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Problematic Expectations For Asian Women

Lots of people fetishize Asian women. While most people I’ve seriously dated have avoided objectifying my body and physical features, I periodically hear comments that make my skin crawl. These comments usually follow along the lines of how Asians are the “most attractive” race, or how Asians make the “best girlfriends.” In fact, a man I went on a date with this past summer expressed attraction to “Asian manners.”

Although those lines have the potential to sound complimentary at first glance, they are deeply rooted in racism. There is an expectation within the dating world, based on hegemonic conceptualizations of Asian women, that they are sweet and submissive partners. This expectation, in turn, encourages predatory men to fetishize Asian women and seek them out as partners. Based on this prevailing conceptualization, these predators tend to view Asian women as objects of submission to male desires and providers of sexual pleasure as opposed to human beings. However, there is already ample existing literature and articles on the fetishization of Asian women. While it’s still an underrepresented topic in popular discourse, I want to turn your attention to another facet of Asian women’s experiences. Prevailing conceptualizations of Asian women as sweet, docile, and submissive not only affect their dating experiences, but they also negatively inform their friendships and peer relations.

To begin, the categorization of a group of people as “Asian women” is problematic in and of itself. This categorization implies a unilaterality and singularity across the spectrum of self-identifying Asian women, while ignoring the fact that race is socially influenced and construed as opposed to innate. In addition, these stark categorizations leave no room for people like me. I am half Asian from my mother’s side, and my father’s side is completely white. In turn, my racial identity is nuanced. And, of course, every woman who identifies in part with the “Asian” label has a unique set of experiences and defining personality traits.

As a result, the accepted conceptualization of “Asian women” as sweet and submissive is limiting and reductive. This reductive conceptualization of Asian women leads to a plethora of unequal, unsubstantial, and unfulfilling friendships. Speaking from my own experience, I am often referred to as “The Asian friend.” These remarks, problematic due to the reasons described above, include implicit assumptions about my personality.

I’ve found that people who make these remarks tend to expect me to take on the role of the nurturing, docile, and agreeable friend. They express shock when I disagree with their ideas or sentiments, despite their constant intellectual banter with their white peers. I’ve even had people that I barely know tell me that my sass and stubborn personality surprises them, because they expected me to be “quiet and sweet.” Strangers too are surprised that I am a liberal leftist and that I hate doing math, because, according to them, all Asians are conservative math whizzes.As a result, I always feel like I have to defend my traits and personality because I don’t fit the expected prototype of an “Asian woman.” I even spent a period of time during my childhood trying to conform to these expectations, which spiraled into a lengthy struggle with depression and low self confidence.

So, while most of the comments I’ve included in this article might seem relatively harmless upon first glance, please remember to always look beneath the surface of reductive racialized conceptualizations. Even if you don’t mean them to be offensive, they create implicit pressures on people to act and perform in a certain manner, which further entrenches existing racism. Take time to listen to your non-white identifying friends and peers when they talk about the harmful effects of these words and expectations.


Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2

Hayley is a senior English and Political Science double major at Kenyon College, and an avid napper.  When she's not sleeping, you can usually find her writing and organizing around leftist political campaigns, making music, and/or surrounding herself with animals.
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