(12 min read)
What is white sexual imperialism? What does it have to do with Asian women, and what does it have to with Asian men? This is a weighty and sensitive topic, but it is critical to discuss with proper context.
This concept developed from the imperialistic nature of the Western political, military, and economic domination of developing nations. Throughout history and into the present day, women from colonized nations have been compelled into sexual submission to white men. This historical and ongoing practice highlights the social inequality between WM/XW (white man/non-white woman) relationships, which are fundamentally unequal when the non-white woman is from a community that has been historically colonized by European or Anglo nations. The greater implications of these relationships extend to the behavior of Asian and other minority women today.
In a Western culture steeped in anti-Asian racism, discrimination, and damaging stereotypes, Asian women are reduced to racist caricatures. They are described as “small,” “weak,” “submissive,” “erotically alluring,” ”exotic,” “hyper-sexual,” and “indulgent.” These descriptions are often found in media and pornography but originate from a Western point of view. While these stereotypes are radically different from those imposed on Asian men, the psychological pain they inflict is no different, causing lasting psychological (and sometimes physical) damage. While we cannot excuse the racism, or self-hatred, that come from a specific subset of Asian women, it is critical to understand its origins.
These stereotypes are pushed as part of a narrative rooted in imperialism, which created offshoots known as orientalism and sexism. These “-isms” are essentially what motivate Western nations seeking to dominate and colonize Asia. In this article, we will further examine imperialism, orientalism, and sexism, and how all these phenomena have negatively affected Asian women.
Imperialism, Orientalism, & Sexism
Orientalism, at its core, is a tool used as justification for oppression. It manifests as a worldview or set of cliches and stereotypes that pits the West against Asia by demeaning the latter and elevating the former. Once this narrative of advanced vs. regressive or good vs. evil has been established, the West can justify meddling in Asian affairs and promoting its toxic, sexist agenda.
As a result of orientalism, Asian women, are viewed through a lens that reduces them to purely sexual bodies. To white men, Asian women are not considered human, but are simply objects to fulfill a sexist, white male power fantasy that centers their perspectives and desires. Asian women are said to express seemingly “unlimited” sensuality, their intelligence and humanity are deemed irrelevant, and above all, they become willing participants in their subjugation.
The sexual conquest of Asia’s women is related directly to the conquest of Asia itself. More evidence of this can be found in an oft-heard narrative in the West known as the “White Man’s Burden,” which judged it necessary to dominate and destroy Asia for the “good of civilization.” Unsurprisingly, this supports the orientalist justification for Western domination.
In 1899, Rudyard Kipling dubbed the West’s imperialist campaign in the East “the White Man’s burden.” He coined the term in a poem written to rouse Americans to colonize and rule the Philippines after the U.S. won the Spanish-American War.
One former U.S. President took this message to heart. Theodore Roosevelt wrote and lectured widely on taking up Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden.” He called imperialism a “manly” American duty. To him, civilized men had the masculine responsibility to ‘destroy and uplift’ lesser, primitive men,” namely Asians, “for their own good” and “the good of civilization.”
These passages illustrate what Asia represents to white men: a series of conquests. White colonizers are entitled to the land and the people within. The obstacles (Asian men) are destroyed, while the prizes (Asian women) are claimed (and often raped). History confirms this theory; during the Philippine revolt against the Spanish Inquisition in the 1800s, Americans saw an opportunity and arrived, promising to help. President McKinley, the president at the time, publicly announced and gave his word that the U.S “had no design of aggrandizement and no ambition of conquest” of the Philippines. But it was an empty promise. The U.S. had no intention of honoring their words, and American efforts to colonize the colonize the Philippines resulted in the killing of about 800,000–1,600,000 Filipinos. Naturally, while war raged on, American soldiers also engaged in sexual conquest. These entitled, racist, and sexist men referred to local women as:
“Little brown fucking machines powered by rice.”
Entire sex industries sprung up around these soldiers, commodifying women’s bodies with descriptions like:
“a girl for the price of a hamburger.”
Such casually objectifying statements reinforced an orientalist mindset, reducing Asian women to nothing more than sex objects. The cycle of oppression and sexual conquest once again reared its ugly head during the Vietnam War. During this conflict, U.S military bases stationed in Thailand sheltered American G.I.s who came to Thailand for R&R — “Rest and Recreation” — during their free time. It is no surprise to those well acquainted with the barbarism of the United States that this phrase is a distinctly American invention. These imperialist wars solidified the misconception that “Asian women were easy and hypersexual” and extended its tendrils to apply to women of various Asian ethnicities.
These toxic attitudes were eventually brought back to the U.S. where they became commonplace, despite the history of sexual violence and suffering that countless women raped, killed, and forcibly entered into prostitution endured. The U.S. often pushes its ideology under the guise of “Human Rights”, but it was widely accepted and recognized by the U.S. military that:
“Access to indigenous women’s bodies [was] a “necessity” for US GIs stationed overseas.”
