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The fetishization of East Asians by people of other ethnicities is sometimes described by the derogatory term yellow fever.
A well known stereotype of Asian women is that they are subservient, passive, and quiet. Throughout history in the Western world, the image of an Asian women was "geisha-like", meaning sexually suggestive but silent. Asian women are seen giving suggestive gazes but remaining quiet while seducing a man. This image persists today, along with the idea of Asian women being exotic and submissive. Asian women are often referred to as a 'china doll', meaning they are dainty and beautiful, but also has the implication of absence of feelings and autonomy. Exhibition of stereotyped material in mainstream media has promoted the idea of the "Asian fetish".
Terminology and usage
In the afterword to the 1988 play M. Butterfly, the writer David Henry Hwang, using the term "yellow fever", a pun on the disease of the same name, discusses Caucasian men with a "fetish" for (east) Asian women. The pun refers to the color terminology for race, in which persons of East and Southeast Asian heritage are sometimes described as "Yellow people". The term "yellow fever" describes someone who is inflicted with a disease, implying that someone with an Asian fetish has a sickness. Hwang argues that this phenomenon is caused by stereotyping of Asians in Western society. The term yellow fever is analogous to the term jungle fever, an offensive slang expression used for racial fetishism associated with Caucasian women whose sexual interests focus on black men. Other names used for those with an Asian fetish are rice kings, rice chasers and rice lovers.
Study on racial preferences in dating
In a two-year study on dating preferences among 400 Columbia University students, researchers did not find evidence of a general preference among Caucasian men for Asian women. Furthermore, the study found that there is a significantly higher pairing of Caucasian men with East Asian women because East Asian women are less likely to prefer African-American or Latino men. The study took data from "thousands of decisions made by more than 400 daters from Columbia University's various graduate and professional schools".
An Asian fetish places a psychological burden on Asian women, who may experience doubt and suspicion that men who find them attractive are primarily attracted to features related to ethnicity and culture rather than other traits or characteristics. Asian American women report both in popular media such as blogs, and in social scientific literature, that they are often uncertain whether people are only interested in them for their race. The doubt that targets of Asian fetish experience may be associated with feelings of depersonalization, which, it is argued, compound on the objectification Asian women already face as women, such that they may feel like interchangeable objects. The fetishized body of the Asian woman becomes a symbol of other people's desires; she may not be valued for who she is, but what she has come to represent. Racial depersonalization can be especially hurtful to Asian women in situations where being recognized as an individual is important, such as romantic relationships, because a person may feel unloved if they sense they could be replaced by someone with similar qualities.
Another effect of Asian fetish is that it may cause its targets to feel like an Other, because they are isolated and held to different standards of beauty. Asian American women report being complimented in ways that imply they are attractive because they are Asian or despite being Asian. Because of Asian fetish, an Asian woman's racial difference is either seen as a failure to conform to mainstream Western standards of beauty, or as something that can be appreciated only on an alternative scale. This can cause insecurity, and affect a woman's self-worth and self-respect.
Men with an Asian fetish are also affected by the stigma that accompanies the term. These men are viewed as inferior by those who assume that they date Asian women because they are unable to date Caucasian women. This logic holds that Asian women are lesser than Caucasian women. The stereotype that the Asian fetish perpetuates, about the sexual superiority of Asian women, may be perceived as reducing the status of Asian women to objects that are only valuable for sex and not as complete human beings.
NPR correspondent Elise Hu offers that this can be a source of insecurity in Asian women's dating lives, asking: "Am I just loved because I'm part of an ethnic group that's assumed to be subservient, or do I have actual value as an individual, or is it both?". In the other direction, it has been argued that the notion of an Asian fetish creates the unnecessary and erroneous perception of multiracial relationships as being characterized by "patriarchal, racist power structures" in relationships.
Writer Agness Kaku believes the mainstream Western culture undermines efforts to combat sexual harassment associated with Asian fetish. Noting how frequently women of Asian descent are subjected to verbal and online harassment, Kaku argues that Asian fetish "thrives on double standards that make light of racial bias against Asians" and states this downplaying leaves women vulnerable to stalking and violence.
