How Can We Stop the Sexualization of Asian Women in America?

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Intro Video

https://youtu.be/45t9LLaAfHQ

graphic by Shari Wei for the Daily Bruin

Overview

With a legacy spanning the past two centuries, the sexualization of Asian women continues today in various forms. Though sexualization may not be so outright as all Asian women being generalized as prostitutes, there are still problems that fly relatively under the radar. But what are these problems? What are their historical basis? And how can we attempt to solve them?

Personal Connection

As an Asian American girl growing up in the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, I have witnessed first hand how much racism against Asians still exists. Hate has shown itself in many ways: in elders being pushed down, in racist comments attributing the Coronavirus to every Asian Americans, and in stereotypes of Asian women on social media. In early April of last year, I watched as a video created by ex-Comedy Central animator Sven Stoffles circulated through social media: a disgusting caricature of an Asian woman in Covid-themed undergarments kissing bats and eating various animals. While many users, including myself, quickly reported the video, Instagram at first refused to delete the video, claiming it “did not violate community guidelines”.

A video by Stoffels shows a sexualized stereotype of an Asian woman

Sadly, this was not the first time I was exposed to the sexualization of Asian women. My grandmother has passed down to me cheongsams (classic Chinese dresses) that she once wore. However, the traditional silhouette of a cheongsam is unrecognizable in music videos and costume websites that display sexualized versions– having been replaced with skintight material, unreasonably high slits, and cut-outs that leave nothing to the imagination.

Historical Background

Sexualization of Asian American women dates back to the mid 1800s, after the Opium Wars. Young Chinese men flooded Europe and the United States hoping for a better life. However, due to gender roles, cost, and anti-Chinese legislation, very few women were among the earlier immigrants to America

Table by Judy Yung

Accordingly, there was a need for Asian women in America. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, many Chinese and Japanese women were forced or coerced into prostitution by procurers. Additionally, most female Asian immigrants found that in America there were few jobs available to them, and initially entered prostitution as a survival strategy due to its high demand. Unfortunately, this provided ammunition for anti-Asian politicians to tamp down on Asian immigration

the Page Act was part of America’s vast anti-Asian sentiment of the late 1800s (Life Before Exclusion)

 

The Page Act of 1875 granted immigration officers the duty of turning away female immigrants if it was suspected that they were immigrating for immoral purposes. The vague wording of the Page Act was used to prevent nearly all Asian women from immigrating, as they were deemed immoral, which solidified the stereotype that all Asian women were prostitutes.

Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American actress, was typecast as a dragon lady
 This popular opera is a prime example of the butterfly stereotype (Opera Scotland)

 Even in the early 20th century, sexualization of Asian women in America continued, this time through film. Over the years, two stereotypes of Asian women arose. The Butterfly is submissive, pure and dependent on a white savior, often sacrificing herself for the good of the white man. The Dragon Lady is aggressive and sensual, eventually brought to submission to demonstrate white dominance.

Present Day Legacy

 Sexualization of Asian women continues today. Take for example “yellow fever”.

Graphic by Aileen Nguyen for the Daily Bruin

wty0urt

While this may not seem harmful at first glance, this fetish tends to sparked when Asian women are considered exotic and unknown. Thus, people rely on existing stereotypes, such as Asian women being more domestic and submissive than white women, to fuel their interest. 

Instances of self-reported harassment by gender (Stop AAPI hate)

Additionally, this type of fetishization of Asian women has major consequences. Asian women are harassed at twice the rate of Asian men. Just two weeks ago in Georgia, a white man shot and killed eight women because he had a sexual addiction and saw the women as temptations. While the media was hesitant to call it a racially motivated crime at first, six of the eight victims were Asian, and one of the locations was called Young’s Asian Massage.

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East Asian ideal body type graphic by Christy Yu

The sexualization of women in American society also has negative impacts on younger girls. Asian women and white women have the highest rates of eating disorders nationally because both Asian and European cultures tend to idealize thinness.

However, extensive research has not been done on eating disorders in minorities, as studies have mainly focused on white women. Also, many mental health professionals assume that Asians are “well adjusted” in America because of the model minority myth and dismiss concerns, leading to the under diagnosis of mental health problems and disorders among Asian Americans.

What is the Model Minority Myth?

“the model minority myth is a persistent stereotype that paints Asian Americans as inherently successful and problem-free, particularly in contrast to other minority groups”
Victoria Namkung
NBC

Fortunately, there are solutions to these problems. Sexualization of Asian women is an intersectional problem, with roots in both racism and sexism. Also, the media has historically played a large role in the sexual stereotypes that now exist about Asian women. Thus, there needs to be a drastic change in how women are portrayed and treated by the media

Solutions

Shows a loving and strong willed matriach (Amazon)

Macro

The Geena Davis Institute conducts and presents research on the lack of gender representation in media (Storytelling Tips)
  1. More films could be made that highlight the humanness and wholeness of women of color: female BIPOC characters should not be thrown into a movie solely for sex appeal or even the diversity factor. Similarly, it is not just the number of female executives or female creative leadership that matters, it is how their voices and perspectives are amplified and listened to. 

