When dating, Asian women often face a lose-lose situation: undesirability or fetishization. As opposed to appreciation, fetishization dehumanizes Asian women into mere sexual objects. Experts warn that hypersexualization is never flattering and can perpetuate sexual and physical violence.

Karina Chan never knew what to expect when it came to dating. Coming out of an Asian-American bubble in the Bay Area, she never understood how scary a prospective non-Asian date could be—until she started seeing a guy about three years ago.

At first impression, he was her dream man: generous, sharp, and intelligent. He had a natural charm that drew her in. So when he showed romantic interest, she was overjoyed.

But the excitement turned to confusion and concern when he insisted that she speak to him in another language during sex because he was “so excited.”

At that moment, she could only laugh. The demand sounded ridiculous; she didn’t even know “sexy” words in Chinese. But looking back on the encounter, Chan realized it was more than just “weird.” It was humiliating and a time when she felt dehumanized by someone who cared about her.

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“I had never before felt like I was just a body, a literal bag of water and cellular matter,” says Chan, now 23. “He just wanted sex with an exotic woman who would make sexy sounds he couldn’t understand.”

For centuries, Asian-American women have faced a lose-lose situation regarding desirability: they are either labeled as undesirable by Eurocentric beauty standards or assume that fetishization is flattering. But like racial violence and discrimination, the sexualization of Asian women can have dangerous – even deadly – ​​consequences.

“The idea that Asian women are desirable and exotic and passive isn’t just an innocent stereotype or a desirable trait to be jealous of,” said Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist and author of “Reel Inequality.” “The downside is that they then become the target of hatred, sexual violence, and physical violence when they are not seen as fully human and deserve the right to be safe.”

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‘Fetishization is not appreciation.’

With the rising popularity of Asian pop culture in America (as evidenced by critical praise for Pixar’s “Turning Red” and Netflix’s “Squid Game”), people seem more open-minded and appreciative. But not everyone has good intentions.

“In my experience, the people who make these comments (fixed on race) aren’t interested in (me),” Chan says. “They want to flirt with an Asian woman. The feeling of being treated like a body that needs to be conquered makes this kind of attention so repulsive.”

What’s so complex about fetishization is that it’s often mistaken for appreciation or attraction. But the fundamental difference is that fetishization is objectification. It’s an oversimplification. It’s a tactic to portray Asian women as objects and strip them of their individuality, sociologists say.

“Appreciating a culture shouldn’t mean assuming that someone will fit your ideas about that culture or that someone will share your passion for the culture because they are that race,” Yuen says.

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Asian fetishization comes in many forms. It can manifest as common beliefs that Asian women are experts at anime simply because of their looks. Or it could be hypersexualized stereotypes about their anatomy.

“These ‘positive’ stereotypes of Asian women as exotic and beautiful and different is an institutional issue and contributes to the idea that there are different racial categories that deserve different kinds of treatment,” said Robin Zheng, a political philosophy lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences. the University of Amsterdam. the University of Glasgow. However, studies have found little correlation between “race” and physical variations within the human species.

“When people say they prefer Asians, but not other races, the logic suggests something different about Asians. And unfortunately, that kind of mentality leads them to be seen as inferior.”

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Experts say the dehumanization of Asian women goes back centuries, rooted in the violence of white colonialism. Asian women have historically been commercialized as either the “Dragon Lady,” which is sexy, exotic, and dominant, or the “Lotus Blossom,” which is contrastingly tame, docile, and sexually submissive to white men.

While the stereotypes are contradictory, they have in common “the theme of hypersexualization, where Asian women are sexualized to fit into a male-driven fantasy,” Yuen says. These tropes still exist today, as evidenced by such popular films as “Madame Butterfly” (1995), “Austin Powers in Goldmember” (2002), and “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003).

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“The idea of ​​desirability quickly became the idea of ​​disease and temptation, and the exoticization was still a form of being different or this idea that Asian women were not fully (integrable), but rather a form of ‘other’ that could not possibly live in the same realm as white people,” explains Yuen.

