"I will see your breasts before the summer is done. I've never seen a busty Asian in real life."
I was sixteen years old and working at a fast food restaurant in Northern Virginia when an older coworker said this to me. I was in the US for the summer between moving away from Chennai, India to Manila, Philippines for my senior year of high school.
Despite having been groped at the age of 14 by a notorious hit-and-run molester at a movie theater in Chennai, I was still fairly innocent. I had never watched porn and while I had some sexual experience, I lacked knowledge in how to deal with creepy older guys who say messed-up crap to younger girls. So I laughed, blushed, and stayed away from being alone with that guy until I left that job.
“Well done! Great job!” An older white guy drunkenly shouted this at my boyfriend while clapping his hands enthusiastically outside the White Stag, a bar in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong. We were in a part of the city that mixes clubbing with strip clubs. I guess I should have found it a compliment that this guy thought my boyfriend snagged an attractive prostitute. We weren’t quite sure how to react to my being mistaken for a lady of the night and just kind of walked away faster. Not that I have anything against prostitutes (Filipina prostitutes have treated me extremely well, but that’s a story for another time), but the assumption was disconcerting.
"Have you ever dyed your hair blonde? I've only ever seen blonde Asians in porn." It was a struggle not to choke on my glass of wine as one of my boyfriend’s professional colleagues said this to me with a completely straight face. How do you respond to a comment like that? The guy’s girlfriend and another female friend of ours were also at this little soiree. His girlfriend did not react at all, yet Other Female Friend shot a horrified look my way before we both silently decided to let it go. I laughed it off and changed the subject. I didn’t want to appear too sensitive, right? Plus, I’m sure it was just a “joke,” and even if it weren’t this is a guy who is known for being callous. Why bother correcting someone who “shoots from the hip” since we all end up running into tactless jerks each and every day?
Asians as a whole, and mixes included, are exoticized and eroticized. There is a mystique surrounding us that revolves around the Dragon Lady and China Doll stereotypes. We are dangerous, we are sex addicts, and we apparently have sideways vaginas, which was mentioned as a kink in the HBO show Carnivàle.
And, because we are seen as submissive, most people think that they can say whatever they want to us with no reaction. I’m not proud of how I have handled past events, but in our current environment of PC-backlash, it’s really confusing to know how to navigate social situations with downright rude assholes.
I attribute my preference for peaceable social gatherings to my upbringing as a diplomat’s daughter, not to my being part Asian. And this is where those insidious sexist and racist “nice guys” come into the picture. They prey on the gaps of social propriety. They are the first to flip the script when you stand up to them by defensively arguing that you are a “reverse-racist” or that you can’t take a joke or to stop being so sensitive. They rely on other people’s preferences for being non-confrontational and for everyone to have a good time. They’re laughing, right? So everyone else should be laughing along with them.
My point isn’t that other races and ethnicities aren’t sexualized. They are. That’s why there are so many fetishes and types of porn, something to suit every taste. We live in a sexist society skewed towards one gender.
My issue is that the roles for Asian women in mainstream culture stick towards the nerdy/unattractive/sticklers-for-rules, the hypersexualized badasses, or the prostitutes. There’s a reason these are Mean Girls cliques, except for the prostitutes.
Obviously there are exceptions, but exceptions by their very definition are rare and stand out from the norm. Culture informs our perspective on everyday life and that’s why you have comments like this from PopCrunch: “Almost everyone has that friend who has a thing for Asian women, sometimes to the point of exclusivity and looking like a dork…” Asian fetishes are not new and we seem to fall under the “nerd hot” variety. And I’m not even trying to get into the number of other racial slurs that are thrown my way (“Why can’t you open your eyes?”).
No matter how many “ethnic” friends you happen to have, no matter how fun it is for you guys to talk shit to each other, maybe consider that they are preempting your racism by shooting first. Or maybe consider that while it can be socially acceptable to make fun of your own race, culture, or family, it’s kind of painful when other people do it. At the end of the day, you can say whatever you want to me. It doesn’t mean I’m going to like it or laugh it off. Don’t put it on me that you’re offended that I am offended by your ignorance, crassness, and/or racism. You say what you are going to say and I’m going to react how I’m going to react.
I’m hoping that people will understand that this is a systemic problem of embedded racial stereotypes. And if you think I’m overreacting, just take a look at the comment section of Vice’s “The Casual Racism I Deal with as an Asian Woman in an Interracial Relationship.” It’s just depressing.
To me, being seen as a sex toy sucks. It sucks being seen as submissive. It sucks being seen as a meek housekeeper who can throw her guy a bone whenever. It sucks that I have had actual experiences with people thinking that my relationship is rooted in the assumption that he has a thing for Asians or that I am a trophy of his research.
I am a multifaceted human being with a combination of interests and quirks that are informed by my Third Culture Kid upbringing, my mixed ethnic and racial heritage, and my life experiences. I am more than my stereotypes, and so are you.