Friday, April 1, 2011

Mea Culpa

 I was talking to a friend yesterday about how in a fit of pique my partner cut her own hair.  The unfortunate outcome was that what looked like a cute shag in the evening resembled a mullet when she woke up in the morning.  She then had to spend a good portion of the next morning attempting to correct her coiffure.  I was laughing as I told this story and added that my partner's hair has a life of its own and depending on the weather can either be straight, curly, fuzzy or smooth.  Sometimes when she wakes up  it can look as though she stuck her finger in a light socket and this is how she was nicknamed the Wild Woman of Borneo.

I grew up Irish Catholic in a small Pittsburgh town.  Being called the Wild Woman of Borneo was a way of saying one had crossed a line and needed to get things together.  If a uniform skirt was too short, makeup was too seductive or hair was too wild my mom would paint my sister or me with this brush.  It was a gentle way of saying, comb your hair, wash your face and lower the hem on your skirt.  I recently came across a poem by Kate Bernadette Benedict that vividly brought back memories of watching the older girls at school, wild women of borneo all, and being fascinated. 

When I used this expression my friend looked horrified but said nothing.  I realized then that perhaps, just maybe, this expression might be offensive to folks.  So I googled it.  According to my sources "The Wild Woman of Borneo" originated in the Victorian era but did not come to prominence in the US until the early thirties.  Also in 1932 the movie "Wild Women of Borneo" was released and in an early Disney comic Uncle Scrooge captures the Wild Woman from Borneo after she escapes from her cage at the carnival.   The Victorian upper class had a habit of calling their black show people 'wild' and often attributing their origin to 'Borneo'. They displayed them wearing only a loin cloth, or similar tropical coverings, wielding a spear, with a bone through the nose. The crowds were attracted with the call. 'Roll up, roll up, see the wild man of Borneo'.  So yeah. Offensive.  Sorry.