Monday, March 27, 2006

Boys and T-shirts

“Everyone Loves An Asian Girl”

Sure you could substitute a lot of different adjectives in the blank and have some sort of justification for each of them, but what is particularly offensive about ethnic/racial ones, like this one? Well I aim to show you. Recently, I casually lamented my minority status and was immediately rebuked by my non-minority friends, both of whom blurted out longings for physical Asian features, their main thrust being that boys like Asian girls.

So I ask, what boys? All boys? White boys? Can we make such a blanket statement? (What about the boys who don’t prefer Asians?) But that’s very much beside the point. Drawing from educated, scholarly writing I’ve read in my classes, I am convinced that general male affection towards Asian girls is chiefly based on established stereotypes of the latter group, and that its formation must be understood in a historical context of imperialism.

1 Submissive
2 Exotic

The popular opera, Madame Butterfly, weaves a poignant tale about a tragic romance involving an American officer (Pinkerton) and a young Japanese geisha (Butterfly). He is conceited, callous and confident, while she is like a toy: delicate, pitiful and eternally submissive. They get married in Japan, but then trashface Pinkerton jets off to America and marries “a real American wife.” Poor babygirl Butterfly is left with a baby boy and unwaveringly clings to the hope that her beloved Pinkerton will return for her. After three years, he does swing by again, albeit just to take back his kid, but when Butterfly realizes that he is married to another, she gives up all hope and stabs herself with a knife just as he runs in, recreating an honorable death. The play ends with “Butterfly, the little Asian woman, crumpled on the floor.” What makes this such a beloved and satisfying story?

“Consider it this way: what would you say if a blonde homecoming queen fell in love with a short Japanese businessman? He treats her cruelly, then goes home for three years, during which time she prays to his picture and turns down marriage from a young Kennedy. Then, when she learns he has remarried, she kills herself. Now, I believe you would consider this girl to be a deranged idiot, correct? But because it’s an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner – ah! – you find it beautiful.”

It was this Western view of the Orient as exotic, mysterious, sensual and timeless that facilitated imperial conquest of Asia a few centuries back. Critic Edward Said explains, “colonization was an engendered subordination, by which European men aroused, penetrated and possessed a passive, dark and vacuous ‘Eastern bride.’ “Another facet of the theory: “Basically, her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes. The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated…” Skip forward to today; now there are no more lands left to conquer, but this fantasy still exists in Western minds and continues to narrowly define Asian femininity, despite that it has lost functionality in constructing political meaning. An outlandish example illustrating this rigid idea is from the 1986 trial of a “former French diplomat and a Chinese opera star … Mr. Bouriscot was accused of passing information to China after he fell in love with Mr. Shi, whom he believed for 20 years to be a woman.” This degree of deception was undoubtedly aided by such cultural conventions of women and the Orient being played out in different spheres.

All this to say, I love learning about how things got to be the way they are today and possessing precursory knowledge about modern society that helps me better understand it. In more primary terms, I am seeking a more accurate view of reality, leading to truth. As to my personal opinion regarding these stereotypes, frankly, I don’t really care because they don’t exert much pressure on the formulation of my identity. Since I was spared from those ideals being instilled in me in my earlier years, I don’t fit neatly in those categories and therefore, need not attempt to. It’s still kind of annoying though and I’ve got to think of a more concise answer to counter such expectations.

In the meantime, if I have pricked your interest in shattering stereotypes, try to take a class on race or gender. We are largely products of socialization – it determines what we believe and the way we think, on conscious and unconscious levels. It is only when you become aware of these controls that you can start going anywhere.

Wow, these rants have gotten longer.

By the way, did ya’ll ever listen to Weezer’s 2nd album “Pinkerton”?


Anonymous said...

I like your rants. You write so well lovely asian honey comb of mine. <3

oh, and yes, I have listened to the album "Pinkerton" so manymany times. It is my favorite weezer album. the Blue album is ear stimulating as well, but Pinkerton has so much soul. SOUL I TELL YOU!
<3<3 marymaryoooo

Anonymous said...

yes, your rants are thought provoking. It would seem like those stereotypes of asians don't hold very well when referring to asian americans because you have a whole different set of cultural influences that are going to affect those individuals as opposed to someone who was actually born and raised in Asia. Run. on. sentence.


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Anonymous said...

i think your rants are interesting, but don't just sit there and do nothing effect a change.


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f. said...

No bunnies, please, Kevin.

Well, it's true that I do have to sit when writing these entries, but what am I going to do, go tell everyone I see that they believe lies and preach social reality to them? I think knowledge like this is best accessed as literature- that's how I learned about it. My abilities are far from the level it takes to write scholarly articles and get them published. It would seem that schools, especially colleges need to push on their students more classes on race/gender/diversity/etc. But who controls the educational institution? .. It is still largely in the hands of the dominant culture, the very group that teaches us what "common sense" is and perpetuates these types of falsehoods. So there is no easy solution for change. And everyone hates noisy radicals anyway.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mean stand on a street corner and preach your message, I meant affect those who you know and see on a daily basis. I also don't think you need to beat people up with your ideas, but offer them just as you would other opinions, or even point them toward other things you've discovered by "better" authors ("better" means more degreed).