Although I touched on how these representations reflect into our society a bit in the previous sections, I also wanted to discuss a recent occurrence at UCLA that is a clear example of this. As much as people like to believe that racism and sexism are a thing of the past, especially in our oh-so-civilized America, that is simply not the case. These nasty views are not just limited to anonymous comments on the Internet, but they are even present on our most prestigious university campuses. (As well as socialized and institutionalized into just about everything around us) Earlier in the school year, there were a couple instances in which racist and sexist slurs about Asian women were posted on signs on the UCLA campus. One sign said, “asian women R Honkie white-boy worshipping Whores” and the other said, “Asian Women are White-Boy Worshipping Sluts”. The media frequently presents the image of a sexualized Asian woman dating a white man, which is most likely the root of these stereotypes. Then whenever someone who subscribes to these stereotypes sees an interracial relationship between a white man and an Asian woman, he/she tends to cite this as proof of the stereotype, rather than realizing that there are all kinds of interracial relationships. In this case, it led to absolutely unacceptable behavior that made a large population feel threatened. Some Asian students on campus said that they felt unsafe and personally attacked, which is one reason why perpetuating these stereotypes is so harmful.
Next, I watched Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket. This movie was also about the Vietnam War from the perspective of American soldiers, but the tone is a bit lighter than that of Platoon. One of the most famous scenes from the film consists of two soldiers talking to a Vietnamese prostitute, who is actually played by a British model with French and Chinese ancestry. The woman does not seem to speak a lot of English, but she keeps repeating, “Me so horny”, “Me love you long time”, and “Me sucky sucky”. It is clear that this woman just has some phrases memorized that the men want to hear, and this is just part of her job. Her background and reasoning for being a prostitute are not given, but I personally felt a certain darkness from the fact that she has to say these things and pretend to be aroused, in order to make these men feel good and like they are in control. On the other hand, it could be empowering to know exactly what to say to get the job done and keep them at an arm’s length emotionally. This woman may have been forced into prostitution, or she may be choosing to be a sex worker in order to take care of herself and/or her family. Regardless of the reasoning, her work as a prostitute is not the problem. People do not generally read into the larger social climate that fosters prostitution and shame the women themselves for being a part of it.
The way this is represented, although it has a certain darkness to it below the surface level, comes off as funny when it is being presented to a wide audience. The tone of this scene makes it out to be the light side of the war, in that the soldiers get to have a good time in their time off, and does not acknowledge the typical mistreatment of local women by American soldiers. Her lines have become very famous today, and were even referenced in Judd Apatow’s 2005 comedy, The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Aside from the poor depiction of the interactions between US soldiers and Vietnamese women during the war, this scene is problematic because of its wider cultural implications. This can be easily illustrated by looking at the comments on the video of this scene that was posted on YouTube. I looked through most of them and decided to pull out some of the most telling ones:
This scene is obviously perpetuating the stereotype of the deviant and sexualized Asian woman. Since she is a Chinese/French/British woman, playing a Vietnamese woman, it tends to create this pan-Asian stereotype, rather than just a stereotype specifically about Vietnamese women. Although, the ignorance displayed in these comments makes me think that this would have been the case regardless. Many of these comments were similar to the comments that were seen on creepywhiteguys.tumblr.com, which implies that films like this may be the root of some of these Asian fetishes. Many men were commenting on her physical attractiveness, which they attribute to strange stereotypes about Asian women and one person even said that he/she thinks of this every time he sees an Asian female! One person said that this made them understand interracial relationships between Asian women and white men, implying that it must be purely for sexual reasons. One person even mocked people for thinking this is a stereotype, rather than reality! However, the comment I found most appalling suggested that someone brutally kill this woman, as a way to get rid of AIDs and HIV! Despite the fact that this made absolutely no sense, I believe this person is trying to say that he/she believes this woman has a lot of sexually transmitted infections and is essentially shaming her for her sexuality, despite the fact the it is being commodified for male pleasure. I found this comment very disturbing and also a clear indication that representations like this lead people to view Asian women as sexual, deviant, and untrustworthy.
