How Can I Be An Ally to Asian Women When Men Fetishize Them?

White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.

Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions everyday and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.

But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.” 

Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges. 

POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.

How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red at the bottom is the takeaway of the discussion.

QUESTION:

I’d like to know how to be a better ally. I’m sometimes in situations where men fetishize Asian women. I call them out on it but now that I’m dating an Asian man, they tell me I can’t call them out on it because I’m dating an Asian and I guess therefore, I’m just like them. I try explaining that’s not why I’m with him nor why I ever agreed to a date with him. But they don’t listen. Once I even get told I’m not an Asian woman so I don’t get to defend them. For some context if it helps, some of these situations there’s been an Asian woman present, they speak up, I back them up. Other times, there’s another Non-Asian female and we back each other up. Many times I’m the only woman. So my question is, is there an argument I can give that will make them listen? Are they a lost cause? Should I even be speaking up? I like speaking up because I’m also a POC and I love when people help my voice be heard.

ASIAN RESPONSES:

The fact that she is dating an Asian man has no bearing on the fact that she’s calling white men out for being pieces of shit. In fact, I applaud her for doing so. The fetishization or Asian women is based on stereotypes of us being submissive socially, sexually, etc. Maybe question the white man why he is attracted to an Asian woman? Based on his answers, you can have come backs like “oh well you’re fetishizing her based on your primitive understanding of Asian women and Asian cultures in general,” “thinking that Asian women have small and tight pussies isn’t doing anything for your small dick complex so shut the fuck up, etc.

She has to make clear the difference between fetishization and just preferences. Fetishization is when you like someone only for their race and because of racial stereotypes, preference is when you like the person as who they are and their race/ethnicity is just one of the characteristics that you like as well. For example, Bob likes Mary because she’s funny and nice but he also likes the fact that she’s Chinese. That’d be preference. But if Bob doesn’t care about Mary’s personality and only likes her because she’s Chinese and because he thinks all Chinese women are submissive, then that’d be a fetish. So when she calls people out for fetishization and they retort by saying “you’re also with an Asian man,” she should make it clear the difference between fetishization and preference. And yes she should speak up about it whether she’s Asian or not because fetishization is just a very gross thing to do and it can be very hurtful and at times even dangerous, so everyone with basic human decency should call out a gross phenomenon like that.

1. Fetishization of Asian women is reductive. 2. To dismiss any ally’s voice because they are dating an Asian person is also reductive. If that’s their argument for why they should continue to view Asian women as sex objects, then that’s just sad. It sounds more like they’re unwilling to admit they’re being racist – which is why they refuse to listen.

The fetishizing of Asian men vs. Women is not the same and will never be the same. The fetish for Asian women is steeped in generations of racism: sex slaves, comfort women, “China doll”, ets. And is still seen today in “sex tourism” in Asian, popular media, and porn. The stereotypes assigned to Asian women are often idealized specifically in regards to sex (small, cute, submissive, tight vaginas). There are countless examples of violence against women of Asian decent because we’re not really seen as humans and more as caricatures. That’s why the Asian fetish is so damaging. It’s not a preference, it’s thinly veiled racism. So good on the original poster for calling it out and not letting it slide. I guess just bring up the historical oppression, sexual exploitation, and violence against Asian women?

WHITE RESPONSES:

White woman here. I would suggest to let go of making it “the argument to make them listen.” I think often times change happens in much smaller, unseen ways. Just because you may not be around when a realization or change happens, doesn’t mean you should stop speaking up. It can take repetitive messages from multiple sources to get through. Be one of those sources. You may be saying what others around are thinking, which can embolden them to speak up as well. And if not, at least you are remaining true to what you know is right. I’d suggest finding another issue. Take a breather from the fetishization one. There are infinite ways people are marginalized so take a breather from this one situation and do a deep dive educating yourself in something else. See what happens. (I’m white and enjoying a steeeeeep learning curve with my own behavior and biases. I share what I learn with my kids, friends, family and social media and I gravitate to certain issues for sure but if I’m hitting a wall with one thing I back away.)

White woman here! I’ll always comment. Even if it doesn’t change them or they have something negative to say around to me. It doesn’t matter, if they say something fucked up, I will comment and at least they’re called out for it.

White woman here. Something I’ve been trying since hitting a wall of frustration with not being able to get through to people saying dehumanizing things—whether racist, homophobic, sexist, classists, whatever—is asking them questions that leads them to realizing they’re upholding a shitty belief and/or are a shitty person. The key thing to remember is to NOT ask questions that can be answered with “Yes” or “No.” This way they have to explain themselves and will hopefully see how problematic they’re being. For example, you can say something like, “I’d like to know more about your feelings toward Asian women. How do you rationalize saying what you just said about them?” Then, depending on how the conversation goes, try some of these questions:

“How do you see yourself in relationship to Asian women? How equal are they to you in your eyes?

“How do you show respect to the people in your life whom you care about? How does this measure up to how you treat/speak to/speak about Asian women?”

“How would you like people to perceive you when you say dehumanizing things about Asian women? How do you think that measures up to how they actually perceive you?”

“How do you think my relationship with an Asian man might be different than your relationship with an Asian women? How much do you know about power dynamics between men and women and how this might make our experiences different?”

“Based on everything you just told me, how do you think your ideas about Asian women might be seen as problematic? How are you going to change how you talk about Asian women in the future?”

If they start to ramble, go back to the original questions and ask it again. Ask for a more concise answer. Repeat back to them what you heard and ask them to confirm that that’s correct before asking your next question. I also recommend not breaking eye contact while also keeping an open, inquisitive look on your face, like you actually want to know what their thoughts are. At the very least you’ll make them VERY nervous.

POC RESPONSES:

Omg. This couldn’t have arrived at a better time. I recently when on a group trip where a man stated his type is Latina women and only dated them, as a Latina myself explaining to him how that is fetishizing/exotifying and racist, would constantly counter argue/invalidate my sentiments.

I TOTALLY understand feeling frustrated after what feels like a conversation in which you are talking to a brick wall. But here’s the thing: these conversations often marinate long after the fact. I’ve had folks come back to me weeks after a call out to apologize and pledge to change. You might not get that apology, but there is a very good chance that one of these dudes will reflect later. Keep fighting the good fight.

Takeaway

Walking away is a privilege.

“It is important to be more than an ally. You must be an accomplice. The difference being an ally can walk away when it gets rough, and the emotional labor gets diverted back to the POC…but an accomplice is ready to get into the thick of it for the whole run.” –Corinne Oestreich

The orignal poster had it right. If there is an Asian woman present and she is experiencing comments that sexualize her ethnicity, ask them if they are OK and comfortable with you speaking up. If she is speaking up for herself, back her up. If Asian women are not present, shoot down fetishizing comments immediately. If need be, further explain the history and consequence of Asian women being sold into sex slavery before our very eyes in places so public such as Facebook and that this often results in disease, violence, death, and/or suicide.

Fetishization of Asian men do not have the same consequences. Dating an Asian men does not prevent one from standing up to Asian women. Those comments are racist defense mechanisms that only anti-racist therapists can solve.

To submit a question, go to How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch and submit a question in DM or email alohakiona@gmail.com.

Due to popular demand, if you’d like to donate because you’re a person who has learned from this series, you can donate below.

To submit a question, go to How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch and submit a question in DM or email alohakiona@gmail.com.

Due to popular demand, if you’d like to donate because you’re a person who has learned from this series, you can donate below.

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