I’m not allowed to walk alone at night, even if it’s just down the street to a friend’s or for a late-night jog, but if my brother is with me, then it’s fine. My brother is four years younger and about four inches shorter than I am. Family reunions are always mixture of interrogation and advice that I should definitely follow because I am too young to know anything now. First come the questions on the boys in my grade and then flood the remarks from a great aunt who I see once every two years that I should study hard in school but ultimately marry a rich husband and live a comfortable lifestyle as a housewife. After all, it is hard out there for women so we should leave it up to the men.
Coming from a Korean family, I am surrounded by a culture that reinforces the idea that men are not only superiors but also the protectors. This type of gender hierarchy exists in many other cultures and countries including the United States. The current U.S. President believes it’s ok to grab a woman’s genitals without consent. He believes objectification and disrespect towards women is ok because it’s “locker room talk.” He refuses to acknowledge the white supremacy and neo-Nazism that fueled the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia and claims “blame on both sides.” He torments and taunts women, calling Miss Universe Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” to criticize her weight and Venezuelan ethnicity.
The actions of the President are only an exemplification of how embedded racist rape culture is into our society. On the big screens, Asian women are rarely portrayed and when they are, they’re given the role of a submissive exotic seductress. Trump’s locker room talk and the fetishization of Asian women are both examples of rape culture -- cultural practices and behaviors that normalize, trivialize, and/or excuse sexual violence. Rape culture and racism is entrenched in our society and we are all affected as individuals as well as a community as a whole.
Particularly for East Asian women, their experience with rape culture is formed at an intersection between race and gender. Asian women are often stereotyped and limited to the roles of the “China Doll” or “Geisha Girl,” which stem from a long history of sex and prostitution that arose to cater to American military overseas. Both terms serve to objectify East Asian women as submissive sexual objects who are eager to please. The exotic Asian woman with the petite body and straight jet-black hair is a conquest to be dominated.
Many of these stereotypes have historical implications that are only perpetuated by mainstream media. For example, the musical Miss Saigon romanticizes and dismisses prostitution and human trafficking, which is overshadowed by the white American soldier who comes in on a white horse to save the day. On the popular TV show The Bachelor, the Bachelor Ben Higgins describes an Asian American contestant on the show as a “tigress” and “sex panther” while applauding her “innocence”.
The Bachelor star Ben Higgins says of Contestant Caila Quinn: "She's like a sex panther."
Even a self-proclaimed feminist like Amy Schumer says she “can’t compete with an Asian chick,” hinting towards their innocent submissiveness because of their “naturally silky hair,” how they “laugh with their mouths covered because men hate it when women speak,” and, of course, their possession of “the smallest vaginas in the game.”
Many have rushed to Amy Schumer’s side, pulling the “it’s just a joke” defense. Sure, it was just a joke. It just happened to share demeaning stereotypes and spread rape culture, while all the more protecting the very hate, violence, and ideology it stemmed from. But it was “just a joke,” right? If it comes from a white, supposedly liberal woman, then it’s funny. While 41-61% of Asian women report physical and/or sexual violence by their partner in their lifetime, Amy Schumer has “jokes.” We aren’t laughing.
Both Amy Schumer’s joke and the way the Bachelor meant “sex panther” are compliments with positive implications, right? So what’s the harm? After all, Asians are the model minority— we carry some secret ability to achieve academic and economic prosperity. The harm is that these “compliments” reduce and fetishize Asian women into a false fantasy of sexual stereotypes, stereotypes that reinforce the idea that Asian women exist solely for sexual gratification as hyper-sexed and unconditionally submissive creatures. The submissive docile images of women imply women without voices to say no. They take away the agency of control and consent that every woman has a right to. Instead, they assume consent since Asian women are supposed to be “eager to please” the men.
Hyper-sexuality makes rape impossible. How can you rape someone whose very existence is for your pleasure? This idea leads to the degradation and dehumanization of Asian women because they are no longer individuals, but instead sexual objects to be violated. Perceiving women as deferential projects a false image of how Asian women should behave and act, which often includes always wanting or being available for sex. The exotic woman trope justifies others taming and domesticating the foreigner. Rape deniers will say that they were “doing her a favor” or “she was asking for it.” This mentality is preserved by stereotypes that take away the question of consent from the very beginning.
YouTuber JessGetsDressed's satirical Model Minority Myth Makeup tutorial.
As a model minority, we are expected to be “obedient,” “quiet,” and “passive” because there is an advantage in keeping our heads down. Not only does this take away the individuality within an entire group of people, but this also silences an entire group of people. When a group is seen as the “perfect” racial group, the violence or oppression they’ve endured is erased or simply ignored to preserve the glass figurine standard that they are held to.
Teaching a group that their oppression is non-existent creates a complacency to everyday marginalization. The model minority myth is an illusion of perfection that erases the oppression while validating white supremacy. Asian Americans are the success stories of immigration and are used as an excuse to deny racial justice because other minorities should be able to succeed if Asians can. The reality is this success story is really just a story and telling it over and over again is how white supremacy is justified in its inaction against inequality.
Being seen as the “perfect” racial group connects back to rape culture because Asian women feel discouraged to speak out against violence. After all, how can we speak of a rape when we are the ideal woman with the petite figure and the never ending sexual willingness? As stated before, 41-61% of Asian women report physical and/or sexual violence by partners in their lifetime, which is much higher in comparison to other race/ethnicities. However, Asian women are less likely to come forward and report rape with only 8% compared to the estimated 26% of rape victims coming forward. The culture and stigma surrounding rape has allowed women to feel like the perpetrators of crime when they themselves are the victims. It has taken away power over their own bodies and has given it to those who don’t believe in “no.”
Rape culture is real. Gendered, racist, sexualized violence is real. Hypersexualization is seen as an admirable characteristic to be taken advantage of. Although many of these images, actions, and comments seem like harmless jokes or entertainment, they have negative impacts on women’s physical, mental, and emotional health. The fetishizing of women’s bodies degrades women by denying women’s agency over our own bodies, and has violent implication as it perpetuates rape culture.
Hannah Ji is a junior at Oakwood School. Over the summer, she trained to become a Peer Educator of The Talk Project. Outside of her commitment towards social justice issues, she is also passionate about music and debate.