What is white sexual imperialism and what does it have to do with Asian American women? What does it have to do with Asian American men? The weight of these topics is immense, but it is critical we discuss white sexual imperialism as a matter of context. This is a concept that relates to the imperialistic nature of Western political, military, and economic domination of developing nations, through which women from these poorer nations, throughout history and into present day, are compelled into into sexual submission to white men. This concept underlines the social inequality between WMXF (white male-other female) relationships, which, at their roots, are fundamentally unequal relationships where the non-white female is from a community that has been historically colonized by european or anglo nations. The implications of these relationships extend to the behaviour of Asian and other minority women today.
In a Western culture steeped in anti-Asian racism, discrimination, and stereotypes, asian women are reduced to damaging stereotypes. They are described as “small,” “weak,” “submissive,” “erotically alluring,” ”exotic,” “hyper-sexual,” and “indulgent.” These descriptions are found in media and pornography, but originate from an anglo, or white Western point of view.
Yet, while these stereotypes are radically different than those imposed on Asian men, the psychological pain that is inflicted is no different, causing lasting psychological (and sometimes physical) damage. While we cannot excuse the racism, or self-hatred, that come from a subset of Asian women, it is critical to understand its origins.
These stereotypes are pushed as a narrative that originates from imperialism, which created offshoots known as Orientalism and Sexism. Essentially, these “-isms” are Western nations seeking to dominate and colonize Asia. Let us further examine imperialism, orientalism, and sexism and how these phenomena have affected Asian women.
Imperialism , Orientalism , & Sexism
Orientalism, at its core, is a tool of justification. It manifests itself as a mindset or set of cliches and stereotypes and juxtaposes two systems, the West vs. Asia, by demeaning the latter and propping up the former. Once the narrative of the advanced versus the regressive, or the good versus the evil has been established, the West finds its justification in meddling in Asian affairs and promoting its toxic, sexist agenda.
Asian women, as a result of orientalism, are viewed through a lens that reduces them to purely sexual bodies. Essentially, Asian women are not human to white men, but are simple objects to their sexist, white male power fantasy, where the sexuality is viewed, desired, and controlled at their bidding. Asian women express seemingly “unlimited” sensuality, their intelligence and humanity irrelevant, and above all, are willing participants in their subjugation.
It can be said that the sexual conquest of Asia’s women is related directly to the conquest of Asia itself. More evidence of this can be found in an oft heard narrative in the West known as the “White Man’s Burden,” where the object was to dominate and destroy Asia for the “Good of civilization.” Again, this hearkens to the orientalist justification for Western domination.
In 1899, Rudyard Kipling dubbed the West’s imperialist campaign in the East as “the White Man’s burden.” He coined the term in a poem written to rouse Americans to colonize and rule the Philippines.
One former U.S. President took this message to heart. Theodore Roosevelt wrote and lectured widely on taking up Kipling’s “White Man’s burden.” He called imperialism a “manly” duty that American men must take up. To him, civilized men had a manly duty to ‘destroy and uplift’ lesser, primitive men,” namely Asians, “for their own good and the good of civilization.”
These passages illustrate what Asia represents to white men: The frame of which Asia is viewed through is nothing but a series of conquests. White men are entitled to the land and the people within, wherein the obstacles (Asian men) are destroyed and the prizes (Asian women) are claimed and raped. Reality confirms this theory: During the Philippines revolt against the Spanish inquisition in the 1800s, Americans viewed the opportunity and arrived, promising to help. President McKinley, who was the president at the time announced and gave his word that the U.S “had no design of aggrandizement and no ambition of conquest” of the Philippines. But it was too late as the US had no intention of honoring their words, and American efforts to colonize the colonize the Philippines resulted in the killing of up to 800,000–1,600,000 Filipinos. Naturally, while war raged on, US soldiers also engaged in sexual conquest. Local women were referred to by these men as:
“Little brown fucking machines powered by rice.”