Americans have twisted the very notion of “human rights” to excuse their imperialist and orientalist ambitions. Even more alarming is how they dehumanize the people they’ve colonized.
Filipina sex workers, for example, frequently report:
“being treated like a toy or a pig by the American [soldiers] and being required to do ‘three holes’ — oral, vaginal and anal sex.”
The organized prostitution thriving around U.S. military bases in Asia reaffirms the West’s perception of Asian women as sex objects. In this contexts, Asian sex workers are registered and tagged similarly to domestic pets, further emphasizing their less-than-human status.
This treatment is a direct result of attitudes from wartime but later embedded itself into the consciousness of American society. After the wars ended, Thailand became the top destination for male tourists from Europe and the U.S,, and white men began traveling to Thailand for (often underage) sex and exploitative entertainment. This is still true today.
The ongoing degrading treatment of Asian women continues in the current day. As recently as the mid- 90s, international controversy flared over an incident in Japan where two U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy seaman gang-raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl in Okinawa, Japan.
They watched the girl enter a stationary store and decided to ambush her. The two Marines bound the girl with tape, pulled her shorts and underwear down to her ankles, and after the three men raped her, remarked that the girl looked like she enjoyed it.
It was the same imperialist, orientalist attitudes discussed earlier that encouraged these three servicemen to not only rape the girl but to also believe that she enjoyed her violent sexual conquest. They rationalize their own behavior by claiming that she, on some level, consented, thus denying their wrongdoing and stripping the Asian woman of her agency and dignity. The stereotype of Asian women as automatically consenting to sex is a patently false and dangerous one. Together, the potent triple-threat of imperialist thought, racial inequality, and sexual inequality perpetuate targeted sexual violence against Asian women. Unfortunately, the incidents do not end there.
Local police arrested sailor Justin Castellanos, 24, of U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, on suspicion of taking a tourist to his room after finding her asleep in the corridor of a hotel in the prefectural capital and raping her there. March 22, 2016. Source
In the eyes of white men, Asian women appear to exist solely for their sexual gratification as hyper-sexual and submissive creatures. In comparison to white women, they are viewed as a secondary choice until a white woman is available, and an afterthought.
The Hypersexualization of Asian Women
Now that we know the origin of these stereotypes, let us examine them by analyzing of examples from the media and pop culture. In an excerpt from Oriental Girls (1990), from an article in GQ magazine, one passage described Asian women as submissive women or slaves:
“When you get home from another hard day on the planet, she comes into existence, removes your clothes, bathes you and walks naked on your backto relax you . . . She’s fun you see, and so uncomplicated.”
As the antithesis of an empowered feminist:
“She doesn’t go to assertiveness-training classes, insist on being treated like a person, fret about career moves, [or] wield her orgasm as a non-negotiable demand . . .”
And finally, as symbols of sexual conquest:
“She’s a handy victim of love or a symbol of the rape of third world nations, a real trooper.”
The Overton window to such racially motivated speech today has shifted, but this mindset persists the form of expats (an umbrella term to cover economic migrants, immigrants, sexual tourists, and generally unsuccessful people from the West) from white countries who tire of their maligned “feminist white women” go to Asian countries such as Thailand , Vietnam , Cambodia, China and South Korea to look for “easy” women. These individuals believe that Asian women in these countries will conform to historical stereotypes and misconceptions of Asian women: that they are meek, submissive, and sexually available for white men. These stereotypes, which emerged as a direct result of the colonial encounters of war, continue to present Asian women as objects for consumption and the satisfaction of Western desires.
In current-day media, Asian women generally play submissive roles in any relationship, are often objects of sexual desire for white men, and are portrayed as inferior to white women. For example:
The history of Western imperialism in Asia and its lingering effects present the greatest source of gendered racial inequality for Asian women today in Western countries.
Hypersexualization of Asian women has fostered the prevalence of Asian women in pornography, the mail order bride phenomenon, the Asian fetish (also known as Yellow Fever), and worst of all, sexual violence targeting Asian women.
In a 2002 study conducted by Jennifer Lynn Gossett and Sarah Byrne out of thirty-one pornographic websites that depicted rape or torture of women, more than half showed Asian women as the rape victim and one-third showed white men as the perpetrator. Pornographic images of Asian women sexually abused by white men consistently came up in a keyword search on “torture.”
This portrayal of Asian women renders any sexual violence committed against them as automatically consensual as if they are complicit in their own dehumanization. Asian women are stripped of their agency and dignity by toxic white masculinity and privilege. The sickness of the white male ethos is the display of Asian women as the ideal rape victims.
