Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We Don't Need Another Hero.

Roll away the Models......

A perusal of commentaries by many Asian-American men in the media, be it blogs, news articles or even some academic literature, will reveal a remarkable fact; many of us believe that the media doesn't provide us with any respectable role models! This is remarkable for two reasons; firstly, I think it's arguable that the media can provide role models, and secondly it's not their job to provide role models. Here's why.....

1) The Media is a poor medium for providing role models.

When most people speak of media role models, they usually mean the movies or television, i.e. movie representations that shows a white hero being heroic and getting lots of play in the process. According to some, this type of representation is supposed to lead to a sense of confidence and warm fuzzy feelings of masculinity in the (male) viewer. Conversely, Asian men are never portrayed as heroes or lovers and so the prevailing wisdom is that this lack of "role models" contributes to feelings of diffidence and emasculation.

The problem is that most media representations aren't real; they're made-up stories that present simplistic depictions of motivations, circumstances and emotions. As such, these types of media characterizations are simply sophisticated caricatures, a form of visual sloganeering if you will. By its very nature, sloganeering is a vulgar, in-bred second cousin to the arts, and as history teaches us, societies that buy into the myths promoted by media sloganeering will produce – at worst - easily-led, unthinking masses that can be manipulated into believing that things like genocide can be justified.

With this in mind, it seems strange that Asian men would even want the media to be the vehicle that provides Asian role models. Certainly, to argue for positive representations is justified, but to desire that the media create Asian role models is both bizarre and dangerous. It’s bizarre because it would seem far more commonsensical to promote a healthy skeptical agnosticism toward what we see in the media, whether those images be positive or negative. It’s dangerous because it creates the false belief that we actually need the provision of media role models.

In short, it’s illogical to argue that the media is motivated to misrepresent Asian men, and at the same time give responsibility to this same institution to provide us with role models.

2) It isn’t the job of the media to provide role models.

Why? Well, because it’s our job, as Asian men, to assume the personal responsibility to be role models for Asian boys. It’s our job to nurture their burgeoning minds to avoid negativity and defeatism, and to exhibit the qualities of masculinity that they might want to emulate. It’s our job to nurture the sense of confidence and self-belief that they will need in order to thrive in a society that demeans them.

When I hear or read Asian guys saying that they never had media role models to look up to, what they really seem to be saying is that they had no role models at all - which seems like a far more serious problem. If they did have a figure in their formative years that they could look up to and emulate, then the lack of a media role model would be a non-issue. So, a more profound problem seems to be that some Asian men feel as though there are no Asian role models who are directly involved in the shaping of their lives and attitudes.Whether or not this is true is up to the reader to decide.

To summarize, it seems evident that the perceived need or desire for media provided role models is less urgent than the need for Asian men to assume the responsibility of becoming role models. Looking to the institution of the media to give us role models is tantamount to accepting the authority of the media over our own lives.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Program on Violence Against Asian American Students: The Philadelphia Story

From the API Movement Blog......
API Movement Building Boston and other groups will be hosting an event with students and community members active in fighting for Asian American student safety after attacks on them at South Philadelphia Highs School……………
……let’s hope for a good turnout.

Especially interesting for me is this;

What happened? How did the students and community build an effective coalition, what is the legal case and situation, did anti-immigrant sentiment played any role, and are Asian American students facing similar issues locally?
As I outlined, here, my sense is that much of the identity (and some other) issues experienced by many in the Asian community may be partially resolved when this problem is addressed. The marginalization of the Asian community begins in the first grade. It’s time to end the cycle. The first step to empowerment of the community has to be the empowerment of our children.

Most if not all East Asian children experience race related harassment and/or bullying in American schools. Of all the things we experience as a community, this is one of the things that is most universal and one which any East Asian who went through the school system of any western country will be familiar. Strangely, the often administration/teacher enabled harassment of Asian kids is an issue that, for whatever reason, the general Asian community seems reluctant to address with any passion. The situation at South Philly is by no means an isolated phenomenon, the only difference may be one of degree and blatancy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My, what big balls you have!

An Asian-American hero.

Where?!! Where?!! Here, via the Angry Asian Man....Jeremy Lin.

