Last week, I published an article, Not Your ‘Geisha Doll:’ We Need to Talk About & Not Around Racist Sexual Violence, describing my experience with racist sexual violence. Today, I’d like to explain how stereotypes we commonly see of Asian cultures and people perpetuate this type of violence and uphold white supremacy.
By the time I was twenty years old, I lost count of the number of men who sat me down and told me how badly they wanted to destroy my small frame and my tight, Asian pussy with their penis. They asked me how I could deprive them of this when I said no, how I could be so heartless.
”Don’t make me rape you,” more than one of them had said in a playful tone.
So how does this happen? How does anyone learn that it is ever okay to speak to another person like this? The answer, of course, is culture, is media, is racism, and the normalization of sexual violence and rape.
These objectifying and dehumanizing depictions assist in perpetuating an understanding of us and our cultures that is over-simplified and un-relatable. They trivialize our struggles, turn our histories into entertainment, our cultures into costumes, and our bodies into cute accessories to be taken, stolen, used, experienced, and discussed without us in the room or/and without recognizing us when we are in the room. In addition to the fact that these depictions are racist and offensive, they directly contribute to the violence we experience, even past the violent nature of their existence to begin with.
Since before I was born, forces have been trying to teach me and everyone surrounding me that my body means that I am not to be trusted, simply because it is Asian. This often means that I am not to be trusted with important tasks, with leaderships, with anything involving an opinion, and in my sex life, it usually means I am not to be trusted with intimacy or romance. I am taught that my body is most valuable as a sexual object or as a performer of sexual labor. I exclude emotional labor here because this isn’t something my body or personhood is valued for as much as it is just expected of me without recognition or appreciation.
More Radical Reads: Asian Eyes: Westernized Beauty Standards and Asian Identity
I was taught, and those who interact with me have been taught that if I was not docile and obedient, I was not to be trusted, not deserving of, or not enough for their intimacy and their love. Those kinds of relationships are for white women, the voices in my dreams echo what’s been taught to me. Those relationships that are about more than sex, that are also about emotional appreciation and mutual respect and support were not meant for me. I was taught that I would only be suited for marriage, for a long-term relationship if I was obedient, and docile. If I made myself small enough to fit into the background of my partner’s life and goals.
Here are a few examples of how depictions of Asian cultures and people further dehumanize:
1. Over feminizing us in general (no matter how we identify or how we are perceived – man, woman, GNC, or trans), Asian bodies are depicted to be slightly more feminine than we would otherwise be if we were not Asian.
2. Hyper-sexualizing and exotifying our bodies. It’s often easier to objectify Asian woman and femmes as possessions and also as people who are into kinky sex for their partner’s pleasure.
3. Sneaky, Violent, intimidating, heartless. Many action and sci-fi films have done this. Asian people are depicted as badass, cold-blooded killers who don’t “play by the rules” and don’t have any respect for humanity or compassion in our hearts.
4. When Asian bodies (especially women and femme bodies) are already being exotified, this tends to impact Asian trans folks even more folks. These two identities are often played off against each other to further exotify the other, and further dehumanize the people in these bodies.
5. Silencing us, erasing our existence and our identities is one of the most common ways media and western culture interact with Asian bodies and cultures. We are depicted to be people lacking in emotional depth and complexity and personal opinion, which doesn’t help with everything I’ve mentioned previously.
6. Cute and fragile, to be protected and taken care of, unable to make our own decisions or take care of ourselves. The flip side of this is discussing us only in the context of people to take care of, suggesting that this is where our worth lies, that our labor is endless, disposable, and replaceable.
7. When we are not being depicted as grossly over-exaggerated stereotypes of ourselves, we are usually described to just be “basically White.“ Our unique experiences as people of color are further erased as is much of the potential we hold to build solidarity with other marginalized groups we share community with. This description of us is white supremacy in action. It is descriptions like this that work to separate and conquer, to downplay pain, to erase heritage.
8. Similar to this is the role media and pop culture outlets play in white-washing Asian characters. Recent cases of this include the casting of Matt Damon as Zhang Yimou in an English version of “The Great Wall” and Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese lead role in the “Ghost in the Shell.” Producers even went so far as to experiment with make-up and hairstyles to make her look more Asian, while maintaining her whiteness. Instead of casting Asians as lead parts, even when those characters are Asian, roles are given to White actors time and time again.
9. Mashing cultures together, not differentiating between traditions, histories, and people to perpetuate the idea that all Asians are the same
10. Only representing East Asians in pop culture and media, suggesting that these are the only cultures included under the umbrella as as Asian, excluding other cultures and countries located in that region of the world, often ignoring North East Asian and South East Asian countries.
More Radical Reads: I Was Taught to Be Proud of My Tight Asian “Kiki” – Here’s Why I Wish I Hadn’t Been
I’m not going to write a list or explanation here telling you what you should and shouldn’t do, and how you can better interact with these racist, white supremacist, sexist aspects of our shared society. The list I would write couldn’t be complete, and I highly doubt you would memorize it or carry it in your pocket for every time you run into one of the cases listed above (which is a lot).
Instead, I’m going to encourage you to apply some of your critical thinking skills to this topic and talk to your friends. I don’t want to just tell you not to wear kimonos and hit on girls because they’re Asian and have you live by that without understanding why you should do that. Instead, I want you to engage, write, listen, ask, and teach others who may not be aware of these mechanisms. I want you to learn more about our experiences and find solidarity with them. I want you to relate to them and bring them into discussions where they are left out, and guide others to do the same.
***Jonathan E. Shaw]