New Book Ponders Western Male/Asian Female Erotic Obsession

Illustration for article titled New Book Ponders Western Male/Asian Female Erotic Obsession

I used to know a dude who seemed to think having an "Asian fetish" was a badge of honor. It wasn't that he happened to date Asian women; he wouldn't date anyone else. And he talked about it. A lot.

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Any kind of "type" is inherently creepy when it becomes deliberate and self-determining. I mean, my mom tells me she always "ended up with" Jewish men; and a friend recently mentioned that for some reason she has dated four Scandinavians in a row. But of course, this is quite another matter from a white man seeking out, specifically, Asian women. In a piece in Salon, Laura Miller asks, "What is the deal with Western men's erotic obsession with the East?"

We all know the cliches: the creep looking for a "subservient" woman to cater to his every sexual want without raising a ripple or an opinion. Miller was prompted to look at the issue by a new book called The East, the West, and Sex, which chronicles this stereotype's long and distasteful history, from the 16th century, when the Western "Arabian Nights" myth took hold on, and, as she puts it, all the attendant "uncomfortable thoughts about race, power, sexuality, gender and history."

The book actually doesn't unilaterally condemn the dynamic; as Miller paraphrases, "In spite of the undeniable backdrop of injustice and exploitation, some of these encounters have been a Good Thing, offering to the men a reprieve from the repressive sexual morality of the Christian West and to the women a chance at a less traditionally patriarchal relationship than they might have had with many of their countrymen." Miller takes a dim view of this: as she points out, even if one can find the nuance in the story, the larger context is damning. And the legacy of this exoticized Orientalism speaks too loudly. As she puts it bluntly:

The power and wealth of Westerners — officials of colonial Britain, American GIs stationed in Vietnam, European expats in Thailand — when introduced into poor Asian societies where women have few other options, makes commercial sex pretty much inevitable. For all the rhapsodies about silken hair, "surrounding sensuousness," esoteric erotic arts and the ultrafemininity of Asian women, it is this economic imbalance that makes places like Bangkok so magnetic to Western men. A dollar goes much further there, whether you're buying hours of someone's labor at a sweatshop sewing machine or sexual services.

And we see the trickle-down of a reductive stereotyping every day. While very few men we know would admit to such retrograde "submission" fantasies, it can't be denied that in some ways the "Asian fetish" cliche has evolved in a way that's no less alarming for being less acknowledged. There are scores of young guys - white, hip, sophisticated, theoretically enlightened - who seem to regard having an Asian girlfriend as some kind of a status symbol. And, weirdly, they aren't embarrassed about it. The cliche is just as simplistic: in these cases, even if she's not subject to the old-fashioned "China Doll" image, she's reduced to a set of assumptions. Here's what one of my friends, a Chinese-American woman, says: "These guys who approach me half the time, clearly have "Asian fetish" written all over them. You can always tell...these dudes for whom an Asian girl, any Asian girl, is the ultimate hipster trophy." Adds another, "Maybe it's because they buy into this idea of some kind of inscrutable sphinx, and to them that seems like a good muse, because it's all about them." She also added, "the ironic thing is, it's the guys with the 'Asian woman' thing for whom we seem to be interchangeable. I mean, who just dates one kind of person, period - isn't that kind of a red flag? You'd never hear someone say, 'oh, I only date black women' - but I've heard guys say that about Asian women!"

Oh yeah, that dude I mentioned? He lives in China now. And yes, he's single.

White Male Seeking Sexy Asian Women [Salon]

Related: Did "Hipster Grifter" Play On Loathsome Hipster Asian Fetish?

DISCUSSION

susandeath-old
SusanDeath

See, I have this problem with a guy I used to know (full disclosure, a guy I used to date). He always thought Japanese culture was cool, but lots of my friends did and do. It did not become a problem until he actually WENT to Japan for a year. Now dude is straight up racist. We try to explain to him that wanting to date/be friends with/live with/have sex with a person ONLY because they are Japanese is crazy racist, but he doesn't understand. He thinks that to be a racist you have to lynch someone or burn crosses on a lawn or something.

It's just as prejudiced to only like someone because of the language they speak or the colour of their skin as it is to hate them for those reasons, it's just not as hateful. It's still ignorant as hell and takes away any aspect of the person as an individual.

Granted, I come at this from a point of white privilege, so if anyone can tell me that I have got things wrong, please enlighten me.

This boy once approached two Asian girls in the uni caf and tried to talk to them, when he came back to our group of friends, my ex said "what's the matter, they didn't want to be friends?" And he said "I don't care, they weren't Japanese". He literally walked up to two strangers and spoke Japanese to them because they looked Asian. But he still can't tell the difference between Japanese/Chinese/Korean/etc. Aft