Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author.
Last Tuesday, Robert Aaron Long shot and killed eight people at Asian-owned massage spas. Six of his victims were Asian women. Long blamed his killing spree on a “sex addiction,” rather than racial motivation. But the shooter’s targeting of Asian-owned massage spas, where predominantly Asian women work, makes it unlikely that race had nothing to do with the tragic attacks.
Of over 3,300 anti-Asian hate crimes reported to Stop AAPI Hate over the past year, 68% were reported by Asian women. Racialized violence towards Asian women goes back to Western imperialists who fetishized us as “small, weak, submissive and exotically-alluring” objects for White men to dominate and rape. It is disturbing, but not shocking that Long viewed his victims as “a temptation for him to eliminate”: the fetishization of Asian women leads to violence against Asian women.
This violence often begins with microaggressions. Take, for example, the men who say “I love Asian pussy” or “I just want a nice, quiet Asian girlfriend” as if they are compliments, rather than demeaning, stereotypical views of Asian women.
Whenever Asian women raise this issue, we are met with gaslighting: “But some people just have different tastes! Isn’t it a compliment that White men like you?”
This line of thinking is harmful in several ways. First, it perpetuates a stereotypical, monolithic view of all Asian women being quiet and submissive. Second, it dehumanizes Asian women by viewing us as sexual objects rather than human beings. Third, it conflates privilege with desirability, and leads to gaslighting when Asian women point out the racism and sexism we experience. Being desired by the White male gaze does not result in Asian female empowerment: it results in White men’s feelings of entitlement over our bodies. Many men who say they “love Asian women” don’t actually “love Asian women” – they love the hyper-sexualized fantasy of “exotic” objects they can dominate, and this becomes a justification for violence.
How did we get here? The media has normalized this sexual violence: Asian women are overrepresented on Internet rape websites, and pornographic videos featuring Asian women are more likely to depict aggression. We have become so fetishized that Apple’s adult filters prevent users from Googling the word “Asian.” We are told that our existence is inherently sexual, so our existence must be censored.
It isn’t just pornography that places Asian women in settings of sex and violence. In “Piccadilly,” one of Hollywood’s first portrayals of an Asian woman, nightclub dancer Shosho is murdered after becoming the object of the White nightclub owner’s lust. “Memoirs of a Geisha” presented a whitewashed, sexualized fantasy of Japanese geisha, who in reality were not allowed to perform sexual services. The “Full Metal Jacket” portrayal of a Vietnamese prostitute popularized the phrase “me so horny, me love you long time,” which has since been sampled in Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”, 2 Live Crew’s controversial “Me So Horny”, catcalls and uncomfortable dating app conversation-openers.
Asian women are often portrayed as fetishized objects that are inferior to White women, serving only to fulfil White men’s sexual fantasies and be promptly disposed of afterwards. In the “Harry Potter” series, Cho Chang serves primarily as Harry’s “first crush, first kiss, and first girlfriend,” and is eventually tossed aside for Ginny Weasley, a White female character. Eduardo Saverin brags that “Asian girls are generally attracted to guys like me” in “The Social Network”: we see Christy Lee giving him a blow job in a bathroom stall, later becoming a possessive, overly-attached girlfriend until he dumps her. In “Ex Machina,” the White female robot, Ava, is given a voice, personality, and eventual freedom, while the Asian female robot Kyoko is programmed without a voice, a literal object used for the male scientist’s sexual gratification until she is killed.
Asian women are so much more than what the media presents us to be. To use “sex addiction” as an excuse for murdering Asian women is demeaning, unacceptable, and inherently sexist and racist. The victims of the shooting were far from the media’s stereotypes: take, for example, Hyun Jung Grant, a hardworking single mother who dedicated her life to providing for her two sons. Xiaojie Tan, a business owner who should have celebrated her 50th birthday last week. Sun Cha Kim, who called her granddaughter every week to remind her to “stay strong.” Asian women are not a “sex addiction”: we are human beings with families, lives, and dreams.
White men: if you really “love Asian women,” listen to us and respect us. Correct your “buddies” who fetishize us and your relatives who stereotype us. Be wary of media stereotypes and open your eyes to the racism and sexism that affects our everyday lives.
As anti-Asian hate continues to rise, Asian women’s lives are at risk. All of us, especially those of privilege, must educate ourselves and stand against anti-Asian hate and White supremacy.
About the Author: Katy Ho (@mskatyho) is a Chinese Canadian writer, activist, and daughter of war refugees. She writes about slow fashion, sustainability, and social justice, and has covered major events including Paris Fashion Week, Vancouver Fashion Week, and the 2019 Global Climate Strike.
Feature Image via Getty