(Ok, before you start reading, I have to warn you that this is a long post. It mostly consists of long Facebook comments, but I also have quite a bit to say about those comments. This post isn’t about Victoria’s Secret lingerie line “Go East” or the racist “Sexy Little Geisha” get up on their site; it’s about the response to the Racialicious post I saw on Facebook.)
About a week ago, Angry Asian Man and Racialicious and a whole host of other blogs wrote about Victoria’s Secret’ new line called “Go East.” I did my usual cynical, “That’s fucked up.” It raised my eyebrows because it was creepy and reminded me that “Asian” and “Asian women” are still synonomous with “exotic” (among other things, such as “foreign,” “obedient,” and “passive”). Then I left it at that.
I didn’t really give it much more thought until yesterday when one of my friends posted the Racialicious post on his Facebook, and I was reading through a couple of the comments. I really had no choice to react to one comment because I felt as if there was a huge misunderstanding, and I wanted to make something clear to this person.
(A is for one person, B is for a second person. No edits have been made to the Facebook comments, except for names. I’m also allowed to use these comments without permission because the only people who can identify the commenters are those who can see the original post on my friend’s wall. I’m not here to make you look bad. I’m here to expose a way of thought that I disagree with and to explain what makes sense to me.)
A: Meh, perhaps the copy is a bit insensitive, but I find it ironic to think of oriental cultures as being modest sexually. To take offense to the “hypersexualization of the culture,” is a bit insincere. This is a region that is (admittedly lumping an array of oriental cultures into one here) known for concubines, the rape of nanking, human trafficking/prostitution, animated porn, the highest populated countries (the stork didn’t bring ‘em), the karma sutra, child sex huts (either thailand or cambodia, but I just saw a think about it on NatGeo), etc. Is it that much of a stretch to add cherry blossoms to a teddy? Has anyone ever taken offense to a victorian styled bodice or a leopard print bra? Not everything culturally rooted has to be an international incident. For all we know, the entire line could have been designed by an asian person, would that change things? Don’t drink the kool aid.
My response: Maybe I missed the memo on the sarcasm, whoever you are A (I don’t know who you are), but that type of ignorance is a great reason why this type of issue even appeared Racialicious. (I’m only going to address a few things bc there’s too much to address, and I don’t want to clog up [name]’s wall more than I am going to.)
Are you implying that Asian cultures have brought on these stereotypes ourselves? In whose point of view has this generalized, hypersexualized view of Asian culture(s) been created in? I hardly think Asian people have done it to ourselves.
I’d like to point out that the rape of Nanking was not solely a physical rape. It’s not called the “rape of Nanking” just because thousands of people were raped. The was a severe, debilitating psychological rape of the Chinese by the Japanese through physical rape, pillage, murder, pretty much anything to undermine the safety and morality of the Chinese was done to ensure total domination. What rape comes down to a lot of the time is power of the aggressor - the rape of Nanking is a supreme example.
And, maybe it was a typo, but it’s actually called “The Kama Sutra.”
Finally, to answer your question – it’s certainly not ok to perpetuate the stereotype of the hypersexualized Asian woman. By putting cherry blossoms on the teddy and dressing up the model in “yellow face” suggests the idea that Asian women are ready and willing sex objects, an idea that has been around for a really long time. Some people don’t know know they’re doing it, and that’s both dangerous and unfair. Some people know they’re doing it, and that…well, that’s just creepy. Even if the line was designed by someone Asian, that doesn’t make it ok; it’s not just something that “looks pretty on a girl,” it becomes the fantasy of some people based on nothing more than ethnicity and assumed roles, which can be negative (and is negative in this case).
It’s not sarcasm, it was a typo, and I’m aware of the history of nanking, hence the reference. Now: I’m not saying that asian cultures bring it on themselves, I’m saying that I think this is an exaggeration of hypersexualizaton. I consider something such as Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song to be an example of such a thing, not props and patterns in an entirely sexual product catalog. Why cant oriental patterns look pretty on a girl the same as everything else? Like I said, the copywriting is, eh, in poor taste, but the product isn’t a big deal. #firstworldproblems. Come on, there are bigger problems in the world tham vickis secret fall collection
I didn’t respond to A’s second comment because by the time I saw it, there was a whole other discussion going on, which I was watching. Anyway, I’m going to respond to A’s response now.