Lin is a fine example of what it will take for Asian men to become empowered. So why do I think that Lin is such a hero even though he still might never play first team basketball? Simply put, the odds are so stacked against him, that to get even as far as he has is a heroic achievement.

As we all know, the idea of Asian male athletes competing successfully with non-white athletes is a paradigm far outside the realm of possibility for many people - including some Asians. The mainstream likes to (no, needs to) believe that Asian men are inherently weaker or slower than they, and for some Asian cultures a career in sport is somewhat shameful and so they don’t encourage their sons to partake, let alone excel. Of course, even more ominously, some Asian boys are told by their families that they are too small, or too weak to compete with westerners, and so mentally they are set up to fail.

Furthermore, many Asian boys feel the weight of media stereotyping to be an almost insurmountable hurdle to their success. This is why Lin’s example is powerful; he has apparently been single-minded in working for what he wants. Stereotypes, negativity, and racism have not stopped him from striving. Most interestingly, Lin never seems to cite a lack of media role models as a hurdle to his determination to succeed, or his belief that he can succeed. This, for me, is the most important point and one that I will probably expand upon in a later post.

In the meantime, kudos to Jeremy Lin!

The Ten Commandments.

These are the guidelines for restricting images of Asian men in the media.

1. Thou shall not have sex.

2. Thou shall not be attractive or sexually potent.

3. Thou shall not be the partner of an Asian female character.

4. Thou shall not be a leader.

5. Thou shall not have a girlfriend.

6. Thou shall not play Genghis Khan.

7. Thou shall not kiss.

8. Thou shall not be confident.

9. Thou shall not be moral.

10. Thou shall be a misogynist.

It’s very rare that we will see a depiction of Asian men that isn’t guided by some or most of these commandments. The mainstream is heavily invested in restricting the depiction of Asian men to these limited qualities.

What are they so afraid of?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I want to be Black!

How the appropriation of black stereotypes rescued the sexual potency of white men.

I’ve always been fascinated with the way that stereotypes of Asian men have changed over the decades. Prior to the 1970’s, stereotypes of Asian men included a sexual dimension not present in today’s depictions. Throughout the mid-to-late 19th century and through to the first half of the 20th, Asian men were depicted as rapacious sexual deviants - Chinese men were stereotyped as craving white women and were considered a threat to their sexual purity. Filipino men were stereotyped as sexual powerhouses, irresistible to white women and preying on their innocence.

Over the past thirty years, these ideas of Asian men’s sexual potency have diminished whilst the stereotypes of Asian men as nerds, losers and sexual inferiors has increased. The shift has been dramatic and the apparent need to simultaneoulsy elevate the image of sexual primacy of white men has seemed almost pathological in its urgency. What then could be the cause of this shift and the almost hysterical manner that characterizes its social and cultural expression?

The first clue is the timing of this shift. The seventies saw the culmination of two decades of social upheaval in America and in particular three shifts in social paradigms that challenged the sexual confidence of the white males who dominated society. Women (white women specifically) became more empowered to demand their rights and asserted their control over their own sexuality. Civil Rights outlawed discrimination and along with it anti-miscegenation laws that forbade interracial relationships were repealed. Most importantly, the seventies saw the previously taboo notion of the hyper-sexualized black male come to the fore.

The combination of these three factors meant that the sexual primacy of white men was no longer guaranteed by racist laws and disempowered white women. Furthermore, the preference of many white women for black partners diminished confidence even further. It’s no wonder that we see such a dramatic reaction to this loss of sexual assuredness. Not content with the sloppy seconds of African-American men, the fight to reclaim sexual pride was on. For this to be achieved a new class of sexual "omega" was created that would divert attention away from the increasingly apparent flaccid potency of the white mainstream.

Almost in the blink of an eye, Asian men became asexual in the imagery of American culture and the process of appropriating the hyper-sexualized image of black men and applying it to white men had begun. The loss of power over the choices of white women and the sense of inadequacy this created was cushioned by the newly created myths of white male sexual hyper-potency. Simultaneously, stereotypes of Asian male sexual inadequacy increased. The rest is history.

