When I was in the seventh grade, I went to a predominantly white school and tried hard to assimilate and hide my Asian identity. A white male stopped me in the hallway and told me I looked like his favorite Asian porn star, Tila Tequila. Being a late bloomer all around, I had no idea what he was talking about, but this label soon carried through my friend group and I was quickly seen as a sexual threat. Over the years, I continued to have similar encounters. White Men swiped right on tinder, thinking they would fulfill their sexual fantasies of having a submissive, docile, and hypersexual Asian girlfriend. I’ve had men tell me that they have Yellow Fever and that all of their partners have been Asian women. Some say “it’s a compliment”, some say “it’s a joke, lighten up”. When I was working as an emergency room nurse, a white male dad kept asking me where I was “really from” and proceeded to tell me that his wife was a mail order bride from the Philippines. As a 19 year old in my first job, I had no idea how to navigate these power imbalances and draw boundaries with inappropriate remarks. For a while, I internalized these common stereotypes associated with Asian women just to get by.
In 2018, when I met my partner, a Black man, these racialized sexual fetishes got even worse. I am an extremely private person and people I barely knew would ask about intimate details about our sex life as if our relationship only existed to validate what they see on PornHub. A stranger outside of the club directly asked my Fiance, “so how big is it?”. We were no longer seen as two people but stripped down to only sexual stereotypes. Even with these continuous experiences, people around me continued to gaslight my discomfort and push my boundaries.
When the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in 2020, white protesters who self-identified as “allies” were out in the streets carrying signs that fetishized and hypersexualized Black men. Again, ignoring that the white supremacist’s fetishization of Black bodies “is often conflated with a care for Black lives, but white desire is no evidence of care for Black Folks” (Brown, 2020). These signs are not only dehumanizing but also contribute to the hypersexual stereotypes that have led to entire Black communities and lives “being destroyed under the guise of protecting white women from Black men’s sexual appetites” (Brown, 2020). White people are praised for being in close proximity to Black bodies or for having interracial children as if these actions prove that they are “not racist”. There is no recognition of the value of Black Lives in perpetuating and upholding white desire.
The experiences of Black men and Asian women are vastly different and should not be compared, but we can recognize the underlying white supremacist’s fetishization and dehumanization that bleeds into both groups. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, there was a clear shift in xenophobia targeting Asian Americans in the United States, placing the blame onto Asian Americans for the spread of COVID-19. In March 2021, six Asian American women were murdered by a white man who attacked three Metro Atlanta spas (Kaur, 2021). Investigators, police, and media were quick to dismiss racial motivation and defended the attacker’s actions as having a potential sex addiction and “having a bad day” (Kaur, 2021). Many were also quick to dehumanize the victims by labeling them as corrupt sex workers. Whether any of these women were sex workers or not, this does not justify any of the murders and to assume that they were is also inherently racist. These women were working in highly vulnerable and low-wage jobs during the pandemic, which demonstrates the “compounding impacts of misogyny, structural violence, and white supremacy” (Kaur, 2021).
America has had a long history of fetishization and dehumanization of Asian women in popular media and politics. The Page Act of 1875 targeted specifically Asian Women, labeling them as immoral prostitutes and spreaders of disease (Rotondi, 2021). A film made in 1987 Full Metal Jacket reinforced damaging stereotypes about Asian women for years afterward (Mason, 2021). Feeding us the narrative that Asian women are sexual objects that exist for white male pleasure. The usage of “China Virus” by Donald Trump and his followers again labeled Asian people as spreaders of COVID-19, resulting in a rapid rise in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans all across America.
A few weeks before the Atlanta murders, a popular “creative” Shae Lee Raven and Kim Anami made a campaign to promote kegel exercises, promising a “kung-fu vagina”. This video featured non-Asian people in sexualized traditional attire and wearing yellowface, further perpetuating fetishizations of Asian women (Hsieh, 2021). Anami’s program also claims to help women shoot ping pong balls out of their vagina, a narrative that has also been used to fetishize Asian women. After an apology letter was posted by one of the two women involved, white folks flooded the comments accepting her apology. Again, inserting themselves into validating the fetishization of Asian women. This was not an apology for them to accept. Watching the video and the lack of accountability on both Raven and Anami’s part was extremely disturbing. To this day, Anami continues to offer her Kung-Fu Vagina course (with this exact title) for a ridiculous price tag.
I don’t even know where to go from here. These comments used to just be annoying microaggressions to me that I normalized as part of my life. However, with the rise in hate crimes, I no longer feel safe leaving my house. After the Atlanta shooting, I cried for weeks and refused to leave the house. A few weeks later, when I went to the doctor’s office, a white male approached me, stood above me, and stared for what felt like forever. He then proceeded to ask me where I was from and told me that he couldn’t tell the difference because all Asians look the same. I felt so objectified, vulnerable, and angry, but I was too scared to say anything, just in case he was “having a bad day”. I went home shaking and crying. Every time I go out now, I try so hard to assimilate into the dominant white culture in hopes that no one can see that I am Asian. This moment made me realize that no matter how hard I try, I cannot change that I am Asian. What will it take for Asian women to be free of these stereotypes? Why do we continue to let history repeat itself? How do we dismantle racial fetishization that feeds white desire?
Besides being an Asian American woman, I am also a population health nurse. Most of my work is focused on collaborating with historically excluded communities and amplifying their voices. It has been hard finding a balance between digesting my feelings about the rise in Asian hate crimes and fighting for social justice. One of the most powerful moments over the last few months was when my community allowed space for BIPOC individuals to share our grief together. These safe spaces helped me reclaim my Asian American identity and create community solidarity. Moving forward, there is still a significant amount of work to be done. Not just in dismantling racial fetishization and deconstructing stereotypes, but in fighting all types of racism and pushing for social justice and liberation. I hope that my children will grow up in a world where there are policies that actually promote and practice diversity, equity, and inclusion and my children can feel physically and emotionally safe. I hope that they are never stereotyped, dehumanized, or oppressed. I hope that they feel free to express themselves without labels of sexual fetishization. I hope that we can all learn from the traumas that we have endured to push for sustainable equity, justice, and love.
Brown, S. J. (2020, June 9). Don’t Conflate The Fetishization of Black Bodies With The Care For Black Lives. Wear Your Voice. https://www.wearyourvoicemag.com/fetishization-black-bodies-black-lives/.
Chang, A. (2021, March 19). For Asian American Women, Misogyny And Racism Are Inseparable, Sociologist Says. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/03/19/979336512/for-asian-american-women-misogyny-and-racism-are-inseparable-sociologist-says.
Hsieh, Carina. (2021, April 30). As a Chinese Sex Editor, I Have a Lot to Say About That Racist, Wrong-as-Hell Kung Fu Vagina Video. Cosmopolitan. https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/a35386745/racist-kung-fu-vagina-video-offensive/.
Mason, G. (2021, Mar 26). The fetishization of asian women does more damage than most know: OPINION. The Globe and Mail Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/fetishization-asian-women-does-more-damage-than/docview/2505216473/se-2?accountid=14784
Rotondi, J. P. (2021, March 19). Before the Chinese Exclusion Act, This Anti-Immigrant Law Targeted Asian Women. History.com. https://www.history.com/news/chinese-immigration-page-act-women.