Dear White Guys: Your Asian Fetish Is Showing

There's a big difference between having a type and having a full-on fetish.
Asian-American women are sick of sexual stereotypes. Left, a 1930s-era ad from Shanghai depicting an exoticized Chinese woman. Right, an image from an Instagram account that puts white men with Asian fetishes on blast.
Asian-American women are sick of sexual stereotypes. Left, a 1930s-era ad from Shanghai depicting an exoticized Chinese woman. Right, an image from an Instagram account that puts white men with Asian fetishes on blast.

Lillian , a 20-something who lives in New York and Boston, is a single Asian American woman who actively dates. Needless to say, her Tinder inbox is a hot mess.

There are the inevitable 鈥淲hat is your nationality? and 鈥淲hat are you?鈥 messages. And there are a ton of racially charged thirsty DMs: 鈥淚鈥檒l eat your pussy like shrimp fried rice,鈥 one says. 鈥淚 want to try my first Asian woman.鈥

Sure, sexually explicit messages and unsolicited dick pics are par for the course for women on dating apps, but for women of color, including Asian women, it鈥檚 almost always significantly worse.

鈥淢ost of my single white friends receive only a taste of what I get on Tinder,鈥 said Lillian, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons.

鈥淣o man has ever opened with how white women are so 鈥榚xotic鈥 or opened with an assumption about how white vaginas are different from other vaginas,鈥 she told HuffPost. 鈥淣one of these messages have the same intense preoccupation with race.鈥

Those creepy-crawly experiences on dating apps led Lillian to create The Fleshlight Chronicles, an Instagram account where she showcases the worst offenders on Tinder and other apps. She posts screenshots of their messages alongside photos of herself looking stoic, fierce and totally over it.

Lillian also invites her 21,000 followers to share the racist DMs they鈥檝e received. She posts those, too.

The point of the project is clear: If you鈥檙e going to lazily fetishize Asian women, they鈥檙e not going to sit back and take it. They鈥檙e going to reclaim the experience and laugh at you, very publicly.

鈥淲e are not here to satiate your sexual curiosity,鈥 Lillian said. 鈥淲e are not passive objects. We have our own inner lives. We marvel and we create. We work through shit with our families. Asian Americans are filled with small idiosyncrasies, just like any other human 鈥 though we shouldn鈥檛 have to convince anyone of that.鈥

Lillian鈥檚 story in many ways captures the dating landscape for Asian American women today. While Asian men are at a disadvantage dating 鈥 one OkCupid study from 2014 found that Asian men have a harder time with online dating than people of any other race, and it鈥檚 not uncommon for Asian men to see the words 鈥渘o Asians鈥 on peoples鈥 profiles 鈥 Asian women deal with the reverse problem: rampant fetishization and objectification, on- and offline.

It鈥檚 become even more problematic lately, given the fixation on Asian women among members of the American far right. As writer Audrea Lim pointed out in a recent New York Times opinion piece, figures from Richard Spencer to Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, have touted their Asian girlfriends or partners at one point or another.

If that seems like a case of literal strange bedfellows for a white nationalist, consider the supposed twin appeal of Asian women: They鈥檝e got the subservient, hyper-sexual 鈥渓ove you long time鈥 stereotype going for them, and they鈥檙e part of the quiet, hardworking 鈥渕odel minority.鈥 For white supremacists, that鈥檚 a dream woman incarnate.

Asians are not a monolith, but a lot of men will claim to be into Asian women when really they only mean light-skinned East Asian women.

Christine Liwag Dixon, Filipino American writer

鈥淭he main problem with white women is they鈥檝e become too feminist鈥 for the far right, Lim writes. 鈥淏y contrast, Asian women are seen as naturally inclined to serve men sexually and are also thought of as slim, light-skinned and small, in adherence to Western norms of femininity.鈥

Indeed, not all Asian women are equal in the eyes of the fetishizer.

鈥淎sians are not a monolith, but a lot of men will claim to be into Asian women when really they only mean light-skinned East Asian women,鈥 Christine Liwag Dixon, a Filipino American writer in New York, told HuffPost.

鈥淚t鈥檚 like they completely forget that other Asians exist. I鈥檝e even heard men say that Asian women are the most attractive in the world, while also saying that they aren鈥檛 attracted to Indian or Thai women,鈥 she said. 鈥淭here are Asians with curly hair. Many Asians have dark skin.鈥

The history of fetishizing Asian women

Yellow fever鈥 is, of course, nothing new.

It鈥檚 been a thing since at least the late 1800s, when the first Victorian men visited port cities in Japan and became transfixed by geishas. French writer Pierre Loti鈥檚 incredibly popular 1887 novel 鈥淢adame Chrysanth猫me鈥 (later adapted into Puccini鈥檚 famous opera, 鈥淢adame Butterfly鈥) cemented the image of Asian women as doll-like, subservient objects of lust.

In the U.S., an interesting trend in immigration led to more prurient ideas about Asian femininity. While Chinese immigrant laborers began arriving in droves in the second half of the 19th century 鈥 especially on the West Coast 鈥 Chinese women stayed in Asia.

