Effeminate, passive, and uncool – this is the stereotype of Asian American men, and it is not a new one. In Asian American Women and Men, Espiritu explains how this stereotype begins through the 1875 Page Act exclusion of Asian women from the US, and reproduced through feminized jobs (126), media portrayal (103) and the increasing wages of Asian American women (92). Particularly interesting was the way in which Asian American men historically reacted to the new economic power Asian American women held in the wage-labor market – denigrating Asian American women in order to reassert their masculinity. Consequences involved marital conflict, spousal abuse and returning to Asia for more ‘respectful’ wives (92). This phenomenon has continued due to the gender disparity between Asian American men and women in the heterosexual dating market. Chou states in Asian American Sexual Politics that Asian American men are still “uniquely racially isolated and “castrated”” (106). Textual analysis of narratives presented in the subreddit r/AsianMasculinity elucidate the ways in which Asian American men reproduce the oppressive structures onto Asian American women. Troublingly, there has been a proliferation of discourse in male-centered spaces that co-opts social justice oriented language to perpetuate misogyny.
The negative stereotypes of Asian American men affect their experience in the heterosexual dating, rendering them eligible in a market where masculinity is valued. This disadvantage can be perceived as particularly galling in comparison to the greater eligibility of Asian American women created through Asian fetishization. While many blogs advocate ‘breaking out of the stereotype’ through self-improvement (a neoliberal tactic that avoids addressing oppressive structures) or celebrating Asian men as sexy, other forums promote masculinity through denigrating Asian American women. Anti-feminist rhetoric and propagation of binary gender roles can be documented through blogs and forums written by Asian American men, generally espousing racially radical but gender oppressive views. Within the popular threads on r/AsianMasculinity, one user acknowledges colorism within communities of people of color, and another begins a conversation on supportive Asian-Black relations, and yet, another user denigrates Asian American women for being too available to white men and states, “Asian American women are NOT worthy of our love, time, loyalty and money”.
The r/AsianMasculinity forum on Reddit offers an intriguing look at the collective ideas about masculinity and the ways Asian American men try to navigate within the heterosexual dating market. While many users attempt to theorize on the disparity in eligibility between Asian American men and women, these theories propagate the very same toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes that created the negative Asian American male stereotype. In one thread, a user states, “…the whole idea of Asian American women complaining about constantly getting hit on by creepy white men or men in general is caused by Asian women alone. You’ve given non-Asian men an idea that you are more than willing to talk, date, or marry them. It’s not really their fault.” The fetishization of Asian women, paradoxically, is blamed on Asian women, for being too available to non-Asian men – in fact, it is Asian fetishization is often referred to as “white fetishization by Asian females”. Even though interracial relationships with a white man and Asian women have two people participating, only Asian women are blamed for the trend. At the same time, interracial relationships between a Asian man and white woman are glorified. One user, attempting to find the best US cities for dating, uses the percentage of Asian Male, White Female marriages as a standard measurement. In another thread, users encourage the poster to go after blonde white women, but caution him on Asian women.
This demonization of Asian American women often perpetuates Dragon Lady Asian women stereotypes, such as when this thread cautions “ALWAYS background check Asian women especially, they are masters of deception and are on at least equal whore levels as their white counterparts.” Even as users elucidate the oppressive stereotype imposed upon them, they uphold stereotypes of Asian American women and then blame them for it. Some go even further to accuse Asian American women of being “mentally colonized”, and Asian American feminism as “demanding entry into White America”. This usage of social-justice oriented language is especially troubling when considering that this language intended to bring justice for marginalized peoples is now used to attack and divide some of the same people it was meant to serve. According to Espiritu, being both the oppressed and the oppressor is a view rejected by Asian American men (130). Rather than working against systematic racism together, Asian American men and women are alienated from each other. According to Chou, little research exists on relations between Asian American men and women. It is clear this is an area that needs more investigation and analysis.
Dating and race can be extremely personal and touchy subjects, especially when it may be paved with rejection. During a friendly conversation about this assignment with a chatroom full of friends (mostly Asian, majority male), I was told someone had complained about me, and that I was to stop discussing the topic. However, limiting these sort of conversations to isolated spaces can have dangerous effects. Asian American women have certainly also complied with the ideologies of racial patriarchy, but blaming them for the exotification and fetishization of their own bodies is only reproducing gender domination and misogyny, and distracts from making progress against systematic racism. In this post-election period where white supremacists seem to be populating the upper echelons of the US government, a united front against systematic racism is needed more than ever.