The S-Word: Discourse, Stereotypes, and the American Indian Woman

The S-Word: Discourse, Stereotypes, and the American Indian Woman

a paper by Debra L. Merskin, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon

Online publication date: 19 November 2010, Howard Journal of Communications

The Center for the Study of Women in Society at the University of Oregon provided support in the form of a Faculty Research Grant for the research upon which this paper is based.

Abstract (from Howard Journal of Communications)

What’s in a name? Plenty when it comes to the ability of words to establish identity. In 2005 in Oregon, for example, 142 land features carried the name “squaw”—Squaw Gulch, Squaw Butte, Squaw Meadows, and Squaw Flat Reservoir (U.S. Geological Survey, 2008). This article examines the term squaw, its presentation in popular culture, and how this framing constructs Native womanhood in the public imagination. Two primary representations are revealed in the discourse defining squaw: as sexual punching bag and as drudge. The opinions and attitudes of reporters, citizens (Indian and non-Indian), government officials, agencies, and tribal representatives are included as reflected in journalistic accounts of the land form debate about the use and meaning of the label squaw. The psychological impact of this racial and sexual slur has a significant negative impact on quality of life, perceptions, and opportunities for Native American women (ethnostress) due to the consistent use and reification of the squaw stereotype through more than 400 years of U.S. history. This article is written as part of a larger body of work that argues for an expansion of Schroeder and Borgerson’s (2005, 2008) representational ethics of images to include words.

See related material:

CSWS Research Matters (Fall 2008): The S-Word; Discourse, Stereotypes, and the American Indian Woman, by Debra Merskin

Road Scholars presentation: The S-Word: The Squaw Stereotype in American Popular Culture, a presentation by Debra Merskin