Real World Word Pop Culture

A deep dive in Asian hypersexualization in porn

The mass shootings in Atlanta that caused the deaths of eight people, six of whom were Asian, can be said to be nothing short of racially motivated. Experts on the case claim that the murderer had sexual frictions with spa and massage parlors. But this period of anti-Asian sentiment running rampant across the nation discloses racist footings that experts seem to ignore. 

There is no denying the cultural implications in the deaths of these six women rooted deeply within the foundation of this “American” soil. 

A portrayal of Uncle Sam is kicking a very racist depiction of a Chinese man in the rear. Uncle Sam holds up a document that reads "Magic Washer Under Penalty of Being Dirty"
[Image Description: The Page Act of 1875 was the first anti-Asian legislature signed] via KCET
It started with immigration. The late 19th century marked the burgeoning of a prospering American economy marked by the rise in the industry, creating a new social relationship between the boss and the laborer. Cheap as they come, the American interest relied on low-cost labor. There was immense competition, but Chinese immigrants were found to be eager to do dangerous work for inhumane pay, compared to their white counterparts. This, however, brought early-onset “Yellow Peril” as they were now perceived as economic threats that were minimized to their race. 

Asian women were brought in handfuls as prostitutes and were gracefully extended this same sentiment. They were popularly ostracized, said to be unclean, and sexually tainted. This tension culminated in the Page Act of 1875. It explicitly prohibited the immigration of Asian sex workers and was one of the first anti-immigrant policies and a violation of reproductive rights. Coupled with explosive propaganda,  then suppressed the Asian female identity, legally stigmatizing the demographic as a repulsive yet exotic body – a forbidden species of people.  

A shot from the Broadway musical "Miss Saigon". A man in an army uniform holds a Vietnamese woman in his arms. Both are singing.
[Image Description: The popular Broadway musical “Miss Saigon” portrays the Vietnamese protagonist local as a “lotus blossom”] via Entertainment Weekly
This hypersexualization manifested into a “dragon lady” stereotype. She is a sexually alluring creature shrouded in enigma and mystery – an object to discover. Conversely, there is the Lotus Blossom Lady, the opposite of the dichotomy. She attracts with her demure, obedience, and, most of all, her dependence on the white man. These two stereotypes are polar in definition, yet it’s in their ability to contain the Asian female solely to this role that aids the perpetuation of this stereotype, by the white man. 

In conjunction with domestic patrol, there is the matter of white sexual imperialism, coined by psychotherapist and writer Sam Louie. In the 19th century, during the throes of imperialism, there was a dark underbelly of American soldiers who inflicted sexual dominion on local women and were permitted to do so because of their stature as white, military men. 

The image is from the Philippines-American War. A soldier helps a Filipina woman down.
[Image Description: The Philippines-American War helped conserve a permanent separation between the Asian woman and the white man] via Google Arts & Culture
US troops stationed in the Philippines during the Phillippines-American War exploited women who were pressured into the sexual workforce, because of the warfare economy. Subservient and dependent, these women evoked feminine qualities that were marketed towards men. The relationship between both parties, the soldier and the temptress, was more complex as the sexual workforce burgeoned into lucrative opportunities, but still withheld themes of fetishization. Filipina women were coveted for their submissiveness and helplessness, and this notion is reinforced with American media and by increased servicemen during the Vietnam War in 1977.

The sexual workforce capitalizing off of fetishism by the white man prospers in the majority of Asian countries. It would be economically natural for these women to prosper economically by creating an entire genre of Asian porn to cater to the white man’s fetish. Porn in its totality works to objectify the woman. By extension, Asian women are then seen as bodies for pleasure, a dangerous stigma that extends to how others perceive them, even into the quotidienne

All that’s said before has been related to that of the Asian immigrant, yet the Asian-American experience diverges. There is a paradox within the Asian-American identity, an internal discourse. They are outwardly objectified and diminished to their race, contrasted by their self-identification as Americans, not unlike those men who perform the objectification. Whether through plain acts of sexual racism or microaggressions, Asian-Americans feel isolated in their own land. The ramifications of this explosive history are not contained but persist through generations. 

The foundation of anti-Asian sentiments, especially that against women, is deeply rooted in racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, the evidence all points to them. So why do Americans pause so readily at the slightest of indications that society is the perpetrator of such stigmas? Why is the problem still not addressed, after 3,800 incidents in the past year alone? What will it take for the problem and its roots to be addressed? 

People line up to march alongside a bright yellow banner that says "STOP AAPI HATE" on behalf of a domestic surge in anti-Asian hate crimes
[Image Description: A recent surge of anti-Asian hate crimes has propelled a movement against Asian-American Pacific Islander hate] via New Times San Luis Obispo
America stands in the eye of cultural reckoning. One in which movements like Black Lives Matter and now Stop Asian-American Pacific Islander Hate demand a change against the casual acceptance of racism. Now, it’s a matter of embracing the country’s unequal foundations and moving forward together as people.

