234) identifies that black females during the Baartman era were viewed to have inherently inferior bodies and consequently provisioning room for exploitation. In this manner, Qureshi (237) reserves the thesis to the representative annexation by the West of the Baartman’s darkness, feminine physique and sexuality and the current standpoints of African women’s bodies transnationally. Qureshi (247) supposes that the perceptive creation of Baartman characterizes the denotations of George Cuvier, a surgeon working for Napoleon, who anatomized her corpses. Cuvier concluded that Baartman showed abnormality and subsequently was oversexed, freak and less than human. In this manner, Baartman’s buttocks joined with her pointed out hyper-sexuality developed a western course in the past of sociocultural imaginations of Africa and the black female physique as intrinsically subhuman and subsequently positioning them as subjects to be exploited.

The 19th century marked the amplified medical and anthropological dissertations codifying racial variations. This period also saw fresh groupings being developed in which an individual’s ethicality and humanness were connected to their biological composition (Holmes 21). The case of Baartman is more justifying of the connection as the English and French researchers and health practitioners found her body enthralling (Baartman). Baartman sexuality was viewed as irregular, extreme and corrupted when compared to the normative European sexuality self-illustration. Further, due to the understanding, the African women’s sexuality was associated with everything that is deviant. The Baartman’s physique, considered a bizarre, was sidelined and noted as a frightening makeup that is outside the normal form of the European nature (Fausto-Sterling 66). The unusualness of Baartman solidified and accentuated the European self-perception of typical, aesthetical, ethical and superior. On the other hand, identifying the unusualness and using it to self-build erased the humanity of Baartman in the sense that they viewed her as subhuman and an exhibition.

Domination of Africans during the Baartman Era

Additionally, the pseudo-science ideas enabled the domination of Africans particularly validating the inaccurate premise instituting the Khoisan (“Hottentots”) as the utmost shabby parties in the evolution of human beings (Holmes 45). In fact, the Europeans claimed that the Hottentots mated with the Orangutan. This general view of Africans paved the way for Baartman to be placed on exhibition in Paris and London in the 19th century. From the general view, the African people were held as subhuman; however, the degrading was taken a notch higher with the Baartman’s discourse. Baartman was used as a standard unit through which the Europeans gauged their western evolution through discerning identity, distinction and advances and largely their extent of positive variation from primitiveness (Baartman). In this way, they viewed Baartman as the lowest exemplum of human kinds while the Europeans took up the topmost position of human progress. Consequently, the process of gauging self (by Europeans) while reflecting on a black female physique is degrading and dehumanizing and in this manner took the humanity of Baartman.

Further, different academicians suppose that Baartman’s account was popularized not because of her exhibition given that numerous individuals were similar to her. The story resulted in being famous since it was brought to the English court in November 1810.In spite of enslavement being illegalized in England by 1807, the practice was halted by 1833 in the British Empire (Fausto-Sterling 66). The African Association tasked with advocating for exploration of the inner parts of Africa, under the false proclamation of ethical atrocity, presented Baartman’s case to the English judicial system. The association charged Cezar, Baartman’s owner, with enslavement and offensiveness (Holmes 77). However, Cezar contended that Baartman had consensually assented to a contract denoting that the exhibition was to her personal liking and subsequently would return to South Africa after a two-year of stay in England. Nonetheless, the primary bone of contention for the courts was not the immoral live shows of an African caged like an animal but the indecent portrayal of her body to the civilized moral English public. The lack of regard for the African woman humanity, Baartman, in the justice system successively dehumanized her.

The conclusion of Sarah Baartman Essay

In conclusion, the pseudo-science ideas about race and gender based on appearance and public opinion amid Sarah Baartman’s era, indeed, facilitated erasing her humanity in numerous ways. For instance, Qureshi (234) identifies that black female during the Baartman era were viewed to have inherently inferior bodies and consequently provisioning room for exploitation. The case of Baartman is more justifying of the niche black women were as the English and French researchers and health practitioners found her body fascinating. These Pseudo-scientific suppositions are unfounded.

Work Cited

Baartman, Saartjie. “Saartjie Baartman’s Story (Part 1/2).” Online video clip. Youtube, 17 April 2012. Web. 25 October 2016.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Gender, race, and nation.” Skin deep, spirit strong: The Black female body in American culture (2002): 66.

Holmes, Rachel. The Hottentot Venus: the life and death of Saartjie Baartman: born 1789-buried 2002. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.

Qureshi, Sadiah. “Displaying Sara Baartman, the ‘Hottentot Venus’.” History of Science 42.2 (2004): 233-257.

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