Content warning: mention of paedophilia
Imagine this: I’ve just come home from school. I’m maybe 12, maybe 13. It’s springtime, and the days are pleasingly long; the sun is shining stripes into my room through the blinds. It’s almost five o’clock in the afternoon and I’m sitting at my desk. I open up my computer and decide to Google something that I’ve been meditating on for a while.
Being a person of colour very often means you become aware of ideas of race much earlier than your white peers. Colour-blindness is decidedly not a luxury we can partake in. And so young me had noticed a recurring trend amongst the couples I saw walking hand-in-hand in Chatswood and North Ryde (my two main habitats, although sometimes I ventured into the city, where the same trend presented itself): all these white dudes and Asian women!
Of all the interracial pairings that existed, this one was far and away the most common. Why was this? How did it come to be? Did I need to be afraid?
So, I’m at my desk. I haven’t even changed out of my school uniform. I type into Google: “why do white men like Asian women so much”. (The inverse question, “why Asian women like white men so much”, is another thing for another time). I click on a few links to message boards, blogs, question-and-answer sites, and begin to peruse.
A few phrases crop up regularly as I’m reading. “They know how to treat a man.” “Submissive.” “They’re docile and respect their husbands.” I wrinkle my nose.
“Freaks in bed.” Hmm. “Asians are easy.” Okay. “Super tight.” That’s not great.
The more nuanced answers are no more reassuring. They proclaim that men who are attracted to Asian women are closet paedophiles, since Asian women apparently all have the bodies of prepubescent youths. Some posts assert that the only men who date Asian women are those who “can’t get a real woman” because they’re deficient in some way. And, of course, we have the answers denouncing all Asian women as green-card-hungry vipers or gold-digging bloodsuckers. The tamest answers are ones which praise Asian women as “exotic beauties”.
At this point, the sun has set and I’m sitting in the purplish half-dark of dusk; my little bespectacled face is lit up like the moon by my laptop screen. It’s a lot to take in. I’ve just become aware of the very specific ways I could be objectified and dehumanised in the coming years. I decide to shut off my laptop and go and help my mother with dinner instead.
Flash forward to 2016. I’ve just come to uni from home. I’m 20, soon to be 21. It’s springtime, and the days are pleasingly long; the sun is shining into the university library through the wide windows. It’s almost four o’clock in the afternoon and I’m sitting at a desk. I open up my computer and decide to Google something I’ve been meditating on for a while. Are things still the same?
The same search today (and other related queries like ‘white man Asian women’ or ‘why white guys date Asian’) yields a slightly different set of results: a couple of forums still pop up, and they’re still pretty bad, but there are also news articles examining the phenomenon, more balanced answers in the mix, and weird blogs giving personal thoughts on the issue.
People are starting to talk about the question in ways that examine exotification and fetishism and providing a refutation of the “docile”, “submissive” stereotype that used to be so widespread. Filmmaker Debbie Lum’s 2012 documentary Seeking Asian Female examines one case of ‘yellow fever’ with a critical eye. A companion web series, They’re All So Beautiful, has taken the discussion, started by Lum’s documentary, to different viewers and readers on the web. And young Asian women on Twitter and Tumblr are coming at the idea hard, loudly announcing that they are ‘not your fetish’.
Thirteen-year-old me is heartened by this.