How Media Images Shape Desire

Source: Piqsel

This short writing aims to highlight how exposure to certain media images of Asian women and the depiction of the said cultural group – such as in regard to femininity, beauty, and heteronormativity – frame the cultural fetish and desire white men have toward Asian women. In her web series, They’re All So Beautiful, Debbie Lum interviews different men who find themselves primarily attracted to Asian women to understand the conception of their desire. The answers she received from white men had one thing in common: their desire was rooted in stereotypes of Asian women created in and disseminated through media.
The participants’ intercultural desire for Asian women is shaped by historical and structural influences of power. In Ch10 of her book Intercultural Communication: A Critical Perspective, Halualani communicates that “when someone (female or male) is attracted to Black males (and at the exclusion of other males), there may be a cultural or racial fetish at work. Black males have been fetishized historically in terms of their bodies (and physical attributes, such as their penis size) and such physicality has been associated as hyper-masculine and hypersexual” (220). In a similar way, Asian women have been historicized as submissive, quiet, and obedient. With such a perceived positionality, dominance (by white men) can be exerted over them. Scholar Homi Bhaba (1983) articulates that racial fetishes represent colonialistic tools of domination and objectification that “otherizes” cultural groups (Halualani, 221). As we noticed, in the series none of the men gave a reason along with intellectual ability or thoughtfulness for their attraction to Asian women. Responses included, “Asian women are obedient”, “They’re more feminine to me, “I’m looking for a petite, gracious woman”, and “an Asian woman, in general, is more thoughtful and caring to a partner, she seems more loyal and trustworthy” amongst others. Therefore, instead, they were mostly rooted in their (the Asian women)’s submission, femininity and physical features of “otherness”. These racial fetishes place Asian women as “exotic” and “other” which then attracts white men to them because of the belief that they can have power over them.
As Stuart Hall (1997) stresses, stereotyping works to reduce people to a few, simple characteristics, which are represented (e.g. through the media context of power) as fixed by nature (Stereotyping as a Signifying Practice, 247). Dr. Benjamin Tong of the California Institute of Integral Studies states that “if we look at stereotype thinking [and] what fixed images tend to be prevalent in what community it would be the case that in the white community, Latin women are hot, difficult to control, exotic as well; but they’re fiery. Asian women are more controllable [and] they live to please. Black women are too powerful…She’s really the boss in this house.” These images exist in everyday language and media representations. Now, what’s at play here is not only views on Asian women, but how they are comparable to other races as well. For example, whereas Latin women are still exotic, they are “fiery” and somewhat controlling, therefore transcending heteronormative understandings of the role a woman occupies in a heterosexual relationship. Consequently, they become a turn-off for men who want to uphold those heteronormative values. Stereotypes work to fix certain cultural groups in a binary such that it is impossible to imagine them as anything other than the dominant image portrayed. The cultural/racial fetishes that result from the stereotypes place the white men in a position of power, while simultaneously placing the Asian women in an inferior position in a seemingly “natural way”.

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