 2. Better media representation of women in media: this is important because of the way that various forms of media (magazines, movies, shows, news, social media) affect nearly every aspect of our lives. As the media shifts their portrayal of Asian women, the general perspective and opinion of Asian women shifts too. As general perspective shifts, media changes, and this cycle is how positive change is made. 

Micro

Sign the 4 Every Girl petition here: https://4everygirl.com/petition/
  1. Sign petitions: 4 Every Girl has started a petition calling on media and entertainment industry leaders to “create an environment where young girls feel valued and are defined by healthy media images of themselves”. They ask that sexualized depictions of girls and sexualized messages be reduced, while non-sexualized stories and role-models be increased. The petition has over 500 signatures, and signing it is one small way you can help. I will personally be signing this petition. 

 2. Educate yourself: learn about the history of sexualization of Asian women and about the history of anti-asian sentiment in America to see how colonialism twisted people’s views of Asian women, in addition to seeing the huge problem that one might be unknowingly adding to, even with small actions. Perspective makes a huge difference. 

The history of sexualization of Asian women is long and complicated (Collage by Simon Abranowicz)

What Now?

Please let me know in the comments:

  1. Has this issue personally affected  you or anyone you know?
  2. What steps do you plan on taking to address this issue?

Also feel free to leave any other feedback or suggestions in the comments! Thank you for your time!

Works Cited

View my Work Cited here

6 Comments
Charis_88

Charis_88

Student at Head-Royce School, Oakland, CA USA

6 comments

  1. This is such an important topic and an amazing project. I love how you addressed a range of issues related to the East Asian experience and racism, and how they relate to the sexualization of Asian women. While I was aware of yellow fever and that there is an issue of Asian women being objectified, I learned some new things from your page. I have not personally experienced this since I’m not Asian, but I do know people that have been victims of many racist encounters, especially during the pandemic. My school recently had an assembly regarding the hate crimes against AAPI, and many faculty members and students shared their experiences. Most of them were women. I’ve tried to keep up with the news about these racially-motivated attacks, but there are so many more incidences of hate towards Asians. I signed the petition you recommended, and I’m going to make an effort to continue helping with this issue wherever I can. I’m so sorry if you’ve been a victim of any hate. Also, there’s an image on your site that just shows up as Lorem Ipsum etc., and there are a few font inconsistencies. You may want to make a few quick edits. I’d love to see the visual meant to be displayed! Otherwise, fantastic job.

  2. Hi Charis! I really enjoyed reading through your page! You clearly put a lot of time and effort into this page. I personally see this problem on an everyday basis when looking for a tv show or movie to watch, and I am so happy you decided to write your page on such an important issue.

  3. Hi Charis!! I really enjoyed reading your webpage! You had so many interesting facts and pictures that were really helpful to understand the impact of how sexualization of Asian women are so prevalent in America. Personally, to help this ongoing issue in America, I will be signing the petition calling on media and entertainment industry leaders to “create an environment where young girls feel valued and are defined by healthy media images of themselves.”

  4. Hi Charis, wow thank you so much for doing a presentation on this! I knew bits and pieces from history classes, readings, and movies I have watched, but going into how this sexualization perpetuates and fuels all of the extended issues is really important to learn about. I wish that this resource and hub of information were shown in all schools. I am now curious about the desexualization of Asian men and the sexualization of Asian women, and how those interact with each other.

  5. Hi Charis, I liked your presentation on this topic! I was familiar with some of the history of your topic, but your website really filled some of the gaps in my knowledge. I think one thing I can do to help is to educate myself on the various ways Asian American women are sexualized in order to point them out. I think I see this issue in a lot of movie industries, including our own.

  6. Hi Charis, thank you for this insightful and thoughtful treatment of such a prevalent issue. Although I knew bits and parts of the information you presented from reading the news, I found the way that you presented concepts such as the Model Minority Myth and “Yellow Fever” was very clear and easily understandable. I really enjoyed the focus on Asian females portrayal on media and how important it is to change that. Adding onto that, I wish you would have provided some examples of media (in terms of movies, tv shows etc) that portray Asian women as the complex human beings they are for your audience to interact with in your solution. Also, I would have loved to see more of how we can support Asian women in your response (perhaps in the form of supporting small Asian businesses?).Your response also makes me wonder how Asian males portrayal in media can be biased as well. Overall, I really enjoyed reading your project! Great work and thank you for addressing such an important issue!

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