Surrounding the use of local women for sex was were the emergence of sex industries that sprung, offering men
“a girl for the price of a hamburger.”
Such sentiments were the crystallization of an encroaching orientalist mindset — making Asian women as nothing more than sex objects. The optimist would hope that the cycle of oppression and sexual conquest would cease to exist, but it once again reared its ugly face in the infamous Vietnam War. During this war, U.S military bases stationed in Thailand sheltered US GIs who came to Thailand for “Rest and Recreation.” It is to no surprise to those well acquainted with the barbarism of the United States that this phrase could only be a distinctly American invention. These wars solidified the misconception that “Asian women were easy and hypersexual” and had its tendrils extended to other Asian ethnicities.
Eventually, these attitudes were brought back to the US where they became commonplace, completely ignoring the history of sexual violence and the women raped, killed, and forcibly entered into prostitution. The US often pushes its ideology for “Human Rights” with such grandeur and elation, however, as elucidated previously, it was accepted and recognized by the US military that
“Access to indigenous women’s bodies as a “necessity” for US GIs stationed overseas.”
Hardly a something to be elated about — Americans have twisted the very notion of “rights” to cover their imperialistic and oriental ambition, and even more alarming, twisted the notion of “human” in the attempt to rationalize their evil.
Filipina sex workers, for example, frequently report
“being treated like a toy or a pig by the American [soldiers] and being required to do ‘three holes’ — oral, vaginal and anal sex.”
The systems of prostitution perpetuated around U.S. military bases in Asia reaffirm the West’s perception of Asian women as sex objects. In these contexts, Asian sex workers are registered and tagged like domestic pets, further relegating them to a less-than-human status.
Such conceptions such as this postured Asian women as nothing but sex objects stemmed from the war — but spread into the consciousness of American society. After the wars ended, Thailand became the top destination for male tourists from Europe and US, where white men began travelling to Thailand for (often underage) sex and exploitative entertainment to this very day.
The ongoing degrading treatment of Asian women as objects continues to this day. As recent as the mid- 90s, international controversy flared over an incident in Japan where two U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy seaman gang-raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl in Okinawa, Japan.
They watched the girl enter a stationary store and decided to ambush her. The two Marines bound the girl with tape, pulled her shorts and underwear down to her ankles, and after the three men raped her, remarked that the girl looked like she enjoyed it.
The danger of these imperialistic and degrading attitudes that Orientalism produces is the production of a rational excuse for the three servicemen to not only rape the girl, but also express belief that she enjoyed the sexual conquest. Such rationalization allows them to use these reasons to deny any wrongdoing of crime, because “it seemed like she enjoyed it,” completely stripping away the dignity and agency of the Asian woman. The stereotype of Asian women as “always consenting to sex allowed the three servicemen to deny the act as a rape” is a patently false and dangerous one. It is this potent triple-threat of imperialist thought, racial inequality, and sexual inequality that perpetuates violence against Asian women by white men. Again, the optimist hopes that such egregious acts of hatred and violence would end, but to the chagrin of those free from the virus of Western thought, the examples do not end there.
Local police arrested sailor Justin Castellanos, 24, of U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, on suspicion of taking a tourist to his room after finding her asleep in the corridor of a hotel in the prefectural capital and raping her there. March 22, 2016. Source
Ultimately, in the eyes of white men, Asian women seem to exist solely for their sexual gratification as hyper-sexual and unconditionally submissive creatures. In comparison to white women, they are a subordinate choice of partner, a secondary choice until a white woman is available, and an afterthought.
The hypersexualization of Asian women
Now that we know the basis of which these stereotypes were established, let us explore these stereotypes by analyzing examples from the media and pop culture. In an excerpt from Oriental Girls (1990), from an article in the the GQ magazine, one passage described Asian women as submissive women, or slaves:
“When you get home from another hard day on the planet, she comes into existence, removes your clothes, bathes you and walks naked on your back to relax you . . . She’s fun you see, and so uncomplicated.”