Since the 1970’s popular cultural images of Asian men in America have become increasingly demeaning. The turn-around is so complete (and a necessary safeguard of the fragile white dick) that images of an empowered and sexually confident Asian man are anathema to this culture. The fear of Asian male sexual potency is so profound, that Asian men are even forbidden from taking roles in historical movies where the main character was an extremely powerful and sexually potent Asian (see here). In fact, non-demeaning images of Asian men are largely restricted in American society and media for this reason.

So to summarize, it's clear that social and cultural denigration of Asian men is an attempt to salvage the sexual pride of white men. In order to achieve this, the stereotype of black hyper-potency was appropriated and Asian men were assigned the role of the sexual underclass. Restrictions on positive images of Asian men reinforces the position of Asian men in this underclass. It just has to be remembered that these negative images of Asian men are part of a larger myth building process, the goal of which is to prop up the sexual self-image of the white mainstream.

Friday, July 2, 2010

It’s not my fault!!!

Or.....how the Asian Patriarchy can give you herpes.

Earlier this year a rather disturbing study was done by Asian-American sociologist Professor Hyeouk Chris Hahm that revealed a disproportionately high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases amongst young Asian American women. Read about it here. Sad but true.

Study aside, what I found to be interesting about the article, is the rather predictable conclusions that Hahm draws when suggesting causes for this problem. This is what she says about it…..

Accounting for the gender disparity, Hahm suggested that again, culture may be playing a critical role. “Condom use is hard in a culture where women are raised to be accommodating and polite.”
Obvious, right? Asian women are supposedly raised to be submissive and passive, so it’s natural that given this upbringing, young Asian women will not be assertive in many or most aspects of their lives. Case closed, right? I don’t think so.

Hopefully the problems with Hahm’s reasoning will be obvious to the unbiased reader. Clearly, Hahm is suggesting that traditional Asian cultures do a piss poor job of raising strong women. I don’t think this is necessarily true, but let’s put that aside and examine the facts against the presumed cause. Young Asian-American women are evidently engaging in risky sexual behaviour – lax attitudes to condom use and increased risk of exposure to disease resulting from different interracial dating habits. As Hahm says…..

“Asian and Pacific Islander women also have broader interracial dating patterns than Asian American men. This might explain why these women are exposed to higher rates of STDs.”
As with many cases of high risk behaviour, unprotected sex with multiple partners is also a factor. Can you see the problem with this picture?

Hahm believes that these Asian women are so deeply enculturated to be submissive that they can’t muster the assertiveness to compel their sexual partners to use a condom. This is strange indeed! As many readers will know, a traditional Asian upbringing expects Asian girls to be chaste, and sexually demure. It’s expected that a women not date casually, and that preferably they should remain virgins until they marry. It’s also traditional that an Asian woman marry someone within their own social and ethnic group. Any potential husband is usually vetted by the parents and sometimes even chosen by the parents. Sex before marriage is a huge taboo.

Given the above description of tradition, do you see the problem with Hahm’s conclusion? Clearly any young Asian woman engaging in risky sexual behaviour has rejected just about all of what is expected of her, and rebelled against her traditional upbringing. Hahm wants us to believe that despite this rejection of sexual chasteness and traditional roles, that these women somehow retain the submissiveness of their traditional upbringing. These women have the confidence to rebel against centuries of tradition yet they can’t make their boyfriends put on a condom? It’s nonsense.

Of course what is really being said is that it's all the fault of The Asian Patriarchy - the usual suspect. It has become all too easy to point the finger at "The Patriarchy"! The Asian Patriarchy is to blame when Asian women are too weak, too strong, too loud or too quiet. If she makes wrong choices in her lovelife, it's the fault of the Patriarchy, if she adheres to tradition and lives an unhappy life, it's the fault of the patriarchy. If she rejects tradition and acquires an STD, it's still the fault of the Patriarchy!

The fact is that no-one is to blame but the women themselves. Let’s be honest about it, let’s not create victims where they don’t exist. If a woman is strong and confident enough to reject centuries of tradition and expectation, then it’s unreasonable to suggest that she isn’t strong enough to insist on safe sex. Blaming tradition comes nowhere near to being an appropriate explanation for this phenomenon. Even worse, it hijacks any effort to find the truth, after all the answer is so obvious, why delve any deeper?