Debunking the White Man Fetish

February 13, 2009

Since writing my last entry on the Asian Fetish Myth, I've received some interesting responses. Most of them have implied that, while Asian women are fetishized by white men, Asian women perpetuate the fetish by favoring white men in the dating game (I believe Neela commented on this as well).

One person even asked if I was, while writing the post, reminded of my own parents (an older white man with a much younger Filipina wife) -- as though the circumstances of their relationship somehow undermine my initial claims about the ways in which the Asian Fetish plays out in the media.

To that, in particular, I respond: Certainly, I had that in mind. But my mother's marriage to my father (like other interracial relationships) doesn't undermine my assertion that the Asian Fetish is one perpetuated onto, rather than by, Asian women. In other words, it is characterized by the sexual objectification of Asian women by non-Asian men due to the latter's (mis)perceptions about the former's nature and culture (not the other way around).

My father was an excellent example of this as he was, admittedly,
attracted to Asian women because he believed that they are submissive
and gentle (fyi: my mother's a firecracker so... don't think he
really knew what he was getting into there...).

My mother did marry my father
willingly and so, I suppose, one might be tempted to make the case that
she is living proof that the Asian Fetish is perpetuated by Asian women
who like Caucasian men. Thing is, she
didn't marry a white American because of of some misguided, dominance-driven infatuation with older white men. Rather, my mother's desire to marry a white American was predicated on the belief that doing so would grant her a level of personal and  financial security that otherwise might not have been possible, given the level of inequality and inopportunity prevalant in her home country. Was she simply a gold digger, looking for a sugardaddy? Or is her reverence of Western society the result of centuries of colonialism and foreign occupation which "benevolently assimilated" its citizens into a belief system that debased the local cultures while exalting those of the West?

Obviously it takes two to tango -- but, if you've ever taken ballroom-dancing lessons, you know that the dance depends on a very rigidly-defined power relationship between dancers. The notion of the Asian fetish is similarly built upon a unequal balance of power, in which one party has license to define the other, while simultaneously being regarded as a benevolent benefactor for having done so.

Yes, Asian women participate in the sytem. But Asian women didn't create the system.   

[I feel the need, at this point, to make a distinction between Asian women (as in: from
Asia), and Asian American women, as my commenters seemed
to be confused about the difference. Everything I have thus far described pertains to the former.]

Now, as for why
Asian Americans date white guys: I wish I could say that it's simple, that --
duh -- there are a lot of them. Caucasians do outnumber Asian Americans
by over 200 million.
But it really isn't so simple.... And that really isn't the right question. Instead of asking why so many AsAm women date white men, we should be asking why so few AsAm women date AsAm guys. I know a lot of AsAm women
who, admittedly, prefer not to date Asian men because they think that
they are "effeminate" or "too short" (never mind that we are, on
average, even shorter). And I just want to say that this preference (or
lack thereof) is not based on the objective or substantive
observations about the masculinity or physique of Asian men, but rather
is based on the way in which American (i.e. white) society has stereotyped Asian men
since the mid-1800s (read: relegating them to jobs traditionally held
by women and then condemning them for holding jobs meant for women,
etc.). Taking this into consideration, the apparent AsAm preference for white guys doesn't seem to be grounded in a sexual objectification of white guys, but actually seems to be underpinned by a socially conditioned aversion to Asian men. Funny how we get all bent out of shape about being objectified
based on
western perceptions of our race but have no problem discriminating
against our
male counterparts on the same basis.That's right ladies: If you say you
don't date Asian guys because they're less than (or date white guys because they are, by comparison, more than)...well,
you've just bought into over a century of racism and anti-Asian
sentiment, and are perpetuating it in your own life on a daily basis.

Obviously the Asian Fetish exists, and obviously it isn't singularly perpetuated by old white guys. Asian/AsAm women definitely play a part -- but our part doesn't have anything to do with a white man fetish, as some of my commenters have suggested. Rather, our part in perpetuating the Asian Fetish is grounded in our desexualization of Asian/AsAm men, as doing so 1) reinforces white men's position of sexual power, and 2) bolsters the asymmetrical power dynamic between white men and women of color.


Catherine A Traywick

Managing Editor

Catherine is the managing editor at Hyphen. Her work has appeared in TIME, the Bay Citizen, Ms. magazine, he Huffington Post, as well as broadcasted on CBS radio. She is a master's student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.