The Beurette – A Symbol of The Sexualization of Maghrebi Women in French Cinema

A famous porn website shared the most searched tags per country in 2014. The only country whose top searches referred to an ethnic characteristic : Beurette*. In 2015, « beurette » is still the most searched word in the porn website.

« Beurette » the female version of « beur », which is rebeu backwards, which is itself the backward version of « arab ». Moreover, the « beurette » term refers exclusively to maghrebi women.

Origins of the kink/fantasy

This beurette fantasy is deeply rooted with orientalism and colonialism. In fact, we find its origins in the french colonization of the Maghreb, and in the conception the West have —and somewhat still has— of what they consider to be the « Orient » (cf. Orientalism as explained by author Edward Said). During colonial times, because of that orientalist ideology, the French colonial forces initiate a civilizing mission took as purpose to assert their dominance and sovereignty. Thereby, propaganda posters towards Algerian women started to dawn, summoning them to unveil themselves. Writer Frantz Fanon depicted concretely the colonial frustration the French had as regards to the traditional algerian veil, the hayek, in his essay « La Bataille du Voile ».

Besides this, one out of the many examples of this frustration is the portraits shot by Marc Garanger in 1960. Basically, the photographer was commanded to take portraits of Algerian women in Kabylia, unveiled by force, for « ID photos ». (Because I respect these women I won’t be posting the pictures, but of what I saw, we can notice very much the humiliation they went through and the hatred in their eyes, back then the only weapon they had towards the umpteenth injustice they were subjected to).

This french frustration regarding maghrebi women « who could see them, but they couldn’t », quickly kindled a fantasy, an obsession. The fantasy of entering the unattainable. But also the fantasy of this maghrebi women they want to free from this veil, this culture, this religion seen as shackles imprisoning and submitting her. The beurette fantasy.

This orientalist kink based on the sexualisation of Maghrebi Women started early with colonization. Since then, brothels in Algeria were categorizing prostitutes by ethnic and physical characteristics : the light skinned kabyle, the brown skinned moorish, the jew etc (cf. la prostitution coloniale de Christelle Taraud et Les chambres closes de Germaine Aziz). This sexualisation remains today.

We will recall that celebrity who evoked the « arab woman » (in reference to the maghrebi woman) by doing a mishmash/jumble of all the cultures seen as « oriental » : a tanned woman, with long dark curly hair with scent of jasmine, reminding of the One Thousand and One Nights’ princess.

Not only is this orientalism dehumanizing women (maghrebi, arab, persian, indian or other), but it also homogenizes cultures and ethnic groups that are strictly different to satisfy the fantasy and imaginary kink of Westerners. We can also mention the way they sexualized and twisted the Harem as a place of forbidden desires, prostitution, sexual perversion, when it is actually only a place exclusively made for women.

Maghrebi Women in French Cinema

In short, this fantasy developed a lot in a social perspective in France in the 80s, period where maghrebi immigration arouse. It amplified in mentalities, and in french cinema. We can observe the place maghrebi women have in it. The narrative is always the same : a young maghrebi woman in a popular neighborhood, victim of her culture and religion, whose only wish is to run away from a violent paternal figure who oppresses her and keep her from liberating herself and to blossom. Add a young man she falls in love with —white ofcourse — who’ll play the white savior and who’ll help her with quest of freedom. Moreover, this freedom always happens on a sexual level, that will go with a total reject of the vision of sexuality and chastity in maghrebi culture (influenced by Islam) by the protagonist, and even openly made fun of, seen as inferior (cf. Des Poupées et des Anges, after-sex scene where the girl makes fun of the value chastity she was taught. It is really the infantilization of maghrebi women corroborated by a Western paternalism. A schema extremely colonialist. Best believe that for westerners, the freedom of maghrebi women remains strictly on a sexual level, via libertinism.

Does it nos come to their minds that young maghrebi women can spontaneously be attached to their culture and religion in a rational way, and not because of a patriarchy pressured upon them? That we actually have a brain? That we don’t need that paternalism, we don’t need to be « saved » by the West? That our choices can be genuine without coinciding with the made-up choices westerners think is better for us?

The tragic thing in all of this, is the internalization of this myth by maghrebi themselves, especially the youth, and more serious the repetition of it by maghrebi cinema filmmakers. I won’t be developing this right now because I’ll devote a whole article on this internalization topic.

This article is written by Hafsa A., founder of nordafricaines.com.

Written by Mvslim

Mvslim

In the mixed society we live today, we went looking for the ideal platform for Muslims. And of course, we didn’t find it. So we made one ourselves.