How Stereotypes and Bad Jokes Dampen Your Love Life

By Pia Guerrero, Co-Founder/Editor

The other morning after a grueling 45 minutes at boot camp, my fellow campers (all white women ranging in age from 23 to 60) and I grimaced as we stretched our stiff muscles on the grass. We talked about the following week and how we were allowed to bring as many guests to class free of charge for “guest week”.

Peggy, a sweet and lovable actress excitedly rambled, “Ooooh, perfect. I’m going to bring my friend Jeff. He’ll love it. We’re gonna have so much fun. He’s staying with me for a week. He’s just a friend, not anything else, he’s really nice, but just a friend…He’s Asian.”

Just as quickly as the words escaped her mouth, Peggy turned bright red. “Uh, er, um…not that he can’t be more than my friend just because he’s Asian, it’s just…I don’t know. I feel so stupid. I don’t know why I said that. That was just dumb…” And she continued on as the whole crowd chuckled as if to say, Don’t worry, honey. We get it.

What I found interesting about her unintended confession was that what she said rings true for so many progressive women. In general, there is agreement in our culture that Asian men are not romantic or even sexual options for white, Black, Latina and even some Asian women.

I’ve known Wendy since high-school. She’s Korean and very much bi-cultural. When I first met her in 10th grade I remember her speaking Korean to her parents and being in awe of her two refrigerators—one for what I called at the time “normal” food and the other for Korean food which was stocked with jars of home made Kim-Chee.

A few months ago Wendy and I were talking about men. The subject of interracial dating came up. Both of us have consistently dated outside our race. But while I have dated some white men, she has never dated a Korean man.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’d feel like I was dating my brother,” she matter-of-factly replied.

A few year’s ago, I was led to look deeply into my white privilege and challenge my own bias as I realized I didn’t find Asian men attractive. Admitting this was mortifying, but necessary, for it demolished a big blind spot I hadn’t seen. My idea of Asian men had been completely constructed around what I saw in the media—not by my personal experience.

Ever since, I notice how my views were completely informed by:

Three prominent stereotypes of Asian men

1) The Evil Master Criminal
Based on the Fu-Man Chu character, this evil conniver is always scheming to rip someone off, sell innocent women/girls into slavery, and profit from the sale of drugs and guns. He’ll do anything for money and power, even kill.

2) The Asexual Friend/Sidekick
Like his predecessor, Charlie Chan, Long Duc Dong is the modern version of the perfectly harmless asexual immigrant. He has a thick accent, often mispronounces l’s and r’s, and is short with round cheeks. His is laughably silly and stupid. Despite being a man, he acts like an immature boy whose super horny and sexist remarks serve to strip him of masculine sexuality.

3) The Wise Old Man
Spouting fortune cookie wisdom, he is an oracle with a deep, and often mysterious message. He too is asexual, with a thick accent probably because he’s been sitting, meditating and waiting for the past century to give the white hero sage advice.

It is the Asexual Friend stereotype that negatively impacts our view of Asian men the most. (When I say ‘our’ I’m referring to Western culture’s view in general, and my friend Wendy’s, the bootcampers’, and my former view specifically.)

I recently viewed DirectTVs new commercial starring the latest incarnation of asexual and immature Long Duc Dong and was horrified. The caricature of the Asian man is too over-the-top and absurd to be taken seriously, yet at the same time it is sooo wrong. Not being able to name what I felt, I’ve turned to Adios Barbie friend and colleague Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency who explains this phenomena as Retro Racism.

“Retro Racism (and Retro Sexism) uses irony and humor as a way to distance [media portrayals] from the false representations and stereotypes they perpetuate. We see it a lot in ads, when advertisers and marketers create a scene where they want the audience to know that they are aware of their racist (and/or sexist) content, but since it is masked in irony it’s supposed to just be a funny joke that we are all in on together.

In the case of the DirectTV commercial, [the producers] are invoking an age-old stereotype that emasculates and desexualizes Asian men. The commercial drives this point home by demonstrating that this man is so impotent that he can’t even perform for the willing women that are by his side and instead would rather watch TV. Invoking a phony and exaggerated Asian accent and “Asian” symbolism such as bamboo, a huge koi fish and a giant panda is supposed to be ironic humor. Just because we may recognize the joke, doesn’t change the fact that [the commercial] is still making fun of Asian culture and Asian men.”