As women who are have no self-agency and as a sexual object for male use:
“She doesn’t go to assertiveness-training classes, insist on being treated like a person, fret about career moves, [or] wield her orgasm as a non-negotiable demand . . .”
And finally, as a symbol of conquest:
“She’s a handy victim of love or a symbol of the rape of third world nations, a real trooper.”
The overton window to such racially motivated speech today has closed, but this mindset continues on in the form of expats (an umbrella term to cover economic migrants, immigrants, sexual tourists, and unsuccessful people from the West) from white countries, who tire of their “feminist white women” go to Asian countries such as [Thailand , Vietnam , Cambodia ] as well as China and South Korea (in the past) to look for “easy” women. Such mindsets continue as these individuals they believe that Asian women in these countries will conform to their historical stereotypes and misconceptions of Asian women: Meek, non-controlling, submissive, and ready to do anything for the white man. Furthermore, these stereotypes emerge as a direct result of the colonial encounters of war, presenting Asian women as an object of consumption and the satisfaction of Western desires.
Such a narrative is displayed in the media today: Asian women are generally cast as submissives in any relationship and an object for the sexual desire of the white man, and especially inferior to white women. Examine the examples below:
The Real life effect of these stereotypes
The history of Western imperialism in Asia and its lingering effects present the greatest source of inequality for Asian women today in western countries. White sexual imperialism, through rape and war, has created the hyper-sexualized trope of the Asian woman. With these sexual experiences as their main source, if not only encounters with Asian women, these White servicemen returned home with the generalization that Asian women are hyper-sexualized and always willing to comply with White men’s prurient demands. These stereotypes sublimate into the mistreatment and deriding of Asian women in the West.
These stereotypes in turn have fostered the prevalence of Asian women in pornography, the mail order bride phenomenon, the Asian fetish syndrome, and worst of all, sexual violence against Asian women.
In a 2002 study conducted by Jennifer Lynn Gossett and Sarah Byrne out of thirty-one pornographic websites that depicted rape or torture of women, more than half showed Asian women as the rape victim and one-third showed White men as the perpetrator. Furthermore, images of Asian women in pornographic forms consistently came up through a keyword search on “torture.”
This hyper-sexualization of Asian women renders any sexual violence committed against them as non-rape, as they are willing by default to be subjected to such dehumanization. Agency and dignity of Asian women is stripped away by toxic, white male privilege. The sickness of the white male ethos is the display of Asian women as rape victims.
II. Mail-Order Brides
In the 1970s , when Conservative white men grew discontent with the American feminist movement, Sheryl Sandberg “lean-in” politics, and white women’s ensuing push for liberation on all fronts and equality, they turned to the mail-order bride industry in East Asia. Guided by sexual stereotypes of Asian women as subservient, these men saw Asian mail-order brides as the much-welcomed antithesis to the White American woman. Attitudes such as these still fester on today. The mail-order bride system is a prime example of racist love, wherein a woman is brokered by individuals, bought as a commodity, and made subservient to her presumably sick husband. The system also exploits the neoliberal economic systems in place that leech resources and people from poorer nations so they can continue to offer cheap goods, services, and bodies.
III. Asian Fetish Syndrome
Pornography with Asian women is rife with orientalist attitudes about Asian women has engendered some of the most toxic attitudes on display by white men.
Enter Michael Lohman, a third-year doctoral student at Princeton University. Lohman had surreptitiously cut locks of hair from at least nine Asian women and poured his urine and semen into the drinks of Asian women more than 50 times in Princeton’s graduate student dining hall. When investigators entered Lohman’s apartment, which he shared with his wife, an Asian woman, they found stolen women’s underwear and mittens filled with the hairs of Asian women, which they believe Lohman used to masturbate.