II. Mail-Order Brides
In the 1970s, when conservative white men grew discontent with the American feminist movement, Sheryl Sandberg “lean-in” politics, and white women’s ensuing push for liberation on all fronts and equality, they turned to the mail-order bride industry in East and Southeast Asia. Encouraged by sexual stereotypes of Asian women as subservient, these men saw Asian mail-order brides as the much-welcomed antithesis to the white American feminist woman. These attitudes still linger today, most notably in the alt-right’s bizarre fetish for Asian women. The mail-order bride system is a prime example of racist love, wherein a woman is exchanged as a commodity and expected to be subservient to her husband. The system also exploits neoliberal economic systems that leech resources and people from poorer nations so they can continue to offer cheap goods, services, and bodies to the oppressors.
III. Asian Fetish / Yellow Fever
Pornography featuring Asian women is rife with orientalist attitudes and white male misogyny, but these dynamics also manifest in real life incidents.
Enter Michael Lohman, a third-year doctoral student at Princeton University. Lohman had surreptitiously cut locks of hair from at least nine Asian women and poured his urine and semen into the drinks of Asian women more than 50 times in Princeton’s graduate student dining hall. When investigators entered Lohman’s apartment, which he shared with his wife, an Asian woman, they found stolen women’s underwear and mittens filled with the hairs of Asian women, which they believe Lohman used to masturbate.
Do you think an institution like Princeton would ever dare to say anything publicly about how Asian fetish relates to this case? No. In fact, Princeton treated this case as an isolated instance of a psychologically unstable man, and never mentioned that any of the victims were Asian women. As in the Okinawa rape case, Asian women again were targeted for assault due to their race and denied their agency and dignity.
But why is Lohman described as a psychotic and deranged individual? His attitude is common among many white men his age, yet there is a refusal to acknowledge this issue among white men as a demographic. On the other hand, Asian men are constantly derided and treated as representatives of the entire Asian male population if they commit any crime, rather than “lone actors” or individuals as white men are. There is a reluctance to describe the crime Lohman committed as a heinous spree of sexual violence committed by a white man who felt entitled to Asian women’s bodies, a complex he shares with many other white men.
David Dailey and Edmund “Eddie” Ball abducted, handcuffed, and blindfolded two Japanese schoolgirls, ages 18 and 19, in Spokane, Washington. The two girls were taken to a house and raped repeatedly over a span of 7 hours. Eddie Ball, the mastermind behind the crime, professed an avid fascination in bondage, sadomasochism and Japanese culture. He collected Japanese bondage videos and was an expert in Japanese rope-tying techniques. Ball specifically targeted Japanese students because he believed them to be submissive and thus less likely to report the rapes.
A groping case:
Tran was leaving work in Torrance on South Vermont Avenue Friday when a stranger grabbed her from behind, and taunted her as she fought him off. “I felt something and I looked, and he was literally right behind me,” Tran said. Before she could even turn around, Tran said the stranger reached for her waist, trying twice to grab her. “He pressed his body against my back,” Tran said. “I pushed him away. I said, ‘No, go away.’” “He stuck his fingers through the window, taunting me or something like that,” Trans aid. “He says, ‘It’s OK. Six days.’” ….. LAPD Harbor detectives said they are looking for the man in what they are calling a battery incident. He hasn’t been named as a suspect, but rather a person of interest in the incident.
On June 6, 2015, Tran was physically harassed by ….yet another white man. Although the motive is unclear, the fact that this man chose to molest an Asian woman over women of other races is due to Asian fetish. The groper’s behavior and taunts illustrate that he shares the same beliefs about Asian women as the rapist previously discussed. These assaults are just two examples of how the mindsets of racist, misogynistic white men can translate into real-world danger and violence against Asian women.
Lili Wang, a North Carolina State University (NCSU) graduate student, became the victim of what may have been a racially-motivated crime. Her killer, Richard Borelli Anderson, had a strong sexual preference for Asian women because “they study hard, and they’re very nice, soft speaking.” In October of 2002, Anderson fired four gunshots into Wang, killing her before turning the gun on himself. Police found his body five feet away from his victim.
Despite clear racial motivations, this crime was not classified as a hate crime or even a racially motivated crime by the NCSU police. At the institutional level, Asian women are stripped of their agency while whites in positions of power and authority refuse to implicate their own.
The root of the hypersexualized, submissive, meek, sexually-disposable stereotypes that Asian women face today stem from imperialist wars waged by Anglo countries years ago, which spread these stereotypes within Western societal consciousness. Normally, racial stereotypes do not manifest into physical violence (with the exception of suicide), but instead as psychological damage, such as depression, self-loathing, and negativity. The sexualized nature of these stereotypes is highly dangerous as they lead white men to believe that Asian women are open to any of their sexual advances, resulting in “Yellow Fever,” which is racist love. Combined with excessive and viral media such as pornography, it can lead to the de-emphasis (and even justification) of sexual crimes committed by white men, such as rape or murder, on a large scale.
Endnote: Quotes and Other information are referenced from this study.
By guest contributor Ferguson Lo, updated in 2018