Friday, November 8, 2013

Lifting The Veil

The Impact Of  Stereotypes...

I came across an interesting and funny article written by a Caucasian woman named Sarah Shaw in which she writes about Asian stereotypes that she had been exposed to in the US, and which she bought into. Similar to the experiences of another American woman whom I wrote about, here, when this woman actually got to be around Asian men in an environment where the culture did  not bombard her with denigrating images and beliefs about them, she was suddenly able see that Asian men could be viable partners, and that she could be and was sexually attracted to them. Prior to moving to Seoul, she was convinced that she just wasn't attracted to Asian men and would definitely not be dating them.

This is what she writes.....
While growing up in a homogeneous white town, it was a standard perception that Asian men just weren’t attractive. I’m embarrassed to admit that I once mentioned to an friend, “Asian girls are so attractive, but I don’t find Asian guys attractive at all.” I can’t even believe I would make such a blanket statement about about an entire race of men, but now, I am fully aware that the American media vastly influenced my perception.
This is interesting for a number of reasons. Growing up in a homogeneous white town, the most likely source of her aversion to Asian men would certainly not have been based upon personal acquaintance. Shaw acknowledges that it is most likely media influences that shaped her ideas about Asian men. Sometimes Asian men (and women) are chided for seeming to place an unreasonable significance on how the popular media portrays us, yet  the fact that individuals can form belief systems that they may consider an accurate representation of reality based entirely on what the media says, illustrates its potential to shape attitudes for both positive and negative outcomes. Shaw continues....
In Western pop culture and Hollywood movies, Asian men are often de-sexualized, usually fitting into one of three roles: The asexual math geek or computer nerd; the funny ugly guy with a thick foreign accent that everyone laughs at; the badass ninja, samurai or any other type of martial artist in traditional Asian garb clutching a sword.
There you have it; popular cultural notions can and do act as a surrogate for real-world experience and foster the formation of beliefs in much the same way that real-world experience might. When you factor in conditions like one-sided depictions combined with limited personal exposure to Asians, the effects can evidently be dramatic and people can formulate a worldview and a set of beliefs about a group of people without even coming into contact with them much, if at all.

Having moved to Seoul and apparently freed from the prejudices of American popular culture, Shaw began to find plenty of dating material amongst the men of Korea, but found herself beset by confused disbelief  of friends back home at her decision to date Asian men. Citing a steady stream of stereotypes gleaned from knowledge gained via popular cultural depictions, Shaws friends express incredulity that she could date Asian men.Sadly (but perhaps not surprisingly), Shaw also encountered several Asian-American women who also expressed prejudiced attitudes towards Asian men. Noting the unique affection of Asian gender dynamics, she says.....
I’ve also met several Asian-American women who stereotype Asian men. “Someone’s gotta love the Asian men! I only date white guys,” one of my friends said last year, after I told her about the guy I was dating.
Nice. Shaw finishes with this...
No, I don’t have yellow fever (okay, maybe a little) and I don’t necessarily have a “thing” for Asian men. I’m not attracted to the Korean guys that wear BB cream and carry designer purses, but I do like smooth skin and silky black hair.
I emboldened that last sentence because it highlights something that Asian-American guys never seem to tell themselves - they possess physical qualities, like silky black hair and smooth skin, that many women find attractive. The reason may be that, unlike in Asia, Asian-American guys grow up smothered by societal messages propagated via the media, that tell them they are clownish weaklings and ugly. We talk often about how brainwashed Asian women are by the media, but I think we have to acknowledge that Asian men are brainwashed as well - many of us believe what the media says about us (even though we would deny it). Many Asian men believe that they are disadvantaged because they have either internalized prevailing stereotypes about themselves, or they feel that the sheer weight of culturally normalized prejudice is too massive a hurdle to overcome as an individual.

This latter point is understandable, because profoundly ingrained racial stereotypes are held in place by peer pressure - once an idea sticks, it's "veracity" is upheld by social habit and custom. Forget everything you have heard about the western character being one of individuals not swayed by social conditioning, and too individualistic to be pressured into conformity. That's nonsense. White people do conform, but they just often don't know it, or simply won't admit it. The Shaw article and others like it are a testament to this - once people leave the confining circumstances of their own cultural prejudices, and are away from the peer-pressure of it, they suddenly feel free to actually exercise their individualism and go against the grain of their culture's beliefs.

In another article that illustrates how cultural conditioning holds Asian men back, a Dutch blogger describes how her visit to the Phillipines was something of a shock...
[In the Phillipnes there was] Head-turning when walking by, men extending a friendly hand to me while my male partner was ignored and Filipino’s calling me miss sexy despite the fact that my male partner was right beside me. The weirdest incident happened when a child I would guess to be about 7 years old walked by me and said: hey sexy (by the way, what do you reckon, nature or nurture?)
Nowhere in American culture have I ever seen any Asian men being shown to be so brazenly flirtatious, or brazenly sexual. Even Filipinos in the US don't have that reputation - as far as I know. My take is that this aspect of Filipino culture - and I would guess, the sexuality of men from other Asian cultures - gets lost in translation during the migration process. Of course, being bombarded with denigrating images via the media probably contributes significantly to this process.

So whilst it is true that stereotypes probably do shape many people's attitudes towards Asian men, it is equally probable that Asian men don't help their own situation because they too might down talk themselves. My sense is that it need not take an entire cultural revolution for Asian men to seem more attractive - I think that individuals can make an impact also, probably just by starting to think differently about themselves.


  1. Great point about Asian men not realizing the fact that they have great qualities. A prime example is musicality. A lot of Asian kids grow up being forced to learn music, whether it be piano or violin. Though that seems lame and burdensome when you're young, good musical skills can become an incredibly useful social asset when you're older.

    I feel like there are all these Asian guys who could be seen as incredibly attractive if they just learned to harness their strengths. But instead, they're so convinced of their undesirability that the White schmoe who knows 3 chords on the guitar gets the girl in the end because he has no competition.

  2. Really good article (about a really good article). Sadly if you look at some of the comments she actually get's attacked (by a clueless asian dude) for