I’m Not Your Little China Girl: An Open Letter to Men Who Have Hit On Me
By Jessica Huynh, Storyteller for RU Student Life
Hey you! Yes, you.
You’ve been eyeing me from across the room, wide-eyed, racking your brain on how to best approach me.
I’m talking to you.
And yes, I can speak and understand English so there’s no need for you to show off your limited Chinese by greeting me with, “Ni Hao.” In fact, I prefer if you didn’t. You see, I’m not even Mandarin. I’m Cantonese, which is an entirely different Chinese dialect. I also was born and raised in Canada, so it’s really not necessary for you to saying anything to me other than, “Hi,” “Hello,” or “Hey.”
You also shouldn’t assume my ethnicity by the off chance you’re correct. As a rule of thumb: if you don’t know, don’t guess. In the past, I’ve been mistaken as Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Tibetan, and Thai. While it’s not something I get offended about, it can be irritating when I’m forced to play a round of “Let’s Guess Your Ethnicity!” with a complete stranger. Contrary to what you might think: not all Asian people look the same.
You might be thinking, “Aren’t you being a little too sensitive? I mean, how can you be offended by someone just trying to be friendly?”
While I can understand your sentiment, let me explain to you a little something called micro-aggression. As Canwen Xu points out in her Ted Talk, I Am Not Your Asian Stereotype, micro-aggression sounds a lot like cluelessness. And cluelessness, she says, sounds a lot like, “I’m white. You’re not and I don’t know how to deal with that.” She goes on to clarify that being clueless doesn’t mean you aren’t a nice individual with good intentions; it simply means some of the things you say can be “pretty annoying” when heard by racialized individuals over and over again.
When you make clueless comments to me, it’s emotionally draining having to go, “Well actually, what you said to me is offensive…” and challenge your deep-rooted beliefs about who you think I am.
As a first generation Chinese 20 something-year-old living in Canada, I want to explain to you why some of the ways you approach me can make you appear rather ignorant. I want you to understand that fetishizing Asian women is not okay as it reinforces oppressive views that position me as the Other in Western society. Most importantly, I want you to get to know me, and not the me that’s a stand-in representative of my entire race.
I don’t doubt that many of you didn’t realize what you said to me was actually micro-aggressive. While that may not have been your intention, I want to outline to you 10 things I wish you wouldn’t have said to me, like…
1. Awkwardly bringing up your Asian ex-girlfriend out of context.
Unless it comes up in a very casual and authentic manner, your ex’s ethnicity rarely needs to be brought up. I’ve had a handful of men not-so-subtlety drop the “Asian ex-girlfriend” card within the first few minutes of introducing themselves. For example, “I used to go to this ice cream store all the time with my ex — who was Asian by the way...”
When you bring this tidbit of information into the conversation, I never quite know how to respond. Do you expect me to give you a nod of approval, shake your hand, and say, “It’s so nice to meet you. I didn’t know you were already a member of the Men Pre-Approved by Another Asian Woman Club!”
Contrary to what you may have hoped, mentioning your ex’s ethnicity doesn’t make you more desirable, sexually appealing, or trustworthy — and it certainly doesn’t make you appear more cultured if you’re a white heterosexual man. Instead, all you’ve informed me is that you once dated a girl that kind of, vaguely looks like me who’s only guaranteed similarity is that our ancestors came from the largest continent in the world, Asia.
When you bring your ex’s race into the conversation without prior context, it makes you appear heartbroken and desperate for an Asian girlfriend replacement — a role I have zero interested in filling.
2. Trying to impress me with your knowledge on Asian culture by appropriating Asian culture.
I know anime, K-pop, and martial arts are growing in popularity in Western culture, but that doesn’t mean every Asian person in Western society shares this interest.
