Dating is Hard: A Different Kind of Illness

“I matched with this guy, but…” 

“But what?” 

“He said he thinks Asian girls are cute.” 

Dating can be hard, but personally, dating apps scare me because I am afraid of the way men will perceive me (as a cis-heterosexual female). But there are countless different versions of this conversation among my East Asian girlfriends who participate on dating apps. This isn’t to say there’s something wrong with thinking Asian girls can be cute, but any variation of this statement often alerts most East Asian women of a possible case of ‘yellow fever.’ 

What is “yellow fever”

For those of you who may not be familiar with this term, this “illness” I speak of does not describe a tropical sickness caused by a bite of a mosquito – rather, it is a slang term for those who are attracted to East Asian people for the simple reason that they are of East Asian descent. (which I will henceforth be using E Asian to describe East Asian) This often is a result of an overgeneralization of E Asian women that stems from the many stereotypes about E Asians going back to the late 1800s. European empires decided that the only way to justify their attempts to colonize China was to deem the general population of E Asians as “sexual deviants” who actually needed to be conquered. The meaning of “yellow” would lend its definition to other East Asians, including Japanese and Korean people. Thereafter, the Page Act of 1875 banned Asian women from entering the United States with claims that all they brought was sexual immorality and prostitution. 

“Dragon Lady”: Anna May Wong https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fc8.alamy.com%2Fcomp%2FE7PJJT%2Flimehouse-blues-1934-paramount-film-with-anna-may-wong-E7PJJT.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.alamy.com%2Fstock-photo%2Fanna-may-wong-paramount.html&tbnid=QX2sUOLDN8M5LM&vet=12ahUKEwis2-7alKj2AhV1wikDHX-SBKsQMygvegUIARD3AQ..i&docid=YTRtiro7LbiaPM&w=1300&h=1139&itg=1&q=dragon%20lady%20stereotype&client=safari&ved=2ahUKEwis2-7alKj2AhV1wikDHX-SBKsQMygvegUIARD3AQ

This sentiment was molded to shaped the “Dragon Lady” trope, which was particularly found in Hollywood films and portrayed E Asian women as particularly strong, sexual, deceitful, domineering. Much like an unfeeling siren-like character, this dehumanized E Asian women in particular, which only aided in the harmful sentiments against, specifically, Japanese Americans who had lived in America their entire lives. This only furthered the stereotype of the “dangers” of E Asian women and their alluring presence to white men, in particular, which caused hostility among many white women who felt that E Asian were “stealing” their husbands away from them.

This idea only developed further during WWII, when “war brides” came into prominence. As the soldiers came home, many brought with them a partner/wife they met overseas. This served to lay a groundwork for the ruling for Loving v. Virginia, so one might argue there is nothing harmful about interracial relationships that brought about such important social and legislative change. However, such laws were only made so that American politicians could also make a union without any legal and social scrutiny. These “war brides” were often not perceived as equal partners to their husbands, but “sexual partners” and those who could be easily assimilate into American culture for the needs of their American husbands. E Asian women were used to perpetuate an idea that they were indeed capable of love and upholding Western gender norms, and not subhuman and squinty-eyed creatures incapable of feeling. They were perfect for their American husbands – docile. 

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalww2museum.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2F2020-12%2Fjapanese%2520war%2520bride%2520-%2520Collin%2520Makamson.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalww2museum.org%2Fwar%2Farticles%2Fwar-brides-act-1945&tbnid=vyJ0rzLbdJyMyM&vet=12ahUKEwjwqr3Tkqj2AhVHl-AKHQLAAYEQMygLegUIARDsAQ..i&docid=tQ1m8AZkUSSFvM&w=960&h=720&q=war%20brides%20&client=safari&ved=2ahUKEwjwqr3Tkqj2AhVHl-AKHQLAAYEQMygLegUIARDsAQ
https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalww2museum.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2F2020-12%2Fjapanese%2520war%2520bride%2520-%2520Collin%2520Makamson.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalww2museum.org%2Fwar%2Farticles%2Fwar-brides-act-1945&tbnid=vyJ0rzLbdJyMyM&vet=12ahUKEwjwqr3Tkqj2AhVHl-AKHQLAAYEQMygLegUIARDsAQ..i&docid=tQ1m8AZkUSSFvM&w=960&h=720&q=war%20brides%20&client=safari&ved=2ahUKEwjwqr3Tkqj2AhVHl-AKHQLAAYEQMygLegUIARDsAQ

This docility is also reflected in the media at the time and the decades following, as the “Lotus Blossom”’ trope that would portray E Asian women as a submissive, innocent woman who is domesticated and always under the protection of the white male. This can be found in films like Sayonara, The World of Suzie Wong, Year of the Dragon, and Full Metal Jacket – the last one, which is most prominently known  for its line by a Vietnamese prostitute character who aays, “Me so horny, me love you long time.” While the line itself does speak truth to the reality of sex work in Vietnam at the time, it certainly also lends itself to the domineering role of the United States over Asian countries, and transitively, white men over E Asian women.

