“You’re attractive and smart for an Asian.”
“Hey, you have really pretty, almond-shaped eyes.”
These examples of catcalling, objectifying, and stereotyping are the direct result of society’s perpetual ignorance towards Asian American women. Ignorance, consequently, further incites racially and sexually motivated crimes, such as the tragic Atlanta shooting on Mar. 16, where six women of Asian descent—Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan, and Daoyou Feng—were fatally shot for being Asian American females. While American complicity of silencing ethnic minorities and staying mute on racial discrimination will persist, it’s time at least to dismiss the false myths that depict Asians as foreigners, dolls, or diseases. It’s time to bridge the racial and gender divide and embrace intersectionality to heal the ills of our damaged society.
The fetishization of women of color is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the racist behavior stems from the problematic history of stereotyping Black women as erotic objects or Asian women as subservient dolls. One example of a racial fetish in Asian women is “yellow fever,” which is defined as the feeling of contracting an uncontrollable desire for Asians.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Western society exaggerated and appropriated the cultural framework of the Eastern world by embracing concepts of Orientalism. The West shaped distorted depictions of East Asian women that often dehumanized them as soft China dolls, aggressive dragon ladies, and submissive geishas. These representations created warped understandings and colonial fantasies of Asian women in the West. It’s clear that these colonial norms of objectifying Asian women as sexual creatures are still pervasive and ingrained in our society.
Another paradigm of the anti-Asian sentiment is exemplified through our country’s history of law and policy—controversial policies have shaped discrimination and xenophobia towards Asian Americans today. The Page Act of 1875 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 were two laws implemented by federal orders; the objective was to ban Chinese women from entering the country for prostitution and prevent mixed-race marriages. As a result, the exclusion of Chinese immigrants has perpetuated the myth of Asian Americans being forever foreigners and outsiders of America.
Still, the history of Asian fetishization in the West doesn’t stop here. In Western films and entertainment, Asian women were categorized under varying stereotypes, such as Lotus Blossom or Dragon Lady. Examples of these controversial films and plays include “Madame Chrysantheme,” “Madame Butterfly,” and Miss Saigon. These entertainments often followed a cliche storyline—a white savior or soldier falls in “love” and tries to marry a young Asian girl who is forced into prostitution.
Moreover, the Western thought of implying that Asian people are weak and white people are saviors is problematic in the sense that it reinforces the beliefs of white supremacy and the model minority myth.
Even today, racial preferences become overly complicated by ingrained myths and sexual stereotypes. A study using data from a Facebook group, “Are You Interested,” even explored the dating preferences of various racial groups; Asian women were the most preferred by men of all races compared to other ethnic groups. The high preference suggests the reason for which Asian women often encounter overtly racist and sexualized comments both off- and online.
“When you fetishize you become complicit in the perpetuation of our historical trauma. You become complicit in dynamics that to this day, still contribute to higher statistics of sexual assault, suicide, depression, and murder for marginalized people,” wrote an Asian American woman, Lillian, on an Instagram (@thefleshlightchronicles) caption. She does not disclose her last name for privacy reasons.
In the past, Lillian has had unpleasant experiences with the worst offenders on Tinder and other dating apps, such as receiving sexually explicit or racist messages. For many Asian women, Lillian’s experiences are too familiar—fetishization has become normalized and unbearable to the point where affirmative action and attention are needed on these pertinent issues of rampant objectification.
In the rise of anti-Asian crimes and violence, student activists have been using their platforms to condemn racial and sexual violence and express solidarity and support for the Asian American community. The Stop AAPI Hate coalition was formed over the pandemic as an activist organization to respond to all forms of structural racism and bridge the divide between Asian communities and other communities of color. Many coalitions and student groups across the country have also been hosting night vigils for victims of anti-Asian crimes.
An article further details multiple resources for Asians and other racial groups to help out the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The AAPI Women Lead and #ImReady Movement aims to strengthen the voices of Asian American women and empower their stories.
We are Asian Americans in a diverse nation—a place we once called the Asian American Dream. Yet still, our presence and voice don’t seem well-acknowledged, welcomed, or integrated into modern American society. There will be barriers—language, identity, myths—existing for us that make us perpetual “foreigners.” When we are spat on with xenophobic rhetoric or catcalled with sexual stereotypes, our pleas for help are dismissed, ignored, and even diminished by our community and country leaders. But perhaps, if we can restitch the wounds of the broken American narrative—demand compassion in people and reunite with all races—then we can surely say that America is what it was destined to be: an inclusive, united nation.
Graphic courtesy of NYTIMES.COM