“I matched with this guy, but…”
“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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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(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.”)