Asian Americans' body dissatisfaction has been linked to the way they are often portrayed in the media as sexual yet innocent, nerdy, and emotionally inept as well as the prevalence of White people in media. Asian Americans tend to have a wide range of body dissatisfaction, with some studies saying that they have less than White, Black, and Hispanic Americans while others say they range somewhere in between. However, unlike with many other non-White groups in America, Asian-Americans' body dissatisfaction does not relate to their levels of assimilation to American culture. This tends to be attributed to the fact that Asian-Americans are viewed as "Forever Foreigners."
This concept applies in different ways depending on the context. In this case, it means that the "true" American is considered to be the White American, and all other Americans are considered something else before they are considered Americans. These groups are referred to as African Americans, or Asian Americans, and rarely just as Americans. So, to try to fit in, some Asian Americans may attempt to achieve traits they consider White. According to an article from the Autumn 2003 edition of The Journal of Negro Education, many Asian American girls and women strive to achieve what they see as White traits, such as large breasts, green eyes, or light hair, which Asians are very rarely born with. In this article, Hmong high school girls were the main focus. These girls specified that they tried to achieve these traits because they were things that they believed White men and boys found attractive.
Asian women and Caucasian men
A 1998 article in The Washington Post states that 36% of young Asian Pacific American men born in the United States married Caucasian women, and 45% of U.S.-born Asian Pacific American women took Caucasian husbands during the year of publication. In 2008, 9.4% of Asian American men married to Caucasian American women while 26.4% of Asian American women were married to Caucasian American men. 7% of married Asian American men have a non-Asian spouse, 17.1% of married Asian American women are married to a Caucasian spouse, and 3.5% of married Asian men have a spouse classified as "other" according to U.S. census racial categories. 75% of Asian/Caucasian marriages involve an Asian woman and a Caucasian man. There was a spike in Caucasian male/Asian female marriages during and following the U.S.'s involvement with wars in Asia, including WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. In 2010, 219,000 Asian American men married Caucasian American women compared to 529,000 Caucasian American men who married Asian American women.
After World War II, particularly feminine images of Asian women made interracial marriage between Asian American women and Caucasian men popular. Asian femininity and caucasian masculinity are seen as a sign of modern middle-class manhood. Postcolonial and model minority femininity may attract some Caucasian men to Asian and Asian American women and men see this femininity as the perfect marital dynamic. Some Caucasian men racialize Asian women as "good wives" or "model minorities" because of how Asian women are stereotyped as being particularly feminine.
In preparation for a documentary on Asian fetish called Seeking Asian Female, Chinese-American filmmaker Debbie Lum interviewed non-Asian men who posted online personal ads exclusively seeking Asian women. Things that the men reported finding appealing in Asian women included subtlety and quietness, eye-catching long black hair, a mysterious look in dark eyes, and a propensity to give more consideration to how their partner feels than to themselves. Lum characterized the stereotype associated with an Asian fetish as an obsession with seeking "somebody submissive, traditional, docile... the perfect wife who is not going to talk back".
Asian women may be viewed by Caucasian men with Asian fetish as "good wives", as in they are perceived to be able to properly take care of their children during the day and fulfill their partner's sexual desires at night. In interviews done by Bitna Kim, Caucasian men explain their fetish for Asian women. The Caucasian men interviewed fantasize that an Asian woman possesses both beauty and brains, that she is "sexy, intelligent, successful, professional, caring, and family oriented"; that she does not wear “white girl clothes” and heavy makeup, and that they are not high maintenance. Hence, the men believe that Asian women have respectable mannerisms. These men see Asian women to be exotic, thus desirable, because of their supposed mysterious beauty and possession of a physical appearance perceived to be petite. Sexually, the men in these interviews had a commonality. They all believed that Asian women have submissive sex. They believed that an Asian woman did not mind putting her partner's pleasure above hers. These interviews show that some Caucasian men with Asian fetish believe that an Asian woman embodies a perfect wife as a "princess in public and a whore in the bedroom". A Caucasian woman is seen by some Caucasian men to lack the same femininity that an Asian woman has to offer.
Since 2002, marriages between Swedish men and Thai women have become increasingly common.