To A: I don’t understand why you made the Nanking reference then. Maybe I’ve misinterpreted your examples, but from your evidence, it seems to me that you’re suggesting that because there’s all of this sexual attention/aggression in Asia, there’s no reason to be angry that Asian culture is portrayed this way. I guess that’s what you meant by “insincere” – that it’s ironic that there are Asian people angry about how sexualized Asian culture is. Why is it ironic to you that Asian people are portrayed a hypersexualized? I asked you in whose view were these portrayals created because I wanted to point out that groups of people view themselves one way, and outsiders view them another way. I’m pretty sure Asian people generally aren’t walking the general public around saying things like, “I’m hypersexual! And I just want to have sex all the time!” That’s something outsiders have decided about Asians as a group, without asking what individual communities are like.
Props and patterns (and the “yellow face”) suggest things/ideas, right? And isn’t it the mere suggestion that triggers the sexual fantasy? (Or any fantasy at all, I guess.) That you have these props and patterns in the catalog made for sexual fantasy is the problem. It isn’t that “oriental patterns” don’t look pretty on every girl; it’s that these “oriental patterns” suggest the fantasy – and that’s a problem because a large part of history of Asian women is the idea that we’re inherently hypersexual (and obedient, etc.). The physical product might not be a big deal – it’s the ideas associated and suggested by the product that are the problems. The physical product is part of the problem. And that’s why I’m angry.
And on to the next comment, from B:
“By putting cherry blossoms on the teddy and dressing up the model in ‘yellow face’ suggests the idea that Asian women are ready and willing sex objects, an idea that has been around for a really long time. Some people don’t know know they’re doing it, and that’s both dangerous and unfair.”
“it becomes the fantasy of some people based on nothing more than ethnicity and assumed roles”
This is exactly what I’m talking about. You can’t make outrageous jumps in logic like these and expect never to have expound on them. Slippery, flawed logic from heavily biased group think circle jerk. Every racialicious zombie vomits the same drivel and not one of them is able to logically support their claims. Or are you the one who is able to make me gain respect for them? Nobody is suggesting that Asian women are ready and willing sex objects – only you. (and racialicious nutcases alike – is it not a red flag to you that the name of the blog itself is a contrived attempt to brand race issues as sexy, trendy, or cool? And how problematic that is? This was part of the problem with the kony propaganda!)
First of all, I don’t know where this guy (and it is a guy) gets off telling me that 1: I’m making “outrageous jumps in logic” and 2: “expect never to have expound on them.” I didn’t realize that I had to explain that this was something I’ve experienced in my life as an APIA woman. I wasn’t aware that my own statements about what has happened in my life had to be “logically” supported. Exactly what claim do I have to support? That Asian women/culture is portrayed at hypersexualized? Um, there’s history, for starters. There are the experiences of other Asian women who have been viewed as purely sexual objects. There are people who have a sexual preference for Asian people/exclusively have sex/want to have sex with Asian people because they think Asian people are submissive, hypersexualized, effeminate, or whatever.
Maybe it was because I didn’t explicitly state, “This has happened to me before.” Would he have taken a step back and thought about why I would say what I said? (Maybe not, after the other comments he left for my other friend.) And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s aware of the idea of Asian women as submissive sexual objects. If it’s just me, how come I’ve heard it from other Asian women? And not just a handful, but hundreds? (First-hand experiences, second-hand stories, film clips, essays, etc.) If it’s just me, then how come there’s such a thing as having “yellow fever/plague”?
Does it make me a zombie because I’m just expressing something that makes sense to me because I am living it? Come on, dude, I think I know what I’m talking about when I’m talking about my life.
Maybe this is me reverting to juvenile feelings, but it does hurt when my ideas are immediately written off. It hurts when someone who doesn’t even try to ask me what I mean, but instead just goes on a rant about how I’m wrong (about my own life nonetheless). It does hurt me that there are people who refuse to acknowledge that there’s a common portrayal and view of Asian (and APIA) women/culture. It makes me feel threatened. It makes me feel unsafe.
PS: To end this somewhat ironically, B also raged about how tumblr activism is bullshit. Well, here’s to you, kiddo, because I’m not on tumblr to be an activist, and if you looked through my blog, you would see that.