Not Your Delicate Flower: Expectations of Asian Women’s Sexual Submissiveness

Author’s Note: Because I am white and do not identify as a person of color (POC), the majority of this post will consist of excerpts from POC writers supplemented by my connections between them.

Ms. Rowling, I know you’re just the latest participant in a long tradition of turning Asian women into a tragic fetish.
Madame Butterfly. Japanese woman falls in love with a white soldier, is abandoned, kills herself.
Miss Saigon. Vietnamese woman falls in love with a white soldier, is abandoned, kills herself.
Memoirs Of A Geisha. Lucy Liu in leather. Schoolgirl porn.
So let me cry over boys more than I speak.
Let me fulfill your diversity quota.
Just one more brown girl mourning her white hero.

Rachel Rostrad’s spoken word poem, “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang” ignited after its premiere in 2013. The selection I’ve focused on here relates to a point in my last post, that the history of white colonization contributes to the sexualized desexualization of people of color. This colonialist perspective allows us to take a look at how sexualized stereotypes of submission specifically affect Asian women.

Both South Asian and East Asian women are stereotyped as sexually submissive. However, there is a difference in how this submissiveness is stereotyped. South Asian women are seen as “prudish,” perhaps because of the Western stereotype that paints women who dress modestly as victims oppressed by Islam who need “saved” (“Call-outs and Commentary: ‘To JK Rowling From Cho Chang'”). According to this Tumblr thread discussing “To JK Rowling, from Cho Chang,” one user remarks upon the contradicting sexual stereotypes of South and East Asian women.

This is the sense I get about South Asian women, that we are exotified in this bizarre hyper desexualized context, the kind of bodies you wouldn’t mind looking at but generally don’t want to touch. [B]ecause of the appropriation of yoga, the kama sutra, even the exposed midriff when wearing a sari, South Asian women deal with an interesting, contradicting sexual stereotypes: always a virgin but expected to be kinky, hyper flexible. And like the stereotypes for East Asian women,  entertainers, performers, and dancers have been fetishized: think any kathak performance in any “Mughal” inspired Hindi film ever; think what it meant for Umrao Jaan; think beautiful, submissive, talented, but virgin, but must be untouched. (“Call-outs and Commentary: ‘To JK Rowling From Cho Chang'”)

Source: Poster Palace

Source: Poster Palace

Meanwhile, East Asian women experience hypersexualized expectations to be delicate and completely sexually submissive.  According to Angry Women of Color United, the sexualized stereotypes of East Asian women are the result of white colonization and imperialism: “White sexual imperialism, through rape and war, created the hyper-sexualized stereotype of Asian women…[which] in turn fostered the over-prevalence of Asian women in pornography, the mail-order bride phenomenon, the Asian fetish syndrome, and worst of all, sexual violence against Asian women” (Angry Women of Color United).

Often times, desexualization in this context is only discussed using a passive voice. “This group is desexualized.” But desexualization is not a one-sided issue. It’s a positional relationship. I think it is critically important to address the impact of not only the history of European/white colonialism on perpetuating this stereotype of East Asian women but also the impact of the modern white male gaze. It is important to ask, “Who is doing the desexualizing/hypersexualizing?” and “Why are they doing it?”

Goal Auzeen Saedi’s article mentions a 2011 research study by Bitna Kim that interviewed non-Asian men about their views on Asian women as romantic or sexual partners. Kim found that almost all of the interviewees “started with a sentence that negates Asian women as submissive, but, nevertheless, they all mentioned, in one way or another, that Asian women are submissive: ‘Women serve the men; they do things for him that the Western culture has long forgotten'” (qtd. in Saedi). Another participant said that he believed Asian women are attracted to white men because they “symbolize power and dominance” (Saedi). With beliefs like these predominant among the non-Asian men in Kim’s study, the root of where these sexual stereotypes come from is more easily traceable.

Next on desexy, I interview Ami+ about her experiences of desexualization as a biracial Japanese American.

 + Named has been changed.

References

Angry Women of Color United. Tumblr, Inc., 2014. Web. 3 Jan. 2015.

“Call-outs and Commentary: ‘To JK Rowling From Cho Chang.’” Angry Asian Girls United. Tumblr, Inc., 2013. Web. 1 Jan. 2015.

Saedi, Goal Auzeen. “What Is Exotic Beauty? Part II: The Case of the Asian Fetish.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, 2011. Web. 3 Jan. 2015.

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