Do you think the public institutions, in this case Princeton, said anything about this case as “Asian Fetish Syndrome?” No, and in fact, Princeton treated this case as an isolated instance of a psychologically unstable man , and never mentioned that any of the women were Asian Woman. It seems, like the Okinawa case, the personal agency of Asian women is yet denied again. And in a another disturbing case of the effect that stereotypes have on perpetuating crime against Asian women.
It begs the question, why is Lohman described as a psychotic and deranged individual? His attitude is endemic of many white men his age, yet there is a refusal to pin that stigma on the white male demographic. All the while, Asian men are constantly derided and treated as representatives of the whole if they commit crimes, rather than “lone wolves” or “lone actors” in the cases whenever a white man breaks the law. There is a reluctance to describe the crime Lohman committed as a heinous spree of sexual violence committed by a white man with an entitlement complex to Asian women, a complex he shares with many other white men.
David Dailey and Edmund “Eddie” Ball abducted, handcuffed, and blindfolded two Japanese schoolgirls, ages 18 and 19, in Spokane, Washington.The two girls were taken to a house and raped repeatedly over a span of 7 hours.Eddie Ball, the mastermind behind the crime, professed an avid fascination in bondage, sadomasochism and Japanese culture. He collected Japanese bondage videos and was an expert in Japanese rope-tying techniques. Ball specifically targeted Japanese students because he believed them to be submissive and thus less likely to report the rapes.
Another , more recent case.
Tran said she was leaving work in Torrance on South Vermont Avenue Friday when a stranger grabbed her from behind, and taunted her as she fought him off. “I felt something and I looked, and he was literally right behind me,” Tran said. Before she could even turn around, Tran said the stranger reached for her waist, trying twice to grab her. “He pressed his body against my back,” Tran said. “I pushed him away. I said, ‘No, go away.’” “He stuck his fingers through the window, taunting me or something like that,” Trans aid. “He says, ‘It’s OK. Six days.’” ….. LAPD Harbor detectives said they are looking for the man in what they are calling a battery incident. He hasn’t been named as a suspect, but rather a person of interest in the incident.
In this case which occurred on June 6 , 2015 , Tran was physically harassed by ….yet another white man. Although the motive is not clear for the case , the fact that this man choose to rape or molest an Asian women but not a White women is related to Asian Fetish Syndrome. The behavior in this statement made by the victim: “He stuck his fingers through the window, taunting me or something like that,” Trans aid. “He says, ‘It’s OK. Six days.’” shows that the rapist thinks in terms of sexual stereotypes like the Japanese rapes as discussed above. These behaviors show the real world effect of how stereotypes and the mind frame of men like this can translate into real world danger and violence against Asian Women.
Lili Wang, a North Carolina State University (NCSU) graduate student, who became the victim of what may have been a racially-motivated crime. Richard Borelli Anderson had a strong sexual preference for Asian women because “they study hard, and they’re very nice, soft speaking.” In October of 2002, Anderson fired four gunshots into Wang, killing her before turning the gun on himself. Police found his body five feet away from Wang.
Yet in this case , this crime was not classified as hate crime , or racially motivated crime by the NCSU police. So even public institutions can take away agency from Asian women, as they are also interweaved with white consciousness who wish not to implicate their own.
The root of the hypersexualized, submissive, meek, sexually-objectified stereotypes that Asian women face stem from the wars of imperialism by Anglo countries of the past — through which these stereotypes developed among, and eventually spread into the consciousness of society. Normally, racial stereotypes do not manifest into physical damage other than suicides, but as psychological damage, such as depression, self-hate, and negativity. The sexualized nature of these stereotypes are highly dangerous as they lead to a pre-conception by white males that Asian women are open to any of their sexual advances, resulting in “Asian Fetish syndrome,” or racist love. Combined with excessive and viral media such as pornography, it can lead to the de-emphasis (and even justification) of white male sexual crimes such as rape or murder on a large scale.
Endnote: Quotes and Other information are referenced from this study.