By Marie Chantal Marauta
I am not used to being defined by my ethnicity. I grew up in multicultural Dubai where the lines of race and nationality blur, and the kids I grew up with were an ambiguous mix of cultures. Yet, spending more time now in the United States where race seems to be a defining factor of who you are, has made me highly aware that people mostly see my caramel skin and slightly slanted eyes, instead of my smile or my spark of enthusiasm.
As a young woman, I have observed that this grouping of people into boxes – one being “attractive” and the other being “unattractive” based on racial parameters – runs rampant, especially in the lives of young people in Western cultures.
The tragedy of categorization
Stereotyping appears to be a significant part of college dating life in the US. When my friends and I go out, we almost always get approached by over-zealous white men who seem over-eager to add another “beautiful oriental” to their list of conquests. I used to feel attractive, almost special, when someone would approach me. But recently, I’ve began to understand that it’s not me as an individual, but the “look” that I represent, that makes men pick me out from a crowd.
Perhaps, it’s understandable how people in predominantly white communities might find Asians exotic and appealing. However, when does appeal turn into mere fetishization and objectification? When do Asian women like us stop being a ‘type,’ and when do our slanted eyes and dark hair stop being checkboxes on some guy’s list of fixations?
In college, the obsession with Asian women is referred to as “yellow fever.” Most of my friends have it, and our friendship was probably facilitated by the fact that I am of an ethnicity they find attractive. As a half-Asian woman, I can bring my attractive Asian friends to our gatherings and open the floodgates to a realm of beauty and exoticism. What is worrying, however, is that not only college boys, but also middle-aged white men stereotype Asian women as more demure and subservient versions of the other women they are used to. We may be intelligent, beautiful and strong, but we are also generally expected to be soft-spoken, smiley, and agreeable.
That’s where my main issue lies. Knowing of my Filipino heritage, many men think I walk with my knees close together, my head demurely bowed, à la Shu-Jen from China Doll (1958). They immediately make assumptions about who I am, and are often disappointed when they find out that I am actually fiery, loud, extremely headstrong, and have the audacity to say no.
Stereotyping is taken to an extreme beyond college campuses and clubs, when middle-aged white men fly to the Philippines to get a wife or girlfriends, while they work. Abroad, where dating culture is a bit more cosmopolitan, being a Filipina puts you into a certain category. It doesn’t matter exactly who you are, or what you’re like; as long as you’re Filipina, you fulfill a certain fetish and are therefore considered “hot.”
The dangers of generalization
This is not to say that decent individuals who do not objectify woman do not exist. Far from it. However, the fact is, the objectification of Asian women, particularly Filipinas, happens often enough in Western cultures, for us women to be concerned about it.
It is an extremely de-humanizing phenomenon, and the rise of apps like Tinder that focus merely on superficial and instantaneous impressions has exacerbated this mindset. In the 20th century such instant objectification of women (and even men) used to be reserved for the windows in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Now, social media has rendered these attitudes mundane and even normal.
So how should Asian women approach this issue? There isn’t a single answer, but not allowing yourself to be relegated in a box, is a good place to start. Don’t believe that you need to play to a certain stereotype in order to be found attractive, and stay true to yourself. If a male with yellow fever approaches you, walk away. No matter how attractive he is, you don’t deserve to be another generalization. We need to remember that we are more than the superficial, and that to love ourselves, means to demand the respect we deserve.
There is no easy way to conclude this, except perhaps with a quote by writer Douglas Pagels: “I am aware that I am less than some people prefer me to be, but most people are unaware that I am so much more than what they see.”
MARIE CHANTAL MARAUTA
Filipina-Italian Chantal is a TCK (third culture kid) raised in Dubai currently studying International Politics and Media at Brown University in the USA. She will be a visiting student at Oxford University in the UK starting September 2017, where she will study 20th Century European History. When not studying, she’s an actress, a member of Model United Nations, and a regular writer for the online magazine “Post,” and the blog Spoon University. Chantal is also a globetrotting foodie. Follow her food adventures on Instagram @chantalscravings