Since I focused on the Vietnam War for the historical aspect of this blog, I decided to watch two films that depicted the war from the American perspective. First, I watched Oliver Stone’s 1986 film, Platoon. This film is very dark and shows the brutal behavior of some of the American soldiers in Vietnam. Although it shows very little interaction between the soldiers and civilians, there is a scene in which they burn down a Vietnamese village and a group of soldiers attempt to rape two women. The main character, Chris Taylor, stops them, which leads the other soldiers to mock him and question his sexual orientation. Taylor then replies, “She’s a human being!” which brings attention to the apparent dehumanization of Vietnamese women by American soldiers. It is good that the movie touches on some of the atrocities committed by the soldiers, however I personally believe the way that this is executed is pretty flawed. The movie shows too clear of a distinction between the good guys and the bad guys in this platoon. Although, I’m sure there were soldiers with stronger morals than others, I don’t think it would have necessarily been that black and white. It seems likely that the mistreatment of Vietnamese women was more widespread and not limited to the “bad guys” brutally raping some of them. Taylor’s character saving the women from being raped somewhat portrays the women as “innocent, subservient, and in need of protection” as touched on in Zeiger’s book. This conveys the message that some American soldiers were strong and heroic, and others were just bad apples, which misrepresents the typical treatment of Vietnamese women in this context. This is reminiscent of the comments seen on creepywhiteguys.tumblr.com because those men are under the impression that they are the strong men that these women need. The fact that a white American soldier saved them from the rape, rather than a Vietnamese man from their village, undermines the strength of Vietnamese men and sends the message that only white men are strong enough to protect women and “treat them right”. I’m aware that in the context of the scene, the men were being kicked out of their village and weren’t likely to be able to protect the women from armed soldiers, but the way this is represented perpetuates the “white savior”. Also, it’s important to note that this film has a very wide audience, not necessarily one that is viewing through a critical lens, so the surface level message it is sending has wider implications for how American society will view these interactions.
When I decided to do some research on the representations of Asian women in the media, particularly in film, I decided to do some basic Google searches just to see what came up. I figured that the top search results would probably help give me a good indication of how the media represents Asian women. At one point I decided to search for “Asian women in film” and I was super surprised by what the top result was:Not only is this a legitimate article on IMDB, but it is the first thing that comes up when you Google “Asian women in film”! This is essentially saying that what Asian women are currently most known for in films are their relationships with white men! I personally found this very interesting and felt like it makes a pretty clear statement about how prevalent racism and misogyny are in this industry. I’m not saying that relationships between white men and Asian women are inherently rooted in racism and misogyny, but merely that this should not be the roles that Asian women are typically limited to.
American media representations of Asian women today very much seem to reflect that view that was typically possessed by American soldiers in Vietnam, and I believe that the commodification and exotification of Asian women trace back to that. Asian women are normally limited to specific roles, in which their race is a central part of their characters’ identities. Sometimes they are depicted as innocent and submissive, and other times they are depicted as deviant “dragon ladies”, however they tend to be sexualized either way. I am going to focus on the representations of Asian women in Vietnam war movies, because they are so relevant to the history that I explored, but it is important to note that Asian women tend to be exoticized more often than not in action movies in general. White males dominate the American film industry, and it is no coincidence that Asian women are so often depicted as deviant, sexual objects within it.
I felt that the best way to find some sort of basis for these stereotypes and fetishes for Asian women in America would be to explore the transnational history between Asian women and American men. Based on my findings, I’m under the impression that it stems somewhat from western colonization and US military involvement in various Asian countries. I decided to focus primarily on the interactions between American soldiers and Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War, although there are certainly other historical events that may have shaped the current treatments and representations of Asian women in the US.