Historically, the number of Thai women marrying Caucasian men began to rise in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat's economic policies which attracted foreign investment and Caucasian men to Thailand. There is a social stigma in the country against Thai women marrying Caucasian men, but research published in 2015 indicated that an increasing number of young middle-class Thai women were marrying foreign men. A generation earlier, Thai women marrying foreign men had mostly been working class.
Sources indicate that Sri Lanka is popular among Western "marriage bureaus" which specialize in the pairing of Caucasian men with foreign women. The first and largest wave of Sri Lankan immigrants to Denmark were Sinhalese women who came to the country in the 1970s to marry Danish men they had met back in Sri Lanka. Statistics also show that marriages of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian men with Thai or Indian women tend to last longer than those of Indian men marrying Danish, Swedish or Norwegian wives.
Statistics detailing the sponsorship of spouses and fiancées to Australia between 1988/1989 and 1990/1991 showed that more women from the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, and India were sponsored for citizenship than men from the same countries.
Data published in 1999 indicated that an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 German men annually travelled abroad for sex tourism, with the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong as their main destinations. For some Caucasian men, sex tourism to countries such as Thailand is built around a fantasy that includes the possibility of finding love and romance. This idea is based on the stereotype of "the Oriental woman" who is considered to be beautiful and sexually exciting as well as caring, compliant and submissive.
Some Asian girls and women believe that their aspirations will be achieved if they marry a white man. Therefore, they may try to do what they can to look attractive to them. The opposite side of this phenomenon is the desexualization of Asian men. Some girls and women, Asian or not, may not see them as potential romantic partners because of the traits they are perceived to have such as being physically unattractive, emotionally cut off, and boring. At the same time, Asian women have expressed preference for white men.
There are relatively few representations of Asian people in Western media. Asian women in media tend to be portrayed in two ways: as exotic foreigners, docile and nonthreatening and sexual but also innocent, or as the nerd who is still aesthetically pleasing, but also emotionless and career oriented. This leads many Asian women to believe that they have to be in one of these boxes. It tends to convey the message that if they are smart, they cannot be sexual; or, if they are sexual, they tend to not be aware of it. Recently, movies such as Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell have been breaking these boundaries, but they are movies that center around the Asian experience, allowing for more diversity across Asian characters.
Media in America that features racial diversity tends to be Black-White centered. This means that, if the character is not White, they tend to be Black. For example, the Netflix adaptation of Dear White People largely juxtaposes race on a Black versus White spectrum. While there is the occasional Asian or Hispanic person, they are often there for comedic value rather than actual input into racial issues. This makes it seem as if America is full of only Black people and White people, therefore putting Asians in either a limbo space, or a bubble where Asians only exist among other Asians.
For Asian Americans, the ideal body is influenced by the media they see. Women tend to lean towards traits that distinguish between Asian American women and White American women. For example, one trait that is held up in Asian American communities is the double eyelid. Many Asians are born with the single layered eyelid, but this ideal is so prevalent that people get surgery to achieve it.
In her essay "Hateful Contraries: Media Images of Asian Women", British filmmaker Pratibha Parmar comments that the media's imagery of Asian women is "contradictory" in that it represents them as "completely dominated by their men, mute and oppressed" while also presenting them as "sexually erotic creatures".
Asian women have traditionally been stereotyped in mass media in the United States. In her essay Lotus Blossoms Don't Bleed: Images of Asian Women, American filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña identifies two basic stereotypes. The Lotus Blossom Baby is a feminine and delicate sexual-romantic object. In contrast, the Dragon Lady is treacherous and devious, and in some cases a prostitute or madam. Tajima suggests that this view of Asian women contributes to the existence of the Asian mail-order bride industry in the US.
It is argued that media may be furthering the progression of the Asian woman stereotype. This can be seen in movies, where the women are characterized by submissiveness. This trend is embodied within pornography, which focuses on an Asian women's stereotyped body type and her ability and desire to remain submissive to men. Asian pornography uprose when the United States government banned prostitution. But in other Asian countries, porn was supported, which lead to the accumulation and sexualization of Asian-based porn in the United States. The inability for one to truly understand another culture or production opens up more room for imagination and fantasy.
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