Friday, February 10, 2006

Fetishising Asian-ness

I was going to call this post 'asian fetish' but then I got worried about what people might google and come up with. In any event, I read this story which is both humourous and sad, and it made me want to respond. But because I babble and comments are meant to be brief, here I am responding in a little web-room of my own.

My partner is not Asian. Although it has been suggested that he is Asian looking (his eyes, though blue, are almond shaped). We regularly have dinner at a Viet restaurant near where we live and were there beside a table at which sat three east Asians - I am not sure from which specific country - one man and two women, all roughly my age-ish.

The tables, like many Viet restaurants, are set reasonably close to each other. I am notorious for eavesdropping on other conversations - something about having once read that if you want to be a writer, than you should observe conversations - but it would have been quite difficult not to overhear. The conversation was about a movie called Glitter which I think was one with Mariah Carey in it. I tuned out. But I tuned right back in again when I heard - "There's another Asian girl with a white boy."

The speaker made the comment that lots of Asian girls went out with white guys because white guys think they're hot, but Asian guys then get left with no one because no white girls will go out with Asian guys. Instead, Asian guys go 'back home' and find some girl from home to marry.

There were so many assumptions in this brief monologue that I wanted to scream - not even counting the complete non-attempt to pretend she wasn't talking about my partner and I. I could not even discuss it with my partner because then I'd be guilty of the same thing!

First of all, I was thoroughly insulted that she thought the reasons why my white partner was dating Asian me was because he found Asian girls hot. Not because I might be interesting, that we shared intellectual and political interests, a sense of partnered independence, or the plethora of reasons, some known and some unknown to me, why we might be together but because Asian girls are hot. Insert oriental or exotic.

Secondly, the idea that Asian guys get left with no one. An inference I draw from this statement is that it is the hot Asian girl's fault that the Asian guy has no one to partner with. That the Asian girl should be preserved for Asian guys only.

Oh – and as an aside which I won't delve into – why not an Asian boy?

Thirdly, that white girls won't go out with Asian guys. Has she asked a white girl? Although in my anecdotal experience, I certainly do know more couples that are Caucasian male & Asian female than I do Caucasian female & Asian male, I know a number of couples of the latter description. My favourite pair met in Viet Nam – both as travellers, he from Australia and she from a northern European country. In Australia, he has no accent and she does. And I've known the reverse fetish to occur in women, most memorably captured in the statement (said to me): I want a chocolate baby. This blog is not even go to go into the can of worms that statement unveils. Not today.

Fourthly, does she have a fear of miscegenation? Is that an implication of her words? That's also a topic for another day, boys and girls.

Finally, that the Asian guy must go 'back home' to find someone to marry. Because the entire purpose of a relationship is the end goal of marriage. But marriage is another socio-cultural assumption that I currently don't have the patience to dissect.

My thoughts in response relate to the role of women from non English speaking migrant background. I don't know which type of Asian these two women and man were or if the same place / country, whether they would consider themselves Australian or not, whether they are migrants, or indeed, anything at all about them. The one assumption I allowed myself to make of them was that they were not local – they were discussing how best to get to somewhere in the city and certainly weren't discussing the most direct route.

Here are the bare bones of a theory: Women embody culture. (That one should not be very controversial). In a diasporic or migrant community, women come to represent the continuation of the culture and traditions of the homeland. The 'loss' of women to the dominant culture is a loss the greater because it is a putative loss of the next generation. To prevent this happening, women are more strictly policed – their behaviour more circumscribed to ensure that no loss will occur. I am a feminist; I believe that, in most societies and certainly in both the societies of which I am a part (mainstream Australian and first generation Viet-Australian), women are subservient to men and women's interests are subordinated to that of men's. In most societies, women are still “the other” - the one who is seen, not the one who sees. Women's roles are still limited – not necessarily to just being a wife or a mother – but limited in the extent to which women are referable to something other than their own autonomous beings and their own autonomous desires to flourish as complete humans. There are rules about how a woman should behave – and within a first generation migrant community, there are distinct ideas about the type of woman that a migrant woman can be. Even more so than in mainstream Westernised cultures, a woman is to be chaste, family oriented and obedient. And when she ceases to be any of these things she cannot be a part of the migrant culture from which she arose.

