The other day I was talking to a group of my guy friends, and somehow we got to the topic of women. They were asking me to set them up with my “attractive friends,” and so I asked them what their ‘type’ was. In response, I got greeted with the usual onslaught of “I like halfies,” “I’m really into Asian girls” and “oh, I love girls with an oriental side to them, ya know?” It soon dawned on me that the reason they were eagerly asking for me to set them up with my friends was that I was friends with a large number of East Asian, South Asian, and South East Asian women.
I know better than anyone how beautiful my friends are. Not only are they physically gorgeous, but their hearts of gold and kind smiles light up any room. Yet, the guys asking me to “set them up” don’t know all of this – they only know these girls on a superficial level.
In the hours after our exchange, I began to think about all the times men in my life had talked in awe of Asian women. Upon finding out I’m Filipino, many men have proclaimed that women in my country as “so beautiful!” Another comment I’ve often heard from white men who have visited the Philippines goes something like “The Philippines is such a great country – women love me there,” an experience which automatically translates to the idea that all Filipino women the world over must love them. The funny thing is that being a halfie, I have a physically ambiguous look. Yet, upon disclosing my Filipino heritage, I suddenly spike interest.
Does ethnicity = identity?
I didn’t used to be defined by my ethnicity. Growing up in a city as multicultural as Dubai made the lines of ethnicity, race, and nationality blur, and the kids I grew up with all became a strange ambiguous mix of the cultures of Dubai’s extensive expat community. Yet, spending more and more time in a country (the United States) where race and ethnicity are defining factors of who you are has made me highly aware of the fact that upon meeting me, people see me for my caramel skin and slightly slanted eyes, as opposed to my smile or the spark of enthusiasm in my pupils.
In a social or professional setting this phenomenon isn’t as obvious. But in the dating and hookup culture, grouping people into boxes – one being “attractive” and the other being “unattractive” – based on their ethnicity is significant, and happens routinely. Since I am currently a college student I can only speak to the hookup/dating culture found amongst my peers, and so for more mature readers the things I say may not resonate as strongly. Still, I hope you will be interested in my observations.
The tragedy of categorization
As I mentioned earlier, grouping people into boxes is a significant part of college dating and hookup culture. Looking back on my experience so far, I’ve noticed that when my friends and I are out at a club or house party, we almost always get approached by over-zealous white men with Asian fetishes who are eager to add another “beautiful oriental” to their list of conquests. I used to feel attractive, and almost special, when someone would approach me to dance.
Recently, however, I’ve began to notice that it’s not my individual look that attracts men (or boys, whichever you prefer to call them). Instead, it’s the general look I represent that makes them pick me out of a crowd. It’s understandable that for people who grew up in predominantly white communities, the Asian “look” is exciting, exotic and appealing. However, when does excitement and appeal turn into mere fetishization and objectification? When do us Asian women stop being a ‘type,’ and when do our slanted eyes and dark hair stop being checkboxes on some guy’s list of requirements?
“See, that guy’s got yellow fever”
College colloquial terms have labeled white men’s obsession with Asian women “yellow fever.” I’ve noticed that most of my white guy friends have it, and whether it was a conscious decision or not, our friendship was probably facilitated by the fact that I am of an ethnicity (or half of an ethnicity) they find attractive. As a half-Asian woman, I can bring my attractive Asian (or mix-raced) friends to our gatherings and open the floodgates to a realm of beauty and exoticism. On a certain level, this is slightly messed up. But at their young age, it is apparently normal that a lot needs to be forgiven.
The thing that worries me, however, is that many times, I’ve heard not only college-age boys, but also middle-aged white men talk about how much quieter and demurer Asian women are than the women they are used to back home. Sure, Asian women are intelligent, beautiful and strong, but they are also generally soft-spoken, smiley, and wrinkle-free until a surprisingly advanced age. Right?
So freaking wrong. That’s where my main issue begins. By seeing my slightly slanted eyes and knowing of my Filipino heritage, many men assume that I am soft-spoken, giggly, and reserved. They 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 based on my ethnicity, and are often disappointed when they find out that I am actually fiery, loud, and extremely headstrong. When approaching an Asian-looking girl, they didn’t sign up for sarcastic comments, raised eyebrows, and a woman with the audacity to say “no” to their supposed Caucasian good-looks.
Does it get better with age?
Not really. As I stated earlier, the phenomenon of fetishization doesn’t just happen on college campuses and clubs/bars. Divorced, middle-aged white men have flown to the Philippines for work and somehow managed to pick up a wife, or made love to numerous “girlfriends,” while they were there. On a more serious note, the Philippines’ “Sin City,” Angeles City, has recently made headlines, as it is often frequented by white male ‘sex tourists’ who visit the city for sexual purposes and leave the women they sleep with pregnant with no financial support whatsoever. Truly a modern-day social tragedy.
In the overseas cosmopolitan dating culture, being a Filipina woman has become a category into which women of different statures, face shapes and skin colors can fit. It doesn’t matter exactly who you are, or what you’re like; as long as you’re a Filipina, you fulfill a certain fetish and are therefore “hot.”
The dangers of generalization
I realize that the above comments sound like a pessimistic generalization, so I would like to highlight that I am not trying to villainize a group of people – in this case, white men with “yellow fever.” I am merely stating what I have observed in the dating and hookup culture over the few short years that I have been exposed to it. There are always going to be the lovely individuals who genuinely want to get to know a woman, and I applaud them for it. However, this article is an exploration and critique of the individuals who are constantly “out on the prowl” for yet another woman who they see not for their personality, but for their ethnicity.
So how should Asian women approach the fact that we are often heavily fetishized, especially in Western cultures? I’m afraid that I do not have an answer, but I will say one thing. Don’t let yourself be relegated to a box. Don’t believe that you need to play to a certain stereotype in order to be found attractive. Stay true to yourself. If a guy who is notorious for having yellow fever approaches you, walk away. No matter how attractive he is, you don’t deserve to be boxed into to a generalization.
It’s insane, and even scary, that people can be drawn by a person’s ethnicity, and what this ethnicity represents, rather than by the person themselves. 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. While in the 20th Century such rapid objectification of women (and even men) was reserved for the windows on Amsterdam’s Red Light District, the rise of social media has rendered these attitudes of objectification and categorization mundane. Social protocols have generally become more lax, which results in an even cruder dating culture.
There is no easy way to conclude an article like this, and so I’ll end 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.”
I think that if we remember that we are more than the superficial, and if we remember to love ourselves enough to demand the respect we deserve, then all the extra nonsense will just go away.