Why Are Asian Women Becoming More Attractive To American Men?

” Stephanie, an Asian woman living in New York, enjoys her active social life. She met Ed, who is Caucasian and works as a computer programmer, through an online dating site six months ago and they’ve been dating ever since. The two enjoy each other’s company and see each other twice a week on average. “I like the fact that he treats me like I’m special,” Stephanie said. “And he makes me laugh.” “I got tired of meeting guys who were only after one thing,” she added. She also thinks that there are cultural differences that work well for them. “Asian women are more caring and affectionate, which I like. They make better wives.”

– From Asian Women as Wives by Amy Tan

Many American men have expressed a strong preference for Asian women over other races. There is general agreement among these men that Asian women make outstanding wives and show great devotion to their husbands and children.

However, there is one aspect of the “Asian woman mystique” that continues to elude most Americans:

  1. what exactly do these guys see in Asian women?
  2. What makes them so irresistible that scores of online dating sites specifically target the pairing of Caucasian men with Asian women?

As an Asian woman who has lived her entire life in America, I certainly don’t fit the model minority archetype. So why do so many men seem to prefer Asian women like myself over other races?

  • It’s not difficult to see why white, black, and Hispanic men would be enticed by the ultra-feminine allure of Asian women. For centuries, Western culture has portrayed the quintessential Oriental woman as demure yet sensual, exotic yet accessible.
  • Think Madame Butterfly (alternately tragic and devoted),
  • The World of Suzie Wong (submissive yet sexually skilled), or
  • Dr. Cristina Yang (sexy but maternal).

But what makes these stereotypes so enduring in the American psyche? And is there any truth behind them? These are just some of the questions that I set out to answer in my exploration into how Asian cultures view femininity.

Historical point of view

To truly understand what makes Asian women so special, you have to go back in time and take a look at the history of Western imperialism, starting with America’s Opium Wars against China. In the mid-19th century, American ships began making their way from Turkey to trade opium for Chinese tea, silks, porcelain, and other luxury goods. This arrangement worked well for all parties involved until 1839 when England forced China to accept a large quantity of opium as payment for all future trading. When Chinese officials confiscated a huge stash of opium from British merchants that same year, England declared war on China. The U.S., being an ally of England’s at that time (and also to gain more access to the China market), also declared war on China.

It was during this period that photos of Chinese people became popular in the U.S., and some Americans—particularly men—became fascinated with the exotic “Orientals” they saw in these photographs. Thus began the era of Exoticism, which spanned from 1839 to 1940s Hollywood films, when white women would play the roles of Asian women (who were actually played by Asian actresses). During this time, Caucasians often fetishized Asians into being mystical creatures who possessed an alluring mixture of sexual appeal and docility. But what was it exactly about these images that made them seductive? Many scholars believe that Westerners only viewed Asians sexually desirable objects because they viewed Asians as submissive, compliant, childlike beings with no will of their own. All of which are traits that the Western patriarchy assumes that women inherently possess.

Despite this view, some scholars argue that Exoticism was actually a “tool of empowerment” for Asian American women—a countermovement to the dominant stereotype of the “Dragon Lady.” The Dragon Lady image often appeared in late 19th- and early 20th-century popular culture as sexually insatiable, evil seductresses who used cunning to destroy their husbands. Notions about submissiveness notwithstanding, many Chinese immigrant women during this time saw Exoticism as an opportunity to capitalize on America’s sexualized perception of them by gaining wealth and power through social status or sexual relations.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that this Exoticism took a dark turn when white American men began associating Asian women with prostitution —a stereotype we still see today in various media images and online dating profiles. And not to mention, during this time many Americans characterized Chinese and Japanese people as spies for Imperialist countries like China and Japan (because of World War II). This eventually led to President Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066, which resulted in over 100,000 Japanese Americans being sent away from their homes on the West Coast into internment camps until 1946—now considered by historians as one of the worst civil liberties violations in U.S. history. The brutal irony? More than half of these detainees were U.S. citizens.

