“Do you think the male mind is really that simplistic? That we all have one favorite type? Geez.”
Aside: “Asian, with some boob.”
Barney Stinson, from the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother”, may be a notorious womanizer, but he isn’t unique in his attitude towards Asian women, especially in today’s dating scene. In fact, men of all races, except Asian men, respond the most to Asian women on dating apps. Asian women, specifically East Asian women, have become desirable commodities for their “tight vaginas,” “fair skin,” “small hands,” and other equally stereotypical and objectifying characteristics. As a Chinese woman, every time a white man expresses romantic interest in me, I have to wonder: does he like me for me, or for what I represent? This racial fetish, colloquially known as “yellow fever,” has been developed in the media for decades, from the 1887 novel “Madame Chrysanthème”, to Puccini’s famous opera “Madama Butterfly”, to the 1989 Broadway hit “Miss Saigon”. Each story chronicles the story of a Western soldier’s affair with an East Asian woman and is deeply rooted in colonialism, depicting foreign women as doll-like, delicate, and self-sacrificial. The image of the “Asian woman” as an American GI’s Oriental mistress, seductive Geisha, or submissive schoolgirl has been capitalized upon to fulfill white men’s fantasies.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in porn.
Porn constitutes 30% of all data transferred across the Internet, with more viewers than Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu combined. An analysis of mainstream pornography found that Asian women were most likely to be portrayed as “passive, submissive, or eager to please” and were most likely to be the target of increased physical aggression despite or because of their passivity. Nonconsensual sex was portrayed in over a third of the videos of Asian women, compared to only 14% of White women. The prevailing image of the dominant white man and submissive Asian woman reduces Asian women to stereotypes and leads to unrealistic expectations of how an Asian woman should act in bed. It is also indicative of the high demand for this sexual pairing. The porn industry is continually churning out a vast variety of videos, so a high concentration of Asian fetishization videos indicates high demand. However, many men decry labeling attraction to Asian women as a “fetish,” arguing that they have a “type,” and that women should be flattered by their attention. Many have argued against this excuse, to no avail. As one fed-up writer put it (sarcastically), “I give up on trying to explain why the fetishization of Asian women is bad.” But let’s play into their mindset for a second. Is there something to gain by being fetishized?
Some, as this PBS film explores, say that “white fever” exists in a two-way street alongside “yellow fever,” citing dating app statistics that found Asian women respond most to white men. However, white men receive the most responses from almost every racial group. Rather than providing a justification for fetishization, these findings highlight a larger cultural issue perpetuated by the racial and gendered social hierarchy. Hypergamy, or the act of marrying a person of a “superior” class, is disproportionately associated with women, both because of the history of misogyny where white men dominate all other races and genders, and the fact that women earn a fraction of men’s wages. Hypergamy appears rampant among women because of social inequality rather than a propensity for “gold-digging.”
Asian women, specifically East Asian women, and most notably Chinese women, have additional cultural factors that influence them both consciously and unconsciously to seek hypergamous relationships. In China, society labels women who are not married by age 27 as “leftovers.” The misogynistic culture pushes men to marry women who are less educated than themselves. The result is what The Economist calls a skewed marriage market where “women over 30 who boast a university education have even lower marriage rates than poorly educated, similarly aged men who lack a high-school education.” This is a testament to the strength of societal disapproval, as a higher proportion of men in China would usually give women more marriage bargaining power. By 2020 there will be an estimated 30 million unmarried men, largely due to the Chinese government’s former one-child policy. Since 1995, the demand for boys over girls has grown in Asia, Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and some parts of Africa, indicating an alarming trend of “devaluing female life” which is socially and culturally linked to hypergamy.
However, some, like the Co-Chair of Women for Trump, claim that American women are “truly equal for the first time ever.” First off, within the American wage gap, Asian women earn 87% and White women 82% of what white men earn. Secondly, often torn between “traditional” values and their own Western upbringing, Asian-Americans specifically wrestle with their parents’ expectations and their own values. Those who argue that hypergamous relationships are beneficial to both parties do not recognize the high psychological burden Asian fetishes place on Asian and Asian-American women. They reinforce the power play between genders and races and exacerbate traditional cultural norms, showing that there are absolutely no upsides to fetishization.
So how do we eradicate this fetish? While one might argue that condemning “yellow fever” will limit the sexualization and stereotyping of Asian women in the long run, the reality is that the porn industry operates on a reinforcing cycle of objectification. With only 23 states mandating some form of sexual education, and only 13 requiring that it be medically accurate, porn remains the largest source of sexual education among American youth. Porn “fills the vacuum” of curiosity, normalizing images of male dominance, female subversion, and harmful racial stereotypes. As one teen told The New York Times Magazine, “If this girl wants it, then maybe the majority of girls want it,” as he wondered if consent would “always be realistic in the heat of the moment.” The lack of comprehensive sexual education in the United States socializes people from a young age to accept and even normalize male dominance and sexual stereotypes. Until we rectify this, boys will continue to be socialized to expect submission from Asian women, Asian women will be objectified in the media and on the street, and the dangerous assumption that “they want it too” will remain a sorry excuse.
About the Author: Karina Feng is a freshman at Columbia University studying Political Science. She is a freelance photographer and enjoys debating social issues with friends.
Feature Image via Getty