A Round Table
Discussion on The Asian Fetish, and A Whole Bunch of Other Stuff
Gina (GK): Let's see if it works… testing testing… So, Jenny, what does fetishism mean to you?
Jenny (JS): Hmm… I'll let Jill take it first…
Jill (JK): What does fetish mean to me? First off, it carries with it a negative stigma. I associate it with slimy men who only look to- objectify even- one sort of woman, in particular, in this case, a very sexual, exotic Asian one.
JS: It's a stereotype of something they're after, so it's not necessarily true.
GK: I think primarily about men having sort of an obsessive inclination towards a particular sort of woman, in this case Asian women. Lines like "Hey, China Doll! Can you give me a sensual massage and then make me some rice?" come to mind!
JK: Think Lucy Liu, the unofficial poster woman for Asian fetishism. By day, I make you rice. By night, I kick your ass… or seduce you!
JS: Action flicks in general… I'm obviously thinking about Charlie's Angels right now, but action flicks do a great job of proliferating and propagating that stereotype of Asian women.
Yael Martinez (YM): If you think about it, Charlie's Angels fits it perfectly. During the day, Lucy Liu was making her boyfriend baked goods, and then she'd use her "exotic" charms to woo bad guys and such.
JK: And it's the same way with practically every movie she's in… even in Ally McBeal, she was Ling, super-bitch-dragon-lady-woman.
GK: I guess one could argue that it fits into that show, as Ally is sort of a show of caricatures, but despite that… it was not surprising that, lo and behold, the Asian woman was the "dragon lady," which says something about it. In particular, that were used to it., so much so that there wasn't even a need to explain or defend it. I mean, I don't think it surprised anyone that Lucy Liu was fucking growling, and just not a real nice person.
YM: The fact that she growled reminds me of how, as we discussed in class, African women are often portrayed as animals in advertising. Well, here we go all over again, but with Asian women this time.
JS: I think we can all agree that fetishism is bad and, you know, the media is pushing this but I have another question that's pretty near and dear to my heart: what about white men who just like to date Asians a lot? Is that fetishism? How do you know? What do you do about it? Is there anything to be done?
JK: I don't know if you can figure that out in a concrete manner, but I think, at least personally, it always sort of puts me on alert so to speak. I guess I'm sort of put off by it, because who wants to be put in a box like that? I certainly don't react to it like it's normal.
JS: Oh, I have to go on a tangent! I was looking at Maxim magazine and they have a "hot or not" sort of thing, and one of the categories was "hot girl of the moment" and it said "In: Indian girls, Out: Asian girls."
GK: You have got to be fucking kidding me!
JS: I shit you not! It was in the fucking magazine! The problem that was noticeable first was the fact that, hello, Indians are Asian, but really, how fucking bad is that?
GK: Well, I think it says a lot about the… I hate to be so cliché… but seriously, the commodification of us as women. In and out, hot or not… that has to do with objects…
JK: iPods are on those sorts of lists for pete's sake!
GK: People can not… excuse me… should not be on that sort of list!
JK: And to make the wrongness of it even more obvious… you wouldn't see in Glamour or Cosmo something like black men are in…
JS: And, like, oh my gosh, Latino men are so last month! It's all about Arab men now… 'cause they're so dangerous!
JK: So what about Asian women who only date white men?
GK: I think that ties in intricately with the idea that a lot of Asian cultures subscribe to about marrying "up."
JS: I totally know what you mean.
GK: As in there is a social and racial hierarchy in which Asian people subscribe to. Like, many will want to find a way to marry into families of higher ranking in the social structure. I mean, just speaking from my own experience, as a Korean woman, it would have been fine had I gotten together with a white or Korean guy, but the fact that I got together with a black guy was catastrophic for my Mother.
JK: As a Japanese American, it's sort of a known statistic that this group, that is, Japanese American women, are the most likely to marry outside (and mostly "up") more than any other ethnic group… and I partly joke around that my family is turning "Hapanese"… but it's true. Whether or not that's a fetish? Can't say…
JS: Interestingly though, women don't get as much shit for it. Just to play devil's advocate, we as Asian American women, give white guys a lot of shit for, like, dating people like us-while not giving a lot of shit to other Asian women who only date white men… should we?
GK: I do… kidding… but I do think it deserves a little more attention.
