Fearing Fetishization: Why Asian Women Experience Sexual Violence
By Natalie Chen
You’ve probably heard about the recent events of March 16 in Atlanta, Georgia. By now, your newsfeed and social media is likely exploding with posts aboutanti-Asian discrimination or gendered-violence against Asian women.This discrimination has roots in xenophobia that can be traced back to the very first wave of Chinese immigrants that arrived in the 1850s. The Chinese were met with hostility, as many white Americans felt threatened by the immigrants’ slow or often refusal of assimilation.
This hostility was just the foreground for what would become the status of modern day Asian Americans’ as perpetual foreigners. This idea of the perpetual foreigner, along with the history of relations between the Asian sex work and the U.S. military, incubates the exoticism or mystery often associated with Asian women. This, left to sit with little social repercussions, snowballed into a dangerous and violent fetishization that motivated the horrific events that transpired in Georgia. This week, the Polici team attempted to better understand into the discrimination against Asian women, the perpetuation of their fetishization and, in some disheartening cases, violence.
Occupied During Occupation
With continuous U.S. military presence in Asia during the 20th century, the prostitution industry in proximity to military occupation expanded. Soldiers would often solicit sexual acts from local women in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam while these women had little choice but to oblige. This led to the characterization of Asian women as both hypersexualized yet also submissive;they were often quiet (likely due to the language barrier) but willing to perform various sexual acts (because of the nature of their occupation). The promotion of such stereotypes encouraged sexual violence against Asian women because they would supposedly enjoy it and would not report assault because of their “demure” natures. Thus, “yellow fever” — the fetishization of Asian people — was born.
As you may have heard, people of color are often underrepresented in TV and film. Asian women are especially underrepresented and misrepresented, often portraying stereotypes what little screen time they are granted. In a study conducted on TV character representation by race, the total screen time for randomly selected episodes from shows with Asian regulars was about 11 hours for actors and 9 hours for actresses. With the small portion of screen time Asian women are given, their roles are often subjected to stereotypes that reinforce the fetishization of Asian women. In particular, Asian women are often portrayed as either the “Dragon Lady”, a fierce, seductive femme fatale (think Lucy Liu in Kill Bill), or a “Lotus Blossom”, a sweet, submissive side character (think Lea Salonga in Miss Saigon).
In a study conducted in 2017 by researchers at McGill University, 172 mainstream pornographic videos from PornHub, a leading pornographic website, were coded by race and other characteristics of the people in the videos. Results suggest that Asian women are overrepresented by 3 times the actual Asian population in the U.S.. Additionally, aggression was more prevalent in videos including Asian women than of women of any other race or gender. Culturally accepted violence against Asian women stems from both hypersexualization and stereotyping as submissive, similar to stereotypes that play out in TV and film. In the minds of the perpetrators, sexual violence is justified because they view Asian women as stereotypes; through a stereotypical lens, Asian women will enjoy sexual violence because they are hypersexual and won’t protest against violence because they are submissive.
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Special thanks for our designers Olivia, Ellie, and Pete, and writers Natalie and Wendy for this issue.