By the 1960s, war was no longer an issue between Asians and Westerners, but it still took a while for Western society to begin accepting Asians as equals (even today there is still much ignorance). During this time many Asian American women were stuck in “bamboo cages” —a term used to describe the lives of subservience that many young Asian women were forced into by their immigrant parents. These young women often had to get jobs such as factory workers or secretaries whereas men didn’t have such limitations; they were encouraged to get professional jobs like doctors, lawyers, or engineers. Not only did this create a huge imbalance between the sexes, but it also gave American men another reason to Noize and objectify Asian American women—because they were “oppressed” and more likely to be financially dependent on men. And it wasn’t until the 1970s that many Asian American women began working towards redefining themselves from being perceived as sexual objects to being seen for their inner beauty and strength.

By the 1990s, these stereotypes still prevailed in a new form: the nerd/geek stereotype. Instead of depicting Asians as prostitutes or sex symbols, Western media now had Asian characters who were mostly “nerds,” while at the same time normalizing Asian Americans’ opposition against racist bullying. In addition, several books published during this period challenged Exoticism by portraying positive Asian-American protagonists, which led to more people beginning to accept Asians as part of mainstream pop culture. Today, Asians are still often underrepresented in media today.

Asian Women and the Media

Asian American women have historically faced obstacles that their male counterparts haven’t—and these limitations continue to persist now more than ever. This is mostly due to the fact that stereotypes about Asian women tend to be negative, especially when Western society views them as either traditional or Westernized, i.e., submissive or assertive. These images usually portray Asian women as either “spicy” (i.e., sexual objects) or “meek.” But what’s interesting is how this changes over time depending on the political climate of the United States; for example, during war periods like World War II Asians were seen suspicion by white Americans because they were labeled as “dangerous” or “spies.” And during peace times, Asians were more accepted by Western society because their men were seen as the ones to watch out for rather than Asian women.

Such a dichotomy can also be explained through media images and roles that have been primarily assigned to Asian American women over the years—most notably with Madame Butterfly (an opera from 1900) which portrayed Japanese people as exotic and hyper-sexualized. After all, how often do you hear of an American opera about a British woman who is depicted as overly masculine? More recently, Hollywood films including The Wolverine (2013), Cloud Atlas (2012), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), and even shows like Lost portray Asian women as either submissive or sexual objects. Each of these characters is portrayed as being different from the “norm,” which not only breeds exoticism but also creates a sense of curiosity for white men who feel turned on by them. And it doesn’t help that most Asian women in Western media always seem to be depicted wearing revealing clothing—or at least something that emphasizes their sexuality.

But if you’ve ever traveled to Asia, you know that this portrayal is completely misleading since many Asian women tend to dress more conservatively than people in the West. For example, how often do you see Japanese teens dressing up like what you would typically see on American television? Or South Korean girls walking around with their midriffs exposed? Not very often because they know that it isn’t considered “appropriate” for the general public.

Asian Women and Interracial Dating

As a result of these imbalanced stereotypes, Asian American women have been at the forefront of causing awareness around how they’re misrepresented in the media—and this is especially true when it comes to interracial dating. More than any other group, Asian Americans tend to be more discriminated against because many white men view them as being either too assertive or unassertive. Yet if you’ve ever talked to several Asian women yourself, you would know that they are just as empowered as anyone else—if not more so due to their cultural upbringing. And this is precisely why we see Hollywood films like The Wolverine getting bashed by media critics for perpetuating negative Asian stereotypes—and at the same time, we also see films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) being praised for humanizing Asian women as people who are just as strong as anyone else.

There’s a reason why white men love to portray Asian women as being mysterious and submissive: it’s because those traits remind them of what they think is “normal” based on their own socialization. In fact, the only times that Hollywood will show an assertive, confident, or powerful Asian female lead is when she looks completely Caucasian—i.e., Ziyi Zhang in House of Flying Daggers  (2004). The rest of the time? She’ll have a face that doesn’t really look too Asian because that would remind viewers of what “all Asians” are like. And believe me, white men don’t want to be reminded about how they’re used to seeing one type of image represented in the media—and it’s not something that will make them feel too comfortable.

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