Race and Gender Based Stereotyping of Asian Women: Pointing at Western Society’s “Elephant in the Room”12 min read

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Targets of prejudice sometimes internalize the sexist-racist beliefs held by others. Asian women who have experienced prejudice may resent other Asian women who appear to live up to the stereotype. In this way, Western culture has taught us to judge each other. We may then distance ourselves from a culture that has been so detrimentally stereotyped and that we have no wish to be associated with. A divisive effect among all women is created when they are pitted against each other as rivals for the affection of Caucasian men. An article for GenerAsian@NYU [an Asian American New York University campus publication] on interracial dating, quoted one Caucasian male who admitted to exclusively dating Asian women because he couldn’t be “emotional” with a woman he “feel[s] equal to.” Another Caucasian male believes that Asian women have lower standards when it comes to Caucasian men, and “a wife with language and cultural barriers might appreciate [him] more.” That perception of sexual-racial inferiority is inherent in our attractiveness is clear, yet some Caucasian women have admitted to feeling threatened by us. In Western society, Asian women have, unjustly, come to represent what feminism fought against: subordination and sexual objectification. But instead of standing by women of Asian descent, the effect of sexual-racial stereotyping is to makes some Caucasian women look upon us with scorn and judgment. So, in all of the above, Asian women are forced – by ourselves, by men, or by other women – to prove to others that we are not what we are assumed to be: we are guilty of being walking stereotypes before we prove ourselves innocent.

An article for GenerAsian@NYU [an Asian American New York University campus publication] on interracial dating, quoted one Caucasian male who admitted to exclusively dating Asian women because he couldn’t be “emotional” with a woman he “feel[s] equal to.”

Sometimes, learning just one key fact about someone’s past seems to gather up all the loose ends of their life into something that makes complete sense. To me, reading Woan’s article felt like that: I saw clearly for the first time what I had only partially understood before. Woan provides a framework for understanding the degrading stereotypes that haunt Asian women. The origins of this sexual-racial discrimination can be traced back to American imperialism of Asia Pacific nations. Woan anchors the discrimination we feel in historic fact. This does two things: it justifies our sense of mistreatment and it affirms our ability to change it.

A real turnaround in people’s response to hearing Asian women being denigrated begins with Asian women. We must speak more openly about our experiences and against the stereotypes maintained about us. Woan’s research shows that incidents of rape and sexual assault may be under-reported by Asian women due to cultural differences: in Asian cultures, the stigma of rape is too shameful for victims to discuss with family and friends, let alone police. I think a similar shame has led to a lack of criticism leveled at the stereotyping of Asian women. We know what the stereotypes are, and when the allusion to “submissive Asian women” is made or when a man blatantly states he is “into Asians,” we immediately bear the burden of those prejudices. The fact that these stereotypes are sexually degrading invokes feelings of shame or embarrassment, and we are less likely to speak against them. But keeping quiet about the topic sentences us, at best, to eternal discomfort and, at worst, to becoming victims of sexually violent hate crimes. The objective of Woan’s article is simple: recognition. She appeals to the law as the only recourse for marginalized groups. I would appeal to women of Asian descent across Canada and the Western world. Let’s recognize how firmly rooted sexual-racial discrimination of Asian women is in our society, and how persistently invisible it remains. Though our experiences may be difficult to talk about, our silence hurts only ourselves. Those who think us too meek to speak out are betting on a stereotype: let’s make sure they lose.

—LINKS—

1. Sunny Woan’s “White Sexual Imperialism: A Theory of Asian Feminist Jurisprudence”

2. From Racialicious: The Office: All Asians Look Alike

3. When Violence in the Workplace is Not Workplace Violence, by Pat Brown
(This describes the murder of Annie Le in the context of violence against Asian women)

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