Wink-wink, nudge-nudge my ass. The key to understanding the true meaning behind the message is to look at who created it. It’s kind of like telling a joke about being bitchy during PMS. As women we can tell the joke, but if a man does it, it’s not so funny. So given that this commercial is made by people who are mostly anything but Asian, we have a problem. To make the example even more clear, it’s like complaining about your mother. You can do it, but the minute a “your mamma” joke is thrown out at you, heads will roll. Some Asians find this commercial funny. To explain this my friend Daniel thoughtfully noted that you have to be in the tribe to tell jokes about the tribe. I agree.

Accurate and diverse portrayals of Asian men (including sexy Asian men) are completely absent from mainstream media leaving only fictional caricatures to paint our view. We know the damage hyper-sexual portrayals of women have on women and girls, so I can’t help to think how these asexual portrayals negatively impact the self-esteem and identity of Asian-American men.

Mainstream media has recently crowned Godfrey Gao as the first Asian American male super model. I wonder, if he were around when I was coming up would I have dated more Asian men? Should we celebrate the expansion of representations of Asian men in the media? Or will portraying Asian men in the same Eurocentric mold of masculinity and sexuality really make a difference in how they are seen? All I know is that since fessing up to my own bias, I see Asian men for the complex and varied individuals that they are. How about you?

Related posts:

When White Goes Wrong

Korean Star Speaks of Her Asian Bottom


4 thoughts on “How Stereotypes and Bad Jokes Dampen Your Love Life

  1. WOAH!! THAT VIDEO IS JUST…….UGH!!! What is wrong with people? That is a really weird accent for a start, I have a lot of Asian friends and while some of them have a slight accent it sounds nothing like this offensive and disrespectful ad!

    They really managed to cover all horrible bases didn’t they?! I mean there was the racially offensive and the models-that-look-like-are-about-to-fall-over-and-die-from-lack-of food-wearing-barely-anything part of it too!

    It makes me pretty mad!! ROAR!!!!!

  2. On the one hand, your friend Peggy is an idiot. On the other hand, Asian men should lose white women as a dating option altogether. I don’t see any good coming out of having a mate from the ethnic group an Asian man experiences the most racism from. Asian women can do whatever they want.

    I’ve experienced a similar (though not exact) incident you described in your article firsthand. Perhaps the dismissive laughter from the group was more cutting than the inadvertent slip. I don’t develop close friendships with white men. I don’t see why having, what would be a more intimate relationship with white women would do me any good.

    If there aren’t enough available Asian women to go around for Asian men, considering many Asian women date out, and non-Asian man like them, then so be it.. It is what it is.

  3. I’m a white woman and have come across a number of Asian men in my life who I found very attractive (come to think of it, my first kiss was with a Korean boy, and I remember getting all breathless over the actor Rick Yune as a teenager as well). However, I’ve spent most of my life in Pacific Northwest cities around lots and lots of Asian friends and schoolmates, which might have something to do with it. I’ve definitely met women who are not attracted to Asian men at all, and I think this article hits the nail on the head with these all-too-ubiquitous stereotypes of Asian males.

  4. Were you not watching Japanese Horror with the rest of us at the turn of the millennium? Hiroyuki Sanada, who played the father of the reporter’s kid, in the first Ringu movie was great and HOT! Admittedly, prior to that I had not been interested in Asian men. Somehow, his character and portrayal brought out much more for me. There’ve been other movies and actors since, but we’ve probably all seen that one.

    On some level, I think we still see adult asian men as little boys whose mothers still cut their hair and make sure they have their sliderules. Yet every Asian actor I see with long-ish hair looks delectable. George Michael-esque stubble makes it even better. I’ve seen a few guys like this in person, usually in Manhattan, and they look good. ‘Asian’ is NOT what you are thinking about them.

    I am loathe to tell an entire group of people to change, but I think most Asian men would be well-served by getting fewer haircuts, shaving less often and wearing flip flops. LOOK like you’ve surfed sometime. Someone like George Washington Carver once wrote something along the lines that there wouldn’t be black lawyers and doctors until their were black accountants and engineers (I dunno, it was a long time ago). So, Asian men, let your hair get shaggy. And pale blonde people, dye your eyebrows, otherwise your eyes are just floating in an empty field of pink.

    Please, dear gob don’t let this post to my FB profile!

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