Recently, I have noticed a high rate of interracial dating in the urban spaces of New York City, most noticeable between Asian females and white males (Note that I only observe the “couples” who are holding hands, and I count the Asian females who look fully Asian. Observational errors and internal biases may hinder reporting: I may overlook unattractive Asian women therefore discounting them.). “What is it about” Asian women that tantalize white men? Do white men perceive Asian women to be stereotypically submissive, exotic (beauty), nubile (mail order bride situations), nymph-like, and loyal? Do they believe that an Asian woman will “love [them] long time” (Kubrick’s war flick Full Metal Jacket) because of these primordial, exotic traits? If white males “prefer” Asian women because they possess desirable character traits and/or bodily features, does this make yellow fever a bad, offensive phenomenon? Or is the original posited question about why white men have yellow fever, a complete devaluation of “personal preference” and rather a complete perversion of a fetish (I am posing a meta-critique)? I think that this neologism “yellow fever” implies a kind of rigid stereotyping of Asian women by white males. This is obviously detrimental to acknowledging the individuality of Asian women insofar that these men continue to believe these stereotypes further into the relationship/encounter with an Asian woman. But if they cease to believe these stereotypes once they get to know the woman, and no longer imbue stereotypes on her, yellow fever will be devoid of negative connotations and accompanying phrases such as “White male domination.”

Nina Zhang from Kitsch Magazine wonders, “Is there really an ‘Asian fetish’ behind this unexpected appeal of Asian women? If there is, then it definitely reflects a misunderstanding of Asians and Asian culture.” I wholeheartedly agree that if Asian women become continuously stereotyped as submissive, etc., then it is a misrepresentation of current Asian femininity and personality. Although the argument can be that stereotypes do not originate from nowhere as they arise from something or some evidence, then the past representations, images, films, have perpetuated this Asian female submissiveness. My attack is that these representations are simply antiquated, and hold little to no truth in today’s diverse jungle of New York City. Some women “wear the pants” in the relationship and the men begrudgingly allow this.

There is an NYU article written by May Wang that discusses the uproar of yellow fever. However, the slew of comments on the bottom of the page corroborates my hypothesis that having yellow fever is not necessarily reprehensible or objectionable unless the men dominate Asian woman. But this is also arguable, because some partners like to be “dominated.” They prefer to be controlled and told what to do. This comes from Erich Fromm’s theory of sadomasochistic love: either partner may seek masochism in order to escape the fear of freedom in a relationship. A few comments emphasize the polarization of good and bad fetishes. Yes, there are good and bad fetishes. The commenter states that yellow fever/Asian fetish is not necessarily bad and deviant because it does not always have to be about dominating the woman and having wild escapades with her. It can be an interest in her personality and in her culture just as an anime fan would read anime 24/7. It depends on whether you classify Asian fetish as a good or a bad fetish, and what that fetish entails.

Asian women have been commercialized and objectified. After watching Wong Fu’s Yellow Fever, I realized that Asian women are just as highly sought after here as they are in the West Coast. From a consumerist point of view, Asian women may be the “new fad,” they may be on “high demand,” they may be a “hot commodity.” This makes reference to the controversial idea of trophy wives who can titillate a man and there is no need to “cuff yo chick” (keep an eye on her to make sure she’s not hitting on other men) because the Asian woman is forever loyal. A male’s fetish for Asian females grow out of a longing for loyalness in a relationship and a change of scenery, according to a respondent in an article on the Village Voice (The Village Voice has four pages devoted to advertisements of Asian massage parlors and Asian call-girl hotlines.). He said that he found White girls to be slutty, and that Asian women are incredibly attractive because of their features such as delicate fingers. I assume that he wanted a change in scenery as in he wanted a serious relationship in which he is not cheated on by White women, and he can be delighted and pleasured by an Asian woman/vixen who can perform well with her hands and fingers.