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Media Watch Race The World Inequality

It’s time we recognize the media’s role in perpetuating Asian hate

The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

It took another tragedy for Black Lives Matter to become mainstream, and the #StopAsianHate movement is no different. Despite the skyrocketing numbers of Asian-targeted attacks across the United States last year – there were 3,800 incidents – recognition that the Asian community is being targeted is only now landing headlines and receiving nightly news segments. 

Perhaps this coverage is too little, too late.

Of course, the Asian-targeted shootings in Georgia on Tuesday, March 16 deserved mass media coverage. But what about the 3,800 biased crimes Asian Americans had to endure in 2020? Those deserved just as much awareness and attention, but there are so many victims out there who have been ignored. 

This has been going on for too long. In February, a Chinese man was walking home in Manhattan’s Chinatown when someone sprang up from out of nowhere and stabbed him in the back. The victim, whose name has not been released, was in the hospital for more than two weeks before being discharged on Sunday, March 14. 

How has this perpetual fear affected the lives of Asian Americans daily? How have Asian-run businesses uniquely suffered because of COVID-blaming and the implications behind the term “Chinese Virus”? 

Asian Americans have faced a long history of discrimination in this country. From “yellow peril” to the myth of the model minority, racism is nothing new to them. The first wave of immigrants from Asia, particularly from China, faced brutal discrimination in America in almost every aspect of society. This culminated in the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which not only prohibited Chinese immigrants from entering the country but also forbade Chinese Americans from returning after visiting family still in the homeland. The “racial purity” desired by the government didn’t allow this act to be officially repealed until 1943, but Asian Americans had to endure even more government intervention on their rights before then. The Alien Land Laws prevented non-citizens from owning land, which particularly targeted Asian Americans since they were prohibited from earning their citizenship altogether.

 From entertainment to politics, recognizable Asian groups like BTS and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) have spoken out about #StopAsianHate, but stereotypes persist. 

Plus, the lack of media coverage naming events like these as hate crimes and holding people accountable has allowed for such horrific events to persevere. I can’t help but wonder that if the news media had appropriately covered these events, would there be as much Asian hate today? Identifying these attacks as hate crimes could contribute to people understanding this as a major problem in America. 

The media has had a major hand in sensationalizing the hardships Asian communities have faced, as many people blamed Chinese Americans for the COVID-19 pandemic, including news outlets themselves. French newspaper Le Courrier gained notoriety when they published a January 26 article with the headline “Yellow Alert”. Even when the media seems to be trying to help the situation, sensationalism and ratings are always their priority. With the constant coverage of COVID-19 and the debate on whether or not the virus was released from a lab in Wuhan, China, sensationalism has only strengthened the racist fear of Asians. 

It didn’t help that former President Donald Trump had branded COVID-19 with terms like the “Chinese Virus” and “Kung-Flu”. His viscious rhetoric encouraged many people  to believed that Asian Americans spread the virus and therefore deserved hate, ridicule, and violence. 

It wasn’t until eight women were killed, six of them Asian, that the media started to address #StopAsianHate instead of the “Chinese Virus”. While many news outlets have condemned former President Donald Trump’s use of the phrase, the nonstop coverage of its political incorrectness has rooted itself in people’s heads–in a drastically negative way. After Robert Aaron Long, 21, open-fired on three Asian-owned massage parlors across the Atlanta, GA area, he told Cherokee County authorities that he had a sexual addiction and by murdering the targeted victims, he was eliminating his “temptation”. Considering that this is not the first case of Asian-targeted violence in America, many have analyzed this alleged motivation. 

“We’re perpetually foreigners, and that idea plays out with women as being oversexualized,” said Helen Kim Ho, founder of the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice in an article from The Washington Post. “All of that had to have played out in this man’s own mind. In addition to the unspoken notion that Asian people are easy targets.” 

On the topic of perpetuating fear/hatred toward the Asian American community through sensationalism, John C Yang, president and executive director of AAJC, directly addressed the media’s role in all of this. “The media has a responsibility to […] lift up the stories of Asian Americans,” he said on an episode of Only in America, a podcast from the National Immigration Forum. “If they do that responsibility, we’ll start to see a different narrative about what Asian Americans are.”

Next month is May, Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While the conversation about #StopAsianHate should be a year-long discussion, it’s important to remember this message in May while these communities are hard at work to promote ending systemic racism in America. The media has the power to shape the news into how they want people to view events, people, and the world itself. So when they change their narratives to influence certain ethnic groups, particularly Asian Americans who have shouldered the blame for the world’s current problem, we can finally walk the path that ends Asian hate. 

To learn more about Asian hate and how to join the conversation, click here for guidance and resources from the Asian American Journalists Association

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