Traditional Chinese cultural and filial values played a part in this, but so did fear of racism. As xenophobic immigration laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 were being passed, many Chinese men feared bringing their wives abroad given the racial violence they were subjected to.

The only women who did make it across? Young women from poor families who left their homes and took the only work they could as prostitutes, said Robin Zheng, an assistant professor of philosophy at Yale-NUS College in Singapore and the author of the paper 鈥Why Yellow Fever Isn鈥檛 Flattering: A Case Against Racial Fetishes.鈥

鈥淭his in turn generated the perception of Asian women as morally degenerate but also sexually alluring, which was used to justify the passing of legislative barriers that made the immigration of Asian women nearly impossible and only served to further exacerbate the low numbers of Asian women,鈥 Zheng told HuffPost.

Even as Asian women were seen as sexually wanton, Asian men came to be thought of as desexualized or feminized 鈥 鈥渉uman oddities in the minds of whites,鈥 as cultural studies professor Chiung Hwang Chen wrote in a 1996 academic paper.

Early Hollywood movies did the rest of the work. Asian women in 1930s films (most notably the American-born Anna May Wong) were depicted as exotic femme fatales, weaponizing their sexuality to the detriment of the men around them. Asian men, meanwhile, were cast as scheming, effete villains in silk tunics, intent on bringing down the strong, capable white protagonists.

When the U.S. gained a military presence in Asia beginning in World War II, soldiers visited sex workers and more hackneyed stereotypes about Asian womanhood sprouted up. (Think: the Vietnamese prostitute shouting 鈥渕e love you long time, me sucky sucky鈥 in broken English to GIs in 鈥淔ull Metal Jacket鈥 and longstanding racist jokes about Asian women possessing sideways vaginas.)

Actress Anna May Wong, at right, and actors E. Alyn Warren and Warner Oland -- two white men portraying Asians -- in a scene from the 1931 movie "Daughter of the Dragon."
Actress Anna May Wong, at right, and actors E. Alyn Warren and Warner Oland -- two white men portraying Asians -- in a scene from the 1931 movie "Daughter of the Dragon."
Donaldson Collection via Getty Images

There鈥檚 a difference between having a type and having a fetish. Here鈥檚 how to look for red flags.

Obviously, genuine love matches do happen between Asian women and non-Asian men, from the GIs who brought home Korean war brides in the 1950s to couples meeting on Hinge and other dating apps today.

But one would hope that any interracial match is built less on a fetish and having a rigid physical 鈥渢ype,鈥 and more on loving the individual person.

鈥淚t鈥檚 totally OK to have a 鈥榯ype鈥 when it comes to dating or sex, but I think you need to be wary of when that type veers off into exclusively entering relationships with people of a certain race,鈥 said Katerina Jeng, co-founder of the Asian American magazine Slantd.

鈥淲hen you project the same kind of personality, behavior, and values across an entire ethnic group and don鈥檛 see nuanced human [beings], that鈥檚 a racial fetish,鈥 she said.

Jeng is happily partnered now, but in her single days, she and her friends developed a funny, fast-and-loose litmus test for Asian fetishes.

鈥淪croll through his Instagram. If he鈥檚 following and liking photos of hordes of Asian women, it鈥檚 a yellow-fever red flag for sure,鈥 she said, only half joking.

鈥淏esides that, I would straight-up just ask him about his past dating history to see if he has a fetish for Asian women, and ask for his rationale behind his choices,鈥 she said. 鈥淚f you feel he was genuinely interested in these women for who they are as humans and not for their race, he鈥檚 probably good to go.鈥

And if an Asian woman does decide to date a white dude, you shouldn鈥檛 assume she had no agency in the matter 鈥 or that she鈥檚 a race traitor.

One of the more unfortunate side effects of Asian American men鈥檚 legitimate frustration with racist dating experiences is an Asian American men鈥檚 rights activist movement intent on harassing Asian women who date or marry non-Asian men. Operating from a scarcity mindset, the harassers expect women of Asian descent to date exclusively within their race, and they attack those who marry outside and raise multiracial families. As a piece on The Cut recently highlighted, in the minds of so-called 鈥淢RAsians,鈥 there are far too many 鈥渨hite-worshipping鈥 鈥渟elf-hating Asian females鈥 who date with a 鈥渃olonial mentality.鈥

Their concern is that Asian women are dismissive of the stereotypes Asian men face while dating 鈥 that they鈥檙e unsexy, too nerdy or not masculine enough 鈥 but the women we spoke to all saw the fetishizing of Asian women and the emasculation of Asian men as twin problems endemic to living in a predominantly white society.

Sometimes these women fall in love with Asian men. Sometimes they fall in love with white guys, just as an Asian guy might fall for a white woman. That needs to be OK, said Lillian, the Fleshlight Chronicles creator.

鈥淪ometimes we have friends and partners who love, respect, and honor us. People who just happen to be white,鈥 she said. 鈥淲e are not all desperate for whiteness 鈥 to be loved by it, to be used by it, to become it. Don鈥檛 assume an Asian woman is dying to date a white man.鈥

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