“Full Metal Jacket” https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Finkstickmedia.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2018%2F02%2FFull-Metal-Jacket-Joker-and-Rafterman-approached-by-a-Vietnamese-hooker.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Finkstickmedia.com%2Fready-boots-great-song-classic-war-film%2Ffull-metal-jacket-joker-and-rafterman-approached-by-a-vietnamese-hooker%2F&tbnid=pyuQJ9KVE7D3KM&vet=12ahUKEwiCkNO1k6j2AhUKMd8KHb5gBz4QMygAegUIARCdAQ..i&docid=B3SKRSLVOkaUoM&w=1920&h=1080&q=full%20metl%20jacket%20prostitute&client=safari&ved=2ahUKEwiCkNO1k6j2AhUKMd8KHb5gBz4QMygAegUIARCdAQ

This directly juxtaposes to the “Dragon Lady” trope, and proves just how E Asian women have been used and tossed around for the sake of social and political prerogative. We are seen as passive and simply “allowing” ourselves to be conquered by men, and sometimes, people think this is because we actually want this. This is not to deny the existence of the E Asian online streamers who make a profit off of the cute concept that infantilizes E Asian women that goes all the way back to the “Lotus Blossom” image in need of conquest and domestication. However, all these ideas only continue to dehumanize E Asian women to this day. 

“Lotus Blossom”: The World of Suzie Wong

And today, we see growing accounts of violence against Asians in the wake of COVID-19, as we are all collectively blamed for this pandemic – the “China Virus.” The issue at hand is no longer just about how we are not all from the same country – for we are shot down all because of our skin color and appearance, and everything else we supposedly represent, and are seen as passive to the violence we are victim to because of stereotypes. This all might seem harmless to others, especially in the context of dating apps – but for us, it can be the difference between being perceived as a human being and not; and in some cases, life or death. 

For more info:

“Lotus Blossom” in Hollywood

East Asian War Brides

(Disclaimer: My intention is not to exclude South and Southeast Asians in this narrative, but I do not want to speak for their populations, as I do not identify with them and would be doing a disservice to only refer to “Asians.”)

10 thoughts on “Dating is Hard: A Different Kind of Illness

  1. I feel like nowadays, entertainment domestic to East Asian countries plays a much bigger role in this fetishization. Idol culture tends to cater to infantilization and idealized docility by mandating an appearance of innocence for female stars. This problem is only exacerbated by stan culture which spreads these idealized “innocent” women across the internet. I feel like in discussing this issue, it’s also very important to acknowledge just how much an undercurrent of pedophilia runs underneath. Asian women are often portrayed as childish in their own media so I think some men see that (combined with the fact that E Asian women typically are smaller on average than white American women) and decide that that’s what they want/expect out of their E Asian partner. I definitely feel like both domestic and international media plays into this freaky stereotype and this issue isn’t going to stop until media companies stop making money off of content that caters to the stereotype.

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    1. You’re certainly right! I can go on for hours about the different ways that East Asian women have been treated. The infantilization and pedophilic undertones you mention also can be applied in perhaps, that kawaii culture that transports itself from Japan continues to be sexualized and sexualize women, even in the US. There is certainly evidence of this in the porn industry too, which is another huge aspect as to how they make money off of these harmful stereotypes.

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    2. As a Korean, I agree with the stereotypes that exist around Asian population. I’ve heard few of my friends who experienced white people that have yellow fever. Also I hundred percent agree with the fact that idol culture has formed a new fetishization. I know that a lot of women and men are expected to have a certain look or even style. Also, a lot of K-drama expects women to be vulnerable and for guys to be more macho. Many themes are based on women being poor and guys being rich that women rely on guys. I agree with Drew, I think the producers and the viewers should be more aware of these stereotypes that is portrayed in media.

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  2. Something that’s interesting to me is that the stereotyping that exists around dating E Asians is not only racialized, but it is also gendered. This piece, as well as (to my knowledge) pop culture from every time period mentioned in the piece portray strong stereotypes about E Asian women, but say nothing about men. I’d imagine that this traces back to the overlapping issue of the objectification of women in general, but I still find it interesting that while such intense stereotypes are projected onto E Asian women in the dating scene, E Asian men don’t seem to have to deal with the same racial stereotypes in their dating lives. This makes me wonder if E Asian men (particularly E Asian American men) maybe play into the stereotypes projected onto E Asian women. On the one hand, I’d imagine that they feel some type of relatability due to their shared racial identity. On the other, this blog piece explains how so much of (straight, male) society views E Asian women through a stereotypical lens, so I would imagine that such a (grossly) normalized viewpoint would likely end up manifesting itself with E Asian men as well, especially living and/or growing up in America.

