The Problem with the Fetishization of Asian Women
By Mana Ravenel
The following contains mentions of rape.
Image retrieved from Hannah Kang’s Art and Illustration Portfolio
On March 16, 2021, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long took the lives of eight people in a series of mass shootings that occurred at three spas. Of these eight victims, six were Asian- American women. Long told authorities that he had a “sex addiction” and viewed the spas as a “temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” Not only is this very telling of his fetishization and hypersexualization of Asian women, but it also demonstrates that he does not see Asian women as humans. Rather, he sees them only as objects of sexual temptations, a sentiment that has been incredibly common in the U.S. from as early as the 19th century.
American missionaries and military personnel stationed in Asia viewed the women they met as "exotic and submissive." It was this perception of Asian women that influenced the 1875 Page Act. This law mainly targeted Chinese women, prohibiting them from entering the U.S. It was widely believed that Chinese women lacked moral character and were prostitutes. Unless it could be proven that they would not come into the U.S. for “lewd and immoral purposes,” they were not to come in at all.
In the mid-20th century, U.S. wars and military bases in China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam increased interaction between American soldiers and Asian women. These soldiers often married Asian women and took them back to the U.S. as war brides. Others viewed Asian women as sexual objects, pushing the perpetuated stereotype of Asian women being docile, sexually submissive, and exotic. The interracial interactions between American military personnel and Asian women have become a popular trope in Hollywood. This trope can be seen in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Chester M. Franklin’s The Toll of the Sea (1923).
On a surface level, the stereotypes of Asian women can seem completely harmless and even complimentary at times. However, there is nothing innocent about a “preference” for Asians. It has been proven time and time again to be incredibly problematic and even dangerous for Asian women. It isn’t until crimes similar in nature to that of Robert Long’s mass shooting occur that the world is reminded of this. The fetishization of Asian women continues to leave them vulnerable to harassment, sex crimes, and murder.
In November of 2000, three Japanese teenagers accepted a ride from 43-year-old Lana Vickery. After picking up two men, David Dailey, 38, and Edmund "Eddie" Ball, 40, the girls were handcuffed and blindfolded. One of the girls was released, and the other two were brought to a Spokane Valley house where they were raped for over seven hours. Dailey and Ball, wanting to fulfill their sexual fantasies of Asian female bondage, filmed and photographed the assault. After the brutal rape, they attempted to silence the girls by threatening to send the videos to the girls’ fathers if they reported the crime.
Victims of sexual assault in Japan are often shamed and even blamed for their trauma. The executive vice president of Mukogawa — the school the girls attended — Hiroshi Takaoka said, "To be an innocent victim of a sexual assault in Japan is a matter of great personal shame." Because of this, Japan has one of the lowest rates of reported sex crimes in the world. Vickery told prosecutors that this was why Dailey and Ball specifically targeted Japanese girls. They believed the women would be too ashamed to report it. Police spokesman Dick Cottam said, "The suspects bet their lives on a stereotype, and they lost." The men thought that the girls would be too ashamed to report the rape, but this was the exact opposite of what happened. The victims not only reported the assault but also went through extraordinary lengths to help police catch the suspects.
In 2015, white Standford Student, Brock Turner raped a woman who for four years was dubbed "Emily Doe." It wasn't until 2019 that the woman, Chanel Miller, would reveal both her name as well as her Asian heritage. The treatment Turner received during the case and his light sentence was a symbol of elite, white male privilege. He was attending one of the most prestigious schools in the nation and had many academic and athletic achievements. If Turner was not white, none of this would have mattered in the case, and it definitely shouldn't have. Brock Turner likely felt entitled to use and abuse Chanel Miller whilst she was unconscious for two reasons — (1) she is a woman and (2) she was of Asian heritage.
These three cases are not isolated instances. The U.S. has a long-running history of violence against Asian-American women, and this violence does not only occur in the U.S. In the military base in Okinawa, Japan, hundreds and thousands of sex crimes have been committed by the military personnel stationed there. In September 1949, a nine-month-old infant was raped by a U.S. serviceman. On September 4, 1955, U.S. Navy Seaman Marcus Gill and U.S. Marines Rodrico Harp and Kendrick Ledet kidnapped a 12-year-old Okinawan girl. The three beat her, bound her hands, and raped her. On April 28, 2016, a female company employee was raped and murdered by a former member of the U.S. military. These are only three of the countless reported sex crimes committed by the American military against Okinawan females.
Labeling Asian women as docile, compliant, submissive, and exotic perpetuate stereotypes that have caused harm and trauma to countless Asian women. It shouldn’t have to take something of shock value for people to understand that “Asian fetish” and the stereotype of Asian women being hypersexual influences how people of other races — mainly white men — treat them. It shouldn’t have to take tragedies such as the spa shootings for people to realize that their “racial preference” has the potential to be incredibly harmful and dangerous. It shouldn’t have to take Asian women going through incredibly traumatic experiences because of the narratives pushed on to them for people to realize that this fetishization harasses, assaults, rapes, and murders.
Written by writer Mana Ravenel