A woman of a background different to that of the mainstream may enter the mainstream for a relationship because it does not necessarily require her to behave in strict or limited ways. Although there are probably still limitations, these may be fewer than those expected of her as a migrant woman, within the migrant culture. A man of a background different to the mainstream has greater freedoms to explore his ideas of flourishing and remain within the strictures of his culture, and may not need to seek out a relationship from the mainstream because his ideas of his autonomy are accepted within the migrant culture or community.

As the generations go on, there should be less distinction about whether an Asian girl dates a white boy and not the other way around. Because the Asian girl and white boy may be remarkably similar to each other. I have a good friend who appears Asian. She is Australian and has been in Australia longer than my partner and, though few people will ask him where he is from, they invariably ask her. She is more gracious than I am, and will tell them that her grandparents are Chinese.

I wonder how my nieces and nephews, who will be second generation and who speak only English, will navigate these rocky multi-cultural and assumption filled seas?

1 comment:

n.t said...


you're so furious, this entry has kinda covered nothing almost, just staked out headings.

i agree with you that most ppl end up with each because they meet as people - but some of the things you are so against - are true, count and play a factor (not with everyone though), especially when it comes to first impressions. a blog connected to 'the age' recently did an online post that attracted heaps of discussion on the matter.

myself, honestly, i would love to marry (because i'm inclined that way) a viet boy. and not because i was brought up instilled with the notion that i had to marry a viet boy - my parents are really open minded about it. my reason: because i feel so passionately about my culture, chances are that a non-viet guy wouldn't be able to share that with me, or understand it, and because it would make it easier for any kids i have to speak vietnamese and to pass on the wonderful vietnamese culture.

that said - i date whoever appeals to me and so haven't dated a viet guy as yet. (i think my viet guy - one that has positive points besides being vietnamese doesn't exist or else he's so rare...)

and this goes to your point - women in vietnam, under the culture that continues to exist under the old thoughts of confucianism and taoism etc... represses us women. in this greyland: as foreigners in a western culture, we find our freedom and seek those who will take us, as freed women.

the men - they never were repressed (or at least not to the same extent), and grow up with the old stream of thinking and then, sometimes it's too late: they can't relate to the 'new' vietnamese woman. and then they grow old and go home to marry that sweet subservient girl.

but the idea of going home - it's also a by-product of being migrants: the largest population that goes 'home' to marry are those that fail to successfully adapt to the world here; both because of how much change is involved (challenges, uphevals) and also the diversity of how everyone adapts; different ways, extents and rates. one my gfs - intelligent, educated, successful (she's the most successful of our batch from high school atm) is despairing so greatly at her lack of prospects, she's actually considering considering a guy from vn...

your point on women as being the main propagator of culture to the next generation is quite true - i remember studying linguistics and looking at statistics: there was a huge difference between the percentage of children who learnt their mother's (non-english) tongue compared to their father's tongue. (i think it was 20 (father's) v 80 (mother's)). an intersting situation i know is a guy who is italian (father) chinese (mother) - he tells me he and his sister and mum speak a really weird hokkien-italianenglish mix which their father doesn't understand.

it might be mean, but if i don't marry a viet - i'm making it a real ask that he learn vietnamese. a relative in vietnam asked me the question: between a viet and non-viet who would i marry? (you can see her bias already) and i said - i would marry whoever suited me most, if he was the viet guy, the viet guy, but if it was the other, then the other guy. but if he wasn't viet, i'd make him learn vietnamese. she laughed and smiled when i made that point.

that said there's a famous-ish story of a vietnamese guy declaring that his daughter would only marry a vietnamese man, and would not marry a northerner (nguoi bac)!

(and i'm starting to be amused at the length of my comments - they can be their own posts on a blog...)

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