When you say things like, “How do you not like anime? I thought all Asian people love anime!” or “I love Chinese culture. I went backpacking in China 3 years ago and have tons of Chinese friends. I actually got a Chinese tribal tattoo and started taking Martial Arts lessons…” what you’re really conveying to me is that you want me to be a certain type of Asian girl that you can bond over East Asian culture with. While it’s great that you’re learning more about different cultures, you have to be careful how you come across. You might be appropriating Asian culture more than you think, and that’s a fine line you don’t want to cross.
As much as my parents have passed over many Chinese traditions to me, a bulk of who I am is largely influenced by Western culture. Sometimes, it feels as though I have to justify and explain to people why I’m “not as Asian” as they expect me to be. I was born and raised here too, you know? Just because I look Asian doesn’t mean all my interests and hobbies originate from Asia.
3. Asking me inappropriate questions about the size of my private parts.
This is not okay. Neither is asking me these inappropriate questions for me to answer on behalf of all Asian women. No, sorry — I can’t confirm if all Asian women have “tight vaginas.”
Here’s Basic Manners 101 that you can apply in all situations: Never comment or inquire on an individual’s body unless they grant you permission to do.
Sure, you might be curious, but putting me in an uncomfortable position to satisfy your curiosity makes you appear creepy and invasive. Don’t do it.
4. Assuming I would be a passive, submissive, and obedient partner.
Unless we’re dating and I’ve explicitly expressed to you I enjoy being submissive in the relationship or bedroom, don’t automatically assume I will conform to these gender and race roles solely because I’m an Asian woman.
If you automatically assume the position of power in a relationship with me, we’ve got a problem on our hands. To me, a healthy relationship is built on equality, communication, and compromise. If your ideal relationship dynamic is to exert power over me and have me put your sexual needs before my own, you’re not someone I want to get to know.
As author Chin Lu points out in her article Why Yellow Fever is Different Than Having a Type, “Why do some men make the automatic assumptions that I am quiet, docile, great at domestic tasks, eager to please men, and my vagina is more magical than average? [Am I] supposed to feel complimented when those people are attracted to me?”
The answer is: no.
5. My race being the only prerequisite for you to date me.
The image above basically sums it up: “Yellow fever is when the only prerequisite for me to become your potential partner is the colour of my skin. That’s cheap. That’s offensive. You’re an asshole. Go away.”
6. Complimenting me by insulting other women.
Like the example provided in the image on the left, justifying your Asian fetish with, “I just think Asian women are far more superior in looks and intelligence” is actually both racist and sexist. Letting me know you find me attractive solely because you find women of other races unattractive is not a compliment; it’s a female race competition none of us signed up for.
In Shimizu’s article, The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene, she notes that the sexuality of the Asian woman is often “framed in rivalry with a white women in terms of competing for idealized heterosexual femininity.”
As an intersectional Asian feminist, I will not tolerate anyone that thinks I should be flattered that I’m considered “superior” to people I stand beside, not against.
7. Minimizing my experience because Asian people are considered the “model minority.”
I once was told by a white man that as an Asian woman living in North America, I had no reason to ever complain about feeling oppressed because I had it, “easier than most people.” As he mansplained to me so eloquently, “Everyone loves Asian women.”
Societal oppression is not a subjective opinion based on whether you have a crush on me or not. Brushing off my experiences by saying, “Well, you’re a pretty, Asian girl, you’ll get by just fine” is dismissive of my lived experiences.
I have faced many obstacles in society because of my race and gender that I don’t expect you to fully understand. The least you can do is try.
8. Complimenting me under the contingent of me being Asian.
Comments like, “You’re the prettiest Asian girl I’ve met,” or “You’re like an Asian version of *insert famous celebrity*,” or “Has anyone ever told you have big boobs for an Asian?” is insulting to my individualism. These types of comments perpetuate this idea that Asian people lack desirable “mainstream” qualities.
In Lim-Hing’s article, Dragon Ladies, Snow Queens, and Asian American Dykes: Reflections on Race and Sexuality, she points out that Asian-Americans constantly having to stand up against white standards of beauty. When you compartmentalize your compliment, you imply that I’m an exception in my race, which is far from the truth.
