Media Bears Responsibility for Reinforcing Asian American Stereotypes (Guest Column)

We mourn eight people, including six Asian-American women who were shot dead in Atlanta on March 16. A tragedy has sparked discussions about the racist and sexist stereotypes of Asian American women.
Stereotypes of Asian American women don't exist in a vacuum. Media portraits of Asian American women and men play a role in the perspective of Asian American women. Part of our healing process must be to anticipate what contributed to the conditions that led to these brutal murders.
The coverage of the deaths in Atlanta has repeated characterizations of Asian American women that are painful and frequent. For example, Shaila Dewan argued in the New York Times: “Asian-American women have long been classified as sexually submissive and depicted in popular culture as exotic“ lotus flowers ”. Nadia Kim recently wrote in a public seminar: "The fact that six of his victims were East Asian Americans fits a sad pattern of sexually objectifying women of Asian origin and stereotyping them as meek."
When Asians are viewed as calm and submissive, Asian American women are treated as ultra-feminine, while Asian American men are stripped of their masculinity. Asian-American men are viewed as passive, geeky, and unattractive, which in turn makes Asian-American women appear more available as objects of desire. This representation is more difficult to determine, but just as dangerous.
Jeff Adachi's documentary "The Slanted Screen" (2009) offers an overview of the history of Asian American men in Hollywood films. He argues that Asian American men are usually absent, but when they do show up, they are almost never portrayed as sexually desirable. Romantic relationships that Asian Americans are involved in are usually between a white man and an Asian American (and mostly a willing Asian prostitute, as the well-known quote "I'm so horny. I love you for a long time" exemplifies Time "from Stanley Kubrick's" Full Metal Jacket "(1987).
Peter's experience as a professional actor for over 30 years was an exercise in this typography.
“I've been involved in 60 film and television projects. In almost all cases, my character was unable to express sexual or romantic desires, ”he says. “In fact, my character had a love interest in only two of my roles - but both were doomed.
"In" Supernatural "my character briefly kisses his beautiful wife, but the moment was captured from a distance and out of focus. Later in the episode, my character mutilated and sexually assaulted his wife after being taken over by a shapeshifter was quickly arrested by the show's two white male heroes. The second time was in the science fiction series "Falling Skies," in which I portrayed the lead role of Dai. An alien memory implant leaves Tom, the lead white character, imagine that my character was actually married to his wife, Anne. My character was in a romantic relationship just because of a fake memory implant, ”he says.
Film scholar Peter Feng also described racially charged depictions of Asian American men as desexualized and feminine. In my book, "The Society We Lead: Interracial Friendships and Romantic Relationships From Adolescence to Adulthood," co-authored by Kara Joyner and Kelly Stamper Balistreri, I found that Asian American men are less likely to have romantic partners. OK Cupid's analysis of her own data showed that women find Asian American men less attractive than other men. Researchers Jennifer Lundquist and Ken-Hou Lin also found that white straight women and gay men are the least likely to respond to messages from Asian American men on an Internet dating site.
These patterns can be found in individual reports by Asian American men. Celebrity chef Eddie Huang wrote in the New York Times, "But the only joke that still hurts, the sore point even my closest friends will squeeze, the only stereotype ... is that women don't want Asian men." These experiences manifest themselves in the acting roles Peter was cast - his characters never had an ordinary romantic relationship.
Recent films like "Crazy Rich Asians" (2018) and "Always Be My Maybe" (2019), which feature Asian American male romantic lead roles, give us hope. Asian and Asian-American films like "Parasite" (2019), "The Farewell" (2019) and "Minari" (2020) have well-rounded Asian-American characters that can express the full spectrum of human emotions. The popularity of BTS and K-pop can also increase the stature of Asian and Asian American men. BTS was the top selling music artist in the world in 2020 and is currently the most visible Asian celebrity. They have spoken publicly about racism outside of South Korea and issued a haunting statement expressing concern about anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents in the United States.
The images of whites and minorities of all genders exist in the same room. One group is considered more masculine because another is considered more feminine. The devastating attack in Atlanta and the worrying increase in violence against Asian Americans over the past year must be understood as the result of historical and contemporary social forces that are shared by race and gender. These longstanding stereotypical images have been reinforced by Hollywood and other mass media. The racist stereotypes of Asian American men support the racist and misogynistic images of Asian American women. If we deal with what happened in Atlanta, we would not ignore the impact of these shared tropes.
Grace Kao is IBM Professor of Sociology and Professor of Ethnicity, Race and Migration at Yale University.
Peter Shinkoda has been a film and television actor for more than three decades. His most recent credits include TNT's Falling Skies, Netflix's Daredevil and Amazon's Man in the High Castle.
(Image: Grace Kao, Peter Shinkoda)
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