The Fetishization of Asian Women in the Media and its Harmful Consequences
The fetishization of Asian women has become so normalized within society that we barely realize it is happening. Fetishization is engaging in sexual acts with someone purely based on their race or skin color. There is no problem with being attracted to a certain hair or eye color, but being attracted to a race is problematic as it is a part of a person’s identity. Fetishizing someone because of their race disregards their other qualities and places them in a position of something that can be conquered. They are dehumanized, degraded and objectified down to a part of themselves which they cannot change. For decades, Asian women have been fetishized in the media, which has severely impacted how people perceive them in real life.
The recent shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women, brought this issue to light. The killer claimed that he was a sex addict and targeted a spa because he wanted to “eliminate” it for providing him with too much “temptation”. It is clear that there is an intersection between racism and misogyny leading to Asian women being fetishized. This has no doubt manifested in real life and significantly harms them by putting them in danger and risk.
The fetishization of Asian women is rooted in colonialism and slavery. When Europeans colonized many Asian territories centuries ago, women of color were used as sexual objects and worked as sexual slaves for the pleasure of the colonizers. In 1875, the Page Act was passed and prohibited the entry of Chinese women in the US in an attempt to contain the spread of sexuality. This demonstrates how women were perceived to be sex workers and were feared, even by authorities. They were considered a danger to society. As recent as the Vietnam War in the 1970s, Vietnamese women were fetishized by American soldiers. Since they held a position of power (in the military), power dynamics came into play. Women were often positioned as trophies that were won and at the mercy of others.
The way that Asian women are fetishized also stems from negative stereotypes perpetuated from the media. For decades, Asian women have been depicted as being docile and submissive on screen. The late 1800s witnessed the mass circulation of Asian women in theatrical works, such as ‘The Good Woman of Szechuan’ and ‘Madame Butterfly.’ In these plays, Asian women were desperate for love and depicted to be obsessive and madly in love. In films and artwork released after US-led wars in Asian countries, women are hypersexualized, conveying the message that they are meant to be objectified above anything else. For example, ‘Miss Saigon’ portrayed a white savior narrative and glorified forced prostitution. The Vietnamese bar girl was heartbroken by the American soldier, leading her to shoot herself. IT perpetuated the idea that Asian women are weak and desperate.
Asian women are often fetishized online too. Many women have noted that they are fetishized by cis-white men on dating apps, who only find them attractive because of their race. These men think they are complimenting the women, but they are actually fetishizing and demeaning them. Comparing women to anime characters and K-pop idols shows that they are narrow-minded and merely see Asian women as sexual objects. There have been many instances of white men purposely seeking out Asian women to satisfy their fantasies and desires. The media’s problematic depiction of Asian women puts them in danger and could lead them to more easily be victimized and objectified.
The fact that the killer in the Atlanta shooting blamed his motives on sex addiction clearly shows how Asian women are blatantly fetishized and suffer fatal consequences because of it. Due to these negative stereotypes being so deeply ingrained in society and our subconscious, this mindset will be hard to eradicate. However, everyone can play a part in alleviating the situation by amplifying the voices of Asian women and calling out media outlets that continue to depict them negatively and fail to recognise them as individuals.