There are expectations of Asian women that give way to more stereotypes. Asian vixens who recall images of a fierce and sexualized Lucy Liu (Kill Bill), are termed sexually active. They are stereotyped as capable of providing a different kind of sex, a more ravishing, sensual sexual experience. Aside from assumed sexual proclivity, white men say that Asian women tend to remain loyal (hints of filial piety and honor to family and sole husband) just as Butterfly did in Puccini’s Madam Butterfly(She committed seppuku when she heard that her husband stealthily left her and remarried). So the chances of her cheating are slim to none. These stereotypical notions are ridiculously exaggerated (the point with stereotypes) and almost seen as unfathomable, but it exists. If men walk around with this notion that Asian women are submissive, subservient, and loyal, they may resemble the ill-fated French Diplomat Rene Gallimard in David Henry Hwang’s renown screenplay M. Butterfly. Gallimard adamantly clings onto his fantasy of the perfect Oriental female figure he calls his Butterfly (“Song Liling” in the play). Even after Song disrobes and reveals to him that he is a man, Gallimard wholeheartedly refuses to believe this.

What exactly is a personal preference? It comprises the very source of a fetish. White men who like Asian women have a “thing,” a fixation for Asian women because they personally prefer Asian women. A commenter on the NYU website (from above) argues that just because someone exclusively dates Asian women does not mean he fully subscribes to preconceptions of Asian women; he may be interested in other things like her culture, her background, and her vast array of differences or the common interests that bind them. Perhaps my original question “Why do white men like Asian women?” (this implies that yellow fever is wholly bad because it encourages the stereotyping of Asian women in a certain light) perverts the idea of a fetish, and it undermines personal preference which initially begins the attraction (or pseudo-affinity/standards to look for) between two persons.

My interviews with random New Yorkers provide a wealth of subjective, qualitative data that are testimony to the glaring presence of stereotypes about Asian women. But I also learned that it varies from person to person, from one white male to another. Kat, a Filipino American, tells me that New York City is renown for its diversity, “so why shouldn’t white men date Asian chicks? They will produce beautiful babies; it’s a beautiful thing.” She notes that her mother dauntingly told her to marry a non-Filipino so that she can produce a beautiful offspring. This is shocking to her because she assumed that her mother was incredibly traditional and bolted down with an old-world mentality. Kat reports that this Asian fetish isn’t harmful, but it is exposing white men to Asian culture. Instead of reinforcing their stereotypes, Asian women can expand and enlarge white men’s minds. She gives a rather optimistic outlook and finalizes, “Whatever floats your boat, ya know [sic].” She adds that yellow fever is not a condition that is serious in terms of harmfully affecting society as a whole, but rather it is something that is brought up in a conversation. When it comes to individual relationships, each man is different and he will exposed to Asian women and he will deal with them in different ways. Kat sees the idea of yellow fever as a topic of conversation, not an actual definite perpetuation of stereotypes about Asian women. “Not every guy going after Asian women exoticize her and make her a sex object, some want a real relationship and this fetish just hits it off.” Kat’s friend Thomas concurs with her: he jokes about yellow fever, “but if two people like each other then they like each other. Look at the interracial couples all around us, they’re accepting of each other.” He is equally optimistic while there may be stereotypes of Asian women, once the man gets to know the woman then his perception will be sculpted more finely. And hopefully his body of preconceptions will give way to authentic readings and understandings of an Asian female.

Despite the hodgepodge of online evidence which indicate the perpetuation of stereotypes of Asian women, it all depends on the male who is dating or having an encounter. As outsiders scrutinizing the white male and Asian female together, we cannot immediately believe that every white male will see Asian women as submissive and subservient. Having yellow fever is having a preference for Asian women. It could be no more than just that. In fact, the man might have genuine interest in the woman’s personality. And somewhere down the line, they both reform each other with their little tactics and begin to realize that the stereotypes erode and have little to no meaning (unless the woman acts out the stereotypes for whatever reason, even if it is her personality). This optimistic outlook about the term “yellow fever” returns the respect for personal preference of a romantic partner/date, and it does not limit a fetish as being a bad fetish. The reason why white men date Asian women is because they find them attractive for many reasons that may just be prefaced with perpetrated stereotypes. But the value of the relationship is portrayed by the substantial progress achieved and concrete activities both persons participate in. The individual male will begin to find the Asian woman as an individual who transcends a bunch of stereotypes. The weight of the relationship is not determined by the mental notion or conception, but rather by the actions taken and shared by the man and the woman.

-Ken Ruan

2 responses

  1. John says:

    I am just attracted to Asian girls, it has nothing to do with stereotyping them. Of course I’m not attracted to all Asian girls, and I’m not unattracted to other girls. Asian girls just linger in my mind more. Any white male who has dated an Asian women knows that the don’t conform to any silly stereotype.