JS: Maybe we should just be more aware of it. I think a lot of people are unaware that there are these, like, colonial nasty things happening. Oh, I am so not eloquent right now…
YM: Do you think Asian American women have conceptions about white men that play into this?
JK: Yes, totally.
JS: I mean, really, white men are so much more masculine…
GK: And so much more handsome…
JK: And they can grow hair… but really, I've known some people… Asian American women like me… who, maybe because it's all were exposed to in the media and what not, but say stuff like "I need a white boyfriend because these Asian guys aren't working for me. They’re too traditional, and do not support my emotional needs." This, of course, all goes back to stereotypes but anyway…
JS: On a totally different note, I'm afraid that 10 generations down the road, there will be no Asian American kids anymore, unless they're immigrants… I just don't see Asians dating Asians anymore… do you?
JK: It's true, most of my friends are not dating members of their own ethnicity, almost everyone is part of a mixed race relationship.
YM: Do you think it might have something to do with parents not so intent on "preserving their race?" I don't know if it's true for anyone, but it could explain some things.
JK: My parents, for one, don't really care, and they're like the lone full-blooded Japanese couple in my family practically. They just want me to marry a "good" guy, of course "good" differs from culture to culture…
GK: America is just so interesting because it's basically a country of immigrants, of people coming in from different places… it's characterized by it's diversity and multitude of different types of people… which, touching on Jenny's sentiment, makes her think that one day, we may be one color… which is good and bad. On one hand, how can we hate each other…
JS: When we're all the same? It's sort of sad though. I mean, if I have kids, I would love for them to speak Chinese, but I know the chances of that are pretty damn slim… even if I marry an Asian American, or even if I married someone Chinese… which, statistically, is nearly impossible anyway…
GK: Oh, but Jenny! You're not a statistic! It's all about you!
JS: Yeah yeah…
JK: You're unique and so am I!
GK: But seriously, if you make the effort and think it important, you can still preserve your culture.
YM: It'll be important for your children and generations to come.
JS: But people don't talk about this shit, you know? They don't sit around and fucking tape themselves like us.
JK: Another thing that sort of plays into this is the fact that Asian Americans, as a whole, have assimilated so much.
YM: But this society makes it difficult to not assimilate. They definitely- the system- doesn't find it useful to have people see themselves as an individual.
GK: There are so many different levels to becoming or being American. Like, for instance, when I come to the U.S. When I was 2, my parent's told me my cousins would make fun of me 'cause me and my brother couldn't speak English, so it became a mission of my Mom's to have us speaking English.
JK: It’s kind of like the deal with names too. You know, people come to the U.S. and automatically renounce, per se, their name from wherever and get branded with a spanking new English one, once they set foot in this country.
JS: Yeah, look at me. Why the hell am I Jenny? The lamest fucking name in the English language! But let me throw out another question… do you feel some sort of responsibility to, like, date people or marry people of your own ethnic background?
JK: No, except when I think about somewhat petty things like my last name, which I don't want to die. I rationalize that though: "I'll do my part, I'll hyphenate it!"
JS: "Hey Mom, how does Kunishima-Jones sound?" But honestly, I feel some kind of moral responsibility or some shit to date a Chinese boy. I don't know why, when did I ever care about morals? But it's there.
GK: I think it just stems from a somewhat inherent need or at least want to keep tradition alive… but again, it goes back to when you deem really important, gotta find that balance.
JK: Is it more important to you to limit your search to a certain type of guy to fulfill this "moral responsibility" or is it important for you to marry and be with the person you love?
GK: Sort of going back to fetishism, I think we should eliminate the word "exotic" from the English vernacular. People use it to describe Asian women a lot, and I hate it.
JS: It's once again setting us apart, you know?
GK: To conclude, fetishism is essentialism. It's taking a group of people and imposing on them a certain set of qualities and then saying "that's what I want"… and it's not good.
JS: How do you fight that then?
JK: Talk, make people aware, challenge their beliefs… plus, especially with Asians… that is a heck of a lot of people with so much variation.
JS: We aren't Lucy Liu.
JK: And like I said earlier, I think the main problem lies in the fact that it's putting people in a box, and that just should not be done.
JS: Asian women seem to have that virgin/whore persona going on…how terrible is that? And I doubt many of us are either.
GK: We're not even complete as people when you think about it… you can get with this or you can get with that, you can get with this or you can get with that…