Sex, Race and Fetishizing

Thursday, 13 April 2017 - 10:21:37 WIB
By : Mario Rustan | Category: Gender & Sexuality - 11495 hits
In February, Vietnamese-Australian writer Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen wrote about the difference between having a “type” and fetishizing a group of people. She was specifically talking about white men in Australia who said they were into Asian women (or in non-feminist language, “white guys who are into Asian girls”).

For Nguyen, the problem was that the men could not help from fetishizing her from the first contact. From the outright declaration (“I have a thing for Oriental women”) to the referencing of pho and of “Gangnam Style” (even after it was no longer relevant).

She would never tell a white guy that she loved garlic bread, Nguyen wrote, so why would he think that expressing his love for banh mi and revealing his past trip to Vietnam would attract her? By the same token, European tourists are never greeted in Dutch or French by local guys, while an East Asian woman living in a western country is often randomly greeted with “Konnichiwa,” or “Ni Hao,” although she grew up there.  The thing is it is not likely their appreciation for the culture that draws them to Asian women. Rather it is the outdated idea they subscribe that Asian women are quiet, obedient, and sexually available.

Nguyen, of course, didn’t say that all white man who date Asian women fetishize Asians, and the writer admitted that most of her romantic and sexual partners have been white men. But in the process of learning to decolonize her desire, she asserted that people of color (here likely referring to Vietnamese-Australian men) do not automatically own her body and soul either.

For her article, she was soon attacked, and, ironically, some of her detractors are Asian men, who also unjustly suffer from the reputation of being sexually undesirable. In one Reddit subgroup for Asian men she was labeled a “hypocrite.” This accusation has also been directed to another famous Asian, the politically vocal Taiwanese-American actress Constance Wu, who is often called a “fraud” by Asian men for dating a white man. For men in that subgroup, a real Asian feminist must date an Asian man, otherwise she’s a “white feminist” who betrays her people.

This is an absurd understanding of the “white feminist” term, but I once subscribed to the same thinking too. I blamed my social anxiety and awkwardness for the reason Asian men are made fun of in Australia, and I was annoyed to see East Asian women going out with men out of their race – whether they’re white, Indian, or Javanese men. I felt “conned” by progressive friends who didn’t date a Chinese man, and sought consolation in Korean romance comedies and anime, where guys who look like me get the girls.

In late 2000s I followed the podcast “The Asian Playboy” by dating coach JT Tran, who advocates Asian men to join the Pickup Artist (PUA) subculture and approach…white women. His reason is that Asian men should stop fixating on Asian women, keep their options open, and break the stereotype of the nerdy Asian guy. By early 2010s, as several Asian pickup artists were invited into universities and racist incidents against Asian students in Western campuses increased, there were debates on whether the Asian PUAs empowered Asian-Americans or spread misogyny.

But since then my position has firmly changed: machismo is not empowerment. As Chinese-American journalist Wilfred Chan said, the heterosexuality of Asian men is not a civil rights issue, and every country has serious social issues that Asian men should pay attention to instead. In any case, Tran’s sexual history didn’t stop the erasure or mocking of Asian identities in several Hollywood movies, didn’t prevent Trump’s ascendancy, and as I was writing this, didn’t stop an Asian doctor from being violently dragged out of a United Airlines airplane because an employee wanted his seat.

The other side of the misogyny against Nguyen came from the forum of Roosh V, an Iranian-American pickup artist and a misogynist who appeal to the white supremacists in the U.S. Her look and body were made of fun, and some Australians lamented that feminists like her had ruined Australian manhood.

Westerners or Asians, all these men are angry that Nguyen declared that she is her own boss. It a reality feared by misogynists and sexist men of all races and ethnicities, one in which their “game” just won’t work anymore, and in which they can no longer claim any woman as their own. In any case, both tribes desire sex with the “Asian girl” instead of building a meaningful relationship with her, and don’t like that she told them that they have to do better.

Communicating with feminists have helped me overcome my insecurity, defeating my jealousy and anger, and helping me become a better person. Anti-feminists mock men like me as “male feminist” or “cuck”, implying a sexual loser who gives way for other men. It’s ironic since by stopping to be obsessed about whom women choose to be with, I feel more confident in socializing with people, whoever they are. The key for being more likeable is not by acting like a bigshot, but by appreciating the humanity of other people.

Our pop culture is saturated with the jomblo (an Indonesian slang for a single person) trope, the sad singles. But so many people show that being single and searching is okay, and many feminists celebrate their single nights by spending it with their cats, tea, books, and TV. What is not okay is those  jomblo memes that blame women for rejecting men’s advance, or that label women who want a quality relationship as picky, or even shame women for prioritizing their needs such as concentrating on their career.

It’s only normal to want to up your dating “game”, but never forget that a woman is a human with her own feelings, interests, fear, and experiences, not an object to win over. Be a man who respects a woman’s identity. Know that she’s not the embodiment of a stereotype. She has the right to accept or to reject, and she deserves to feel safe and happy. It’s that simple.

Read Mario’s piece on the link between nerd culture and “pseudopedophilia and follow @MarioRustan on Twitter. 

Got an opinion on this issue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

Writer Profile
Mario Rustan, Columnist
Mario  writes opinion pieces for The Jakarta Post and is working on some other online projects and was featured in Guardian Football and SBS Radio. His dream job is still teaching High School History by day and writing for feminism by night. 
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