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 speak 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. I’m not even Mandarin; I’m Cantonese, which is an entirely different dialect. I was also 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. 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. I have better things to do with my time, you know? Contrary to what you might think, not all Asian people look the same.
Before you send me angry messages that I’m being too sensitive, let me explain to you a little something called micro-aggression using a quote by Canwen Xu. In her Ted Talk, I Am Not Your Asian Stereotype, Xu explains that micro-aggression sounds a lot like cluelessness, and cluelessness 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 ignorant doesn’t mean you aren’t a kind person 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.
In all honesty, 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. Which is why I wrote this comprehensive breakdown on why Asian fetishism (and that pick-up line of yours) ain’t cute.
I present to you 10 cringe-worthy things not to say and do when you approach an Asian girl:
1. Awkwardly bring up your Asian ex-girlfriend out of context.
Unless it comes up in a very casual manner (keywords: very and casual), 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.
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!”
Newsflash: 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 vaguely looks like me with ancestors that also came from the largest continent in the world.
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 interest in filling.
2. Try to impress me with your knowledge on Asian culture by appropriating Asian culture.
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 stuff like, “How do you not like anime? I thought all Asian people love anime!” or “I actually have a Chinese tribal tattoo and started taking karate lessons,” what you’re really telling 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 admirable that you’re learning about different cultures than your own, but you might be appropriating Asian culture more than you think (and that’s a fine line you don’t want to cross).
Sometimes, it feels as though I have to justify and explain to people why I’m not Asian enough for them. 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. Ask me inappropriate questions about the size of my private parts.
Don’t put me in an uncomfortable position to satisfy your curiosity. Seriously, don’t do it; it makes you appear creepy and invasive.
Also, don’t ask me questions as though I can speak on behalf of all Asian women. No, I can’t confirm if all Asian women have tight vaginas.
Here’s basic manners 101: never comment or inquire on an individual’s body unless they grant you permission to do. Capeesh?
4. Assume 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 Asian.
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 screenshot of YouTuber Anna Akana sums it up perfectly. “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. Compliment 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 racist and sexist. Telling me you find me attractive because you find women of other races unattractive is not a compliment. It’s a 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 says the sexuality of Asian women are often “framed in rivalry with a white women in terms of competing for idealized heterosexual femininity.” As an intersectional 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. Minimize 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 oh-so eloquently explained “Everyone loves Asian women.”
Societal oppression is not a subjective opinion based on whether or not you have a crush on on me. Brushing off my lived-experiences by saying, “Well, you’re a pretty Asian girl, you’ll get by just fine,” is dismissive and cheap.
I have faced many obstacles in society because of my race and gender that I don’t expect you to fully understand. At the very least, you could try (or pretend).
8. Compliment me under the contingency of me being Asian.
Comments like, “You’re the prettiest Asian girl I’ve met,” and “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. I can be pretty without being pretty for an Asian, and I can have a certain figure without it being considered deviant from my race.
My point is I can possess a variety of traits that don’t conflict with my ethnicity. When you frame a compliment under the umbrella of me being Asian, you diminish the value and sincerity of your words.
9. Treat 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, “No, 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 guy 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.
I do not exist for your pleasure. I have no intentions of sleeping with so you can home and brag to your friends that you slept with an Asian girl.
Sadly, I’ve had multiple men come up to me and say, “I’ve never been with an Asian girl before ;)” or “I’ve always had a thing for Asian girls,” 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, but explaining your Asian fetish to me is inappropriate at best and disturbing at worst.
As Juliana Chang noted in Meridians: Feminism, Race, and Transnationalism, this roots back to histories of conquest, in which “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.” When you jump to the conclusion that I exist only to provide you sexual relief, I can’t help but think you have old and simplistic views of Asian women. Thanks, but not thanks. I’m not interested in helping you fulfill your problematic checklist.
10. Base what you know about me off stereotypes you’ve heard.
When you have minimal experiences interacting with a specific demographic, it’s easy to believe stereotypes and problematic representations perpetuated in media. I understand that for some people, race is something one learns through exposure. Don’t fall into the trap of believing what you see on TV and labeling it as the absolute truth. Stereotypes are generalizations. Sure, I admit some Asian stereotypes apply to me (like having poor vision and being an awful driver), but I also defy many stereotypes.
My point is you shouldn’t assume I fall under a category simply because I’m Asian. Get to know me as an individual and 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, but you do have to make a conscious effort to understand that what you said can be considered offensive to some people.
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, but if you can find ways to make someone feel more comfortable, wouldn’t you want to? 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 yourself who you’re trying to get to know: her or her entire race?
As catchy as David Bowie’s hit single China Girl was, I’m not your little China girl.