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As a result of these stereotypes, Asian women have long faced harassment for dating outside their race — especially white men — and have been ridiculed as “self-loathing” or “whitewashed” Asians. Actress Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) opened up about the anger she received from Asian men for dating a white man in 2018. Likewise, Lana Condor (“To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved”) responded to the comment that her character, Lara Jean, had no Asian love interest.

“There are times when people online will say, ‘Of course, she’s with a white guy.’ Oh, so Asian people can only love Asian people? I can only be with my race?” Condor said so in a 2018 interview with The Cut.

Controlling who Asian women should and shouldn’t date is yet another example of the intersection of racism and misogyny in what experts call “racialized slut shaming.”

“When Asian women date outside of their race, the assumption of some Asian men is, ‘You should be dating me, not the others.’ But where does this sense of entitlement come from?” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the nonprofit National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

These attitudes often stem from racism and a misguided standard of masculinity: while Asian women are often hypersexualized, Asian men are confronted with the opposite stereotype of being more feminine, unattractive, non-sexual, and therefore ‘undesirable’.

“Because there is so much emphasis on white men and Asian women, Asian men can sometimes feel at the bottom of the hierarchy when it comes to standard, conventional beliefs about sexual attraction,” explains Zheng.

However, Choimorrow says it is inconvenient and misogynistic that Asian women are expected to provide comfort and reassurance.

“We perpetuate this culture of prioritizing men and how women should be supportive, but we are not responsible for that. Asian women are not the ones exposing Asian men… So why is it always women’s burden to accommodate men?”

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‘We need to see Asian women as subjects, not objects.’

Experts in Asian media representation say the stereotypes surrounding Asian Americans are deliberately complicated. Assumptions that all Asian women are sexual or that all Asian Americans are mathematical geniuses seem flattering enough to exempt them from racism. However, it reduces diverse communities of Asian American and Pacific islanders to a monolith.

For example, if all Asian women are stereotyped as obedient or dominant, they cannot be good leaders. A recent USA TODAY analysis of 88 companies found that only 1 in 96 Asian men and 1 in 124 Asian women are in top jobs — a stark contrast to the 1 in 45 white men and 1 in 60 white women who are executives.

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And this undermines not only Asian Americans in their careers but also romantic relationships and Hollywood representation. Zheng says these “humiliating” generalizations lead to the justification of sexual assault and violence in the minds of the person with this fetish, as evidenced by the 2021 Atlanta shooting.

“Even before the pandemic, Asian women were particularly vulnerable to various sexual violence. As women, they were seen as ‘fair game’ for men to hunt, but also the fact that they are Asian leads to views of them being more passive and docile, making them more vulnerable as victims,” ​​says Zheng.

While it may seem insignificant compared to physical violence, experts say that hatred and racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders cannot be resolved without first addressing the implicit, biased attitude toward Asian women.

“Ultimately, we need to dismantle the entire system of racial taxonomy, which requires transforming fundamental social institutions, such as the way law enforcement and education work,” Zheng says. But beyond these changes, “something more symbolic needs to be done, and that’s straightening out the way Asian women are represented in the media, in Hollywood, in every kind of story we tell.”

An expert on race and racism in Hollywood, Yuen nods to films like “Turning Red” and “Everything, Everywhere All at Once,” which avoid crude, restrictive stereotypes and showcase the complexities of Asian Americans.

“We need more and more Asian women, creators, and storytellers to present alternative, counter-stereotypical stories that show the full humanity of Asians,” Yuen says. “We need to start seeing Asian women as subjects, not objects.”

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I have been blogging since August 2011. I have had over 10,000 visitors to my blog! My goal is to help people, and I have the knowledge and the passion to do this. I love to travel, dance, and play volleyball. I also enjoy hanging out with my friends and family. I started writing my blogs when I lived in California. I would wake up in the middle of the night and write something while listening to music and looking at the ocean. When I moved to Texas, I found a new place to write. I would sit in my backyard while everyone else was at work, and I could write all day.