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    1. I would agree that E Asian men have not historically dealt with the same stereotypes. There are those who do play into the harmful stereotypes about E Asian women, as misogyny is pretty rampant in many E Asian cultures, but E Asian American also deal with their own set of harmful stereotypes. I could write an entire paper on their issues, as they deal with emasculation and dehumanization that has arguably hurt them in the dating scene. (A good example of this is Long Due Dong’s character in the movie Sixteen Candles from 1984, or Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s) However, there have been rising discussion as to how the rise of certain cultural trends (anything Korean related such as pop music or dramas, anime, and Shang-Chi/Simu Liu) that have highlighted the increasing desirability of E Asian men in media. In other news, the representation is great, but the way many have begun to objectify E Asian men for their aesthetic (if you ever come across a YouTube video with titles like, “Me and my KOREAN boyfriend…”), as if they are an accessory. Unfortunately, this has led some E Asian American men to think this kind of objectification is well-deserved. However, I would argue they are continually perceived as less than human — just in a different variation — similar to how E Asian women have been portrayed.

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  3. Hi Anna, I thought your blog was very thought-provoking. It was interesting to learn more about the historical context that explains this stereotype placed on East Asian women. When looking at Asian stereotypes from a broader lens, it is usually in relation to how all Asians are smart or rich, however, it is important to note how these seem to often be attributed to men more than women. It is interesting to see how racial stereotypes in themselves have discrimination against women. For as long as history goes women have been marginalized in every aspect of society, often reduced to roles that were perceived beneath men. I think the problem with fetishization that East Asian women face is highly intersectional. Not only are they people of color, but they are women. This added layer really shows how western society is built to benefit the white, heterosexual man. I also wonder how the fetishization of East Asian women differs based on where these women live. The United States has a very diverse demographic, there are some places like the Bay Area with lots of Asian communities, and I wonder if the presence of more Asian communities serves to dismantle the stereotype or further instigate it. That, compared to people who live in a more homogeneously white area, who may not even know any Asian people but still hold such stereotypes.

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  4. Anna, thank you so much for sharing this! I feel like I’ve always known about this stereotype that people place, but learning about the history of this is all very interesting and disheartening. I think this really also says a lot about the intersectionality of East Asian women. Not only are they othered due to their race, but their gender as well. It’s very intriguing to hear more about the stereotypes that are perpetuated in media. The media seems to always have this power to push all these negative stereotypes, especially among marginalized communities, I wonder how this could be bettered or reversed if media would stop pushing these negative stereotypes?

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  5. I think the concept of war brides is particularly objectifying and plays into the “lotus flower” view of these women. However, I think that this can also unhealthily stereotype interracial couples as ones that follow such view points. Due to this stereotype, a happily married post-war couple that happens to be an interracial relationship between a white American soldier and East Asian woman would be negatively prejudiced by society as that of a racist man who only cares about his wife’s submissiveness. Just as the “Dragon Lady” trope caused Asian Americans to suffer from unhealthy stereotypes projected onto them by people who know little about them and their actual lives, I think that the war bride stereotype can also morph into a racist prejudice against interracial couples.

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  6. I remember watching the film Full Metal Jacket at a young age and seeing the scene you mentioned. It stuck with me for a long time as a stereotype of Vietnamese women; I could not understand why it was included in the film. The film seemed to play upon this harmful stereotype as a moment for humor or even ridicule towards Vietnamese women, even those affected by war. You are entirely right that these stereotypes are dehumanizing and that they paint E Asian women as innocent or submissive people who want to be controlled/protected by straight white men.

    I wonder, too, how much stereotypes in the media like these have carried over into dating apps as you have mentioned. Dating apps can already be a difficult space to navigate for a plethora of reasons, but adding racial stereotypes to that list is a whole different problem. I suppose the best way to combat these stereotypes is the inclusion and representation of E Asian women in films, books, and art that do not portray these stereotypes and instead humanize all individuals.

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this. This is a stereotype that is easily observable especially in pop culture, especially the “Lotus Blossom” and it was interesting to hear your perspective. It is incredible, while also very unfortunate, how many stereotypes coexist around Asian populations, Contrast the stereotypes mentioned here, for example, with the stereotype of the overly brainy, extremely successful Asian student, often propelled by a so-called “Tiger mom.” While these stereotypes may often originate from particular Asian communities, as you describe the “Dragon Lady” trope stereotype pertains to East Asians, it seems these stereotypes often become generalized across many Asian populations. This is an interesting phenomenon given that if you tried to lump different groups of white people together- Russians, Irish, and German, for example- it would be considered ridiculous and offensive to these people.

    I am curious how you see these stereotypes playing out at Vanderbilt.

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