Sarah Baartman Research Paper

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I will be advancing an argument on the early representations of Sarah Baartman in comparison to her representation in our modern society, beginning in the course of the early eighteenth century. In my research, I will use Sarah Baartman as a means of showing how medical and scientific discourses work to construct images of sexual and racial differences. After her death in in 1815, her body was given to the comparative anatomist, Georges Cuvier, who dissected and preserved the body as an object of scientific research. The question of how Sarah Baartman was both raw material and a product of scientific racism forms the focus of this research task. A long time ago, possibly two hundred years ago, many major discoveries were made by scientists. The chemistry, mathematics and technology of that time was discovered and/or developed. However, one thing they could not understand was genetics which then resulted in them making assumptions and their own conclusions about different ethnic groups. Most of these assumptions were false, which is why they are classified as pseudo-scientific. These same assumptions and conclusions led to prejudice and discrimination for the races that were “classified” as inferior - the most prominent of these being black Africans. (Grant, 1999) Cuvier’s conclusion regarding her anatomy was that all people of African descent were by nature, inferior to Europeans. Cuvier’s findings informed scientific racism (a pseudo science, as will be argued.) and concluded that she was a link between animals and humans. Baartman’s physical features were the object of interest for Europeans who had not only assumed that the more primitive you were, the more you were. Furthermore, she was a reflection of their fears and discre... ... middle of paper ... ...ration for the discomfort caused by these actions. Baartman was the ‘pig’ of scientific racism. She was studied like an animal for 3 days, with Cuvier and his team observing the way that she eats, sleeps and reacts to certain things. (Maseko, 1998). After her death, she was dissected like an animal, with her abnormally extended Labia put into a jar. Not only were these discourses racist, but they were also sexist. 200 years later, Baartman is a product and example of scientific racism in the 19th Century. She is also a heroic figure in South Africa for the hyper-sexualization, racism, classism, and sexism she had to endure in a completely foreign country and environment. South African women today, use Baartman as inspiration to stand up for their rights. Furthermore, the country uses Baartman as an example of preserving South Africa’s heritage and appreciating it.

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