Susan Zeiger’s book, “Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the 20th Century”, gives some really telling insight into the relationships between US soldiers and Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War, primarily from the perspective of US soldiers. According to a veteran that Zeiger spoke with, many soldiers felt isolated and ambivalent while in Vietnam because they were not supposed to trust anyone. Many of them hated all Vietnamese people and saw them as “gooks” and “animals” regardless of who they were. The veteran recalled some soldiers wanting to be friendly with civilians, but finding that that was not an option because they believed that none of them could be trusted. According to another soldier, they were warned about “gook whores” in their orientation to Vietnam and Vietnamese women in general were viewed as untrustworthy, typically in a sexualized way. There were dehumanizing assertions that “all Vietnamese look alike”, which were intended to discourage soldiers from having relationships with Vietnamese women because they could not be certain who they really were. There were also many rumors about Vietnamese women being sexual saboteurs and secret supporters of the Viet Cong. These rumors led to antisocial behavior by soldiers as well as atrocities, like the rape, sexual torture, and killings of Vietnamese “whores” as revenge. However, many soldiers also viewed Vietnamese women through this Orientalist vision of “innocent, subservient, and in need of protection”. Due to limiting security concerns, American soldiers and Vietnamese women met primarily through economic and labor exchanges. For example, many Vietnamese women were hired to work on the military bases as cleaning women or laundry workers, which led to interactions with the soldiers. Some women engaged in serious relationships with soldiers, some women were “passed from soldier to soldier”, and some women worked as prostitutes. The military R&R program allowed each soldier a seven day leave once a year to go to a certain tourist destination, and sexual relations with local women were known to be a central and encouraged part of the program. So essentially, the military did not want American men to engage in relationships with Vietnamese women, but they were viewed as sexual objects to alleviate their loneliness.
Due to this military perspective, Vietnamese women were viewed primarily in terms of their sexuality. Although some men actually did form deep connections with Vietnamese women, that was not the norm. They were often hyper-sexualized and seen as objects to make them feel good, while the “good women”, the ones that were fit for real marriages, were waiting for them at home. The perceived submissiveness of the women, as well as the military’s unspoken support for soliciting prostitutes, gave the soldiers a feeling of entitlement to these women. The military made them feel like heroes that deserved to be rewarded with sex, and dehumanized these women enough to discourage proper treatment of them. Regardless of the type of relationship a soldier engaged in with a Vietnamese woman, there was typically some type of power imbalance.
Source: Zeiger, Susan. Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century. NYU Press, 2010.
The idea for this blog came to me when I stumbled upon this: creepywhiteguys.tumblr.com. The basis of the blog is a compilation of messages that Asian women on dating websites have received from white men with apparent Asian fetishes. Most of them say that they prefer Asian women over white women because they are “playful”, “submissive”, and “respectful to men”. The racism and misogyny on this page are appalling, and the worst part is that it appears to be some sort of widespread phenomenon, rather than some isolated incidences. Most of the men make racist assumptions about Asian men, and use them as leverage for why these women should date white men. The most common messages are from men who assert their masculinity, power, and wealth as something that these women would be lucky to have. There are also many men who have the nerve to make generalizations and assumptions about misogyny and patriarchy in Asian cultures, while their own arguments are inherently misogynistic.
Essentially, creepywhiteguys.tumblr.com made me wonder where these stereotypes about Asian women come from and why so many white men seem to think they are entitled to sexual relationships with Asian women. In this blog, I aim to analyze the representations and treatments of Asian women in different aspects of American culture. I will begin to explore the roots of this misogyny, racism, and cultural exploitation by examining the transnational history of interactions between American men and Asian women, specifically in regards to the Vietnam War. Next, I will go on to examine to the representations of Asian women in the American media, with a focus on Vietnam war films. Finally, I will explore how these stereotypical depictions of Asian women are projected into our society and how this is negatively manifested and reflected. In this section, I will discuss a recent incident at UCLA, which reveals that blatant racism and misogyny exist even in our most prestigious universities. This blog as a whole is aimed at bringing attention to the intersectionality of issues regarding race and gender roles for Asian Americans.