I can be pretty without being pretty for an Asian. I can be like xyz, without being the Asian version of xyz. And I can have a certain figure without it being considered deviant from my race.
The point is: I can possess a variety of traits that don’t conflict with my ethnicity. When you frame a compliment under the contingent of me being Asian, you diminish the value and sincerity of your words.
9. Treating me as a conquest to fulfill your own sexual bucket list.
I once had a man ask me if I was Thai, to which I replied, “Nope, I’m Chinese.” Without missing a beat, he sighed, “Aw, that’s a shame. I’ve always wanted to sleep with a Thai girl.”
Not only did this man view me as an object for his own desire, it was clear that he saw every Asian woman he met as a conquest — a list of “exotic women” to cross off his sexual bucket list.
Let me remind you: I do not exist for male pleasure; it’s extremely upsetting if your only motive to get to know me is so you can brag to your friends that you slept with an Asian girl.
Sadly, I’ve had multiple men come up to me and say things like, “I’ve never been with an Asian girl before,” or “I’ve always had a thing for Asian girls,” or “I’ve always wanted to sleep with an Asian girl,” as if those statements would make me want to climb into bed with them.
I understand that people can’t help who they are attracted to, and if that so happens to be predominately Asian women then so be it. However, explaining your Asian fetish to me is inappropriate, uncomfortable, and disturbing.
As Juliana Chang noted in Meridians: Feminism, Race, and Transnationalism, this roots back to histories of conquest: “the social and sexual services of the Oriental woman were understood as providing relief from the brutalities and traumas of war for the US militant.” Thus, when you jump to conclusion that I exist only to serve you and provide you sexual relief, I can’t help but think you have old and simplistic views of Asian women. No thank you, I’m not interested in helping you fulfill your problematic sexual checklist.
10. Basing what you know about me off stereotypes you’ve heard.
I get that not everyone grew up in a diverse and multicultural community. When you have minimal experiences interacting with a specific demographic, it’s easy to believe stereotypes and problematic representations of minorities perpetuated in media. I understand that for some people, race is something that one learns through interaction and exposure.
The real problem occurs when you fall into the trap of believing what you see in the media and labeling it as the absolute truth. Stereotypes might have some generalizable truths, but they do not represent the definitive truth.
It might surprise you to know, but I don’t eat dogs, have never eaten dogs, and have no desire to ever eat dogs. In fact, I’ve never met an Asian person that has. I also played the guitar growing up, not the piano or violin. I don’t have nice skin and a thin figure simply because I’m Asian. I’ve been on strong acne medication for most of my adult life and have lost over 20lbs from my highest weight. I also choose to study arts over medicine, and consider myself to be an outspoken advocate for many social issues.
Sure, some Asian stereotypes do apply to me: I have poor vision. I believe in collective thinking and consider myself a Buddhist. I am also very superstitious.
The point is: you shouldn’t assume I fall under a stereotype simply because I’m Asian. Get to know me as an individual, not as a confirmation of stereotypes you’ve heard along the way.
If you have made any of these comments to me or an Asian women in the past — you’re not a bad person, so long as you make a conscious effort to understand that what you say can be considered offensive to some people. After all, it’s all about context.
The worst thing you could say to someone who politely informs you that what you said to them is problematic is to respond with, “Well, I said that once to an Asian girl and they weren’t bothered by it” or “I have tons of Asian friends. They’re not offended by the things I say.” Of course, different people are going to find different things offensive. However, if you can find ways to make someone feel more comfortable, wouldn’t you? Why not ask someone, “What’s your ethnicity?” instead of “Where are you from? No, I mean where are you realllllly from?”
Next time you see an attractive Asian women and muster up the courage to introduce yourself, ask who you’re trying to get to know: her or her entire race?
Because as catchy as David Bowie’s hit single China Girl was, I’m not your little China girl.