“I will see your breasts before the summer is done. I’ve never seen a busty Asian in real life.“
I was sixteen years old and working at a fast-food restaurant in Northern Virginia when an older coworker said this to me. I was spending a summer in the US before moving to Manila in the Philippines for my senior year of high school. Before that, I had been living in Chennai, India.
Despite having been groped at the age of 14 by a notorious hit-and-run molester at a movie theater back in Chennai, I was still fairly innocent. I had never watched porn and while I had some sexual experience, I lacked knowledge in how to deal with creepy older guys who say messed up crap to younger girls. So I laughed, blushed, and avoided being alone with the guy until I left that job.
“Well done! Great job!”
An older white guy drunkenly shouted this at my boyfriend while clapping his hands enthusiastically outside the White Stag, a bar in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong. We were in a part of the city that mixes clubbing with strip clubs. I guess I should have found it a compliment that this guy thought my boyfriend snagged an attractive prostitute. We weren’t quite sure how to react to my being mistaken for a lady of the night and just walked away faster. I don’t have anything against prostitutes, but the assumption was disconcerting.
“Have you ever dyed your hair blonde? I’ve only ever seen blonde Asians in porn.”
It was a struggle not to choke on my glass of wine as one of my boyfriend’s professional colleagues said this to me with a completely straight face. How do you respond to a comment like that? The guy’s girlfriend and another female friend of ours were also present. His girlfriend did not react at all, yet the other woman shot a horrified look my way before we both silently decided to let it go. I laughed it off and changed the subject because I didn’t want to appear too sensitive. Plus, I’m sure it was just a “joke.”
Asians as a whole, and mixes included, are exoticized and eroticized. There is a mystique surrounding us that revolves around the Dragon Lady and China Doll stereotypes. We are dangerous, we are sex addicts, and we apparently have sideways vaginas, which was mentioned as a kink in the HBO show Carnivàle. And, because we are seen as submissive, most people think that they can say whatever they want to us with no reaction. I’m not proud of how I have handled past events, but in our current environment of PC-backlash, it’s really confusing to know how to navigate social situations with downright rude assholes.
I attribute my ability to remain peaceful to my upbringing as a diplomat’s daughter, not to my being part Asian. And this is where those insidious sexist and racist “nice guys” come into the picture.
They prey on the gaps of social propriety. They are the first to flip the script when you stand up to them by defensively arguing that you are a “reverse-racist” or that you can’t take a joke or you need to stop being so sensitive. They rely on your preference to remain non-confrontational. They’re laughing. So everyone else should be laughing along with them. We all just want to have a good time.
My point isn’t that other races and ethnicities aren’t sexualized. They are. That’s why there are so many fetishes and types of porn, something to suit every taste. We live in a sexist society skewed towards one gender. My issue is that the roles for Asian women in mainstream culture stick towards the nerdy/unattractive/sticklers-for-rules, the hypersexualized badasses, or the prostitutes. There’s a reason these are Mean Girls cliques, except for the prostitutes. Obviously there are exceptions, but exceptions by their very definition are rare and stand out from the norm. Culture informs our perspective on everyday life and that’s why we have comments like this from PopCrunch: “Almost everyone has that friend who has a thing for Asian women, sometimes to the point of exclusivity and looking like a dork…”
Asian fetishes are not new and we seem to fall under the “nerd hot” variety. And I’m not even trying to get into the number of other racial slurs that are thrown my way. (“Why can’t you open your eyes?”)
No matter how many “ethnic” friends you happen to have, no matter how fun it is for you guys to talk shit to each other, consider that they are preempting your racism by shooting first. Or consider that while it can be socially acceptable to make fun of your own race, culture, or family, it’s kind of painful when other people do it.
At the end of the day, you can say whatever you want to me. But I don’t have to like it or laugh it off. Don’t put it on me that you’re offended that I’m offended by your ignorance, your crassness, your racism. You can say what you want to say but I’m going to react the way I’m going to react.
This is a systemic problem of embedded racial stereotypes. And if you think I’m overreacting, just take a look at the comment section of Vice’s “The Casual Racism I Deal with as an Asian Woman in an Interracial Relationship.” It’s just depressing.
To me, being seen as a sex toy sucks. It sucks being seen as submissive. It sucks being seen as a meek housekeeper who can throw her guy a bone whenever. It sucks that people believe my boyfriend only likes me because he has “a thing” for Asians or that I am a trophy of his research.
I am a multifaceted human being with a combination of interests and quirks that are informed by my Third Culture Kid upbringing, my mixed ethnic and racial heritage, and my life experiences. I am more than my stereotypes, and so are you.
This article originally appeared on XOJane it is republished here with permission.
Best Travel Credit Cards
Top offers from our partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
100,000 bonus points
The Platinum Card®
100,000 bonus points
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 bonus points