Stephanie Schechter AsAm Blog #5

I think discussing the stereotypes of Asian and Asian American women in the media has resonated the most with me out of all the topics we have covered so far in class.

Watching Slaying the Dragon was extremely interesting, because the older Asian American women felt that they didn’t realize they started these stereotypes, and were simply acting in the roles that they were given. Now, they look back and have weight on their shoulders, because people blame them for creating these molds for Asian American actresses to fit into, but it was writers and directors that made this happen, not the actresses themselves.

A stereotypical role for an Asian American woman would be to play a prostitute in a film or TV show. This was started by the movie, The World of Suzie Wong (1960),  in which actress Nancy Kwan plays “a hooker with a heart of gold.” While the concept of the Asian prostitute has been an unfortunate stereotype in the US ever since immigrants began coming from Asia, Kwan’s role as Suzie Wong sort of set the standard for the next several decades of film… sadly creating the perpetual street-walker character issue.

Another common role for Asian American women is the dragon lady, a concept that grew into popularity later in the 20th century. Asian American women get sucked into roles as villains, using their sharp wits and evil minds to fight the heroes of the stories, such as in Kill Bill.

When shows portray Asian American women as everyday people (rather than prostitutes or assassins), they are often so whitewashed that the audience does not get to see any Asian culture or background whatsoever. Hopefully in the future, there can be better representation of the amazing Asian American women that work in show business with more interesting and accurate roles.

Week 4

Again one of the things that really interested me last week and was featured again this week is the idea that perhaps the de-sexualization of Asian men is in some way an overcompensation or result of the hypersexualization of Asian women. This idea intrigues me because its almost as if the Western ideas that promoted this ideology serves this excuse to mean “it’s not us, it’s you.” That propaganda and socialization didn’t help purport these stereotypes, but rather they spun out because of the Asian people themselves.

This of course does not factor in the militarization of Asia and that the whole reason why Asian women were so hypersexualized was because not only did white American lawmakers label them as prostitutes and banned Asian women from coming like in the Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan, but also when America entered into war with Asia they reserved the usage of comfort women to aid the Americans with their “horrors from the war.”

Honestly, I’m not sure how we can ever fully erase the idea of Asian women being hypersexualized in American media. In a way, much like with the current model minority myth this ideology serves as  a front against women’s sexuality. As it gives the idea of a prude vs slut dichotomy and thus makes it hard to separate the two. You’re either the goody two shoes who denied the men what they want or you’re just like all of the other hypersexualized people. Make your choice; either way you’ll be judged.

Week 4 – Margaret

Last week, we mainly discussed masculinity of Asian and Asian American men in media and pop culture. This week, we discussed femininity of Asian and Asian American women in media and pop culture. There are many similarities and differences between the portrayal of Asian men and women. For instance, like Asian men, there were and are limited Asian women in media. Unlike Asian men, however, Asian women were “objects of desire” and “sources of pleasure.”

In Deborah Gee’s Slaying the Dragon, the documentary examines the different ways Asian women were portrayed in films and other media from the 1920s to the 1980s. It explores the evolution of Asian women from being taboo to being mysterious and desirable.

Asian women were usually perceived as “exotic” creatures with an innate ability to serve men. Asian women were docile and obedient; she represented the ideal housewife – she cooked, cleaned, washed, and massaged. Caucasian men claim that Asian women are “hotter and sexier” than women of other races.

In addition, there are rules in Hollywood for gendered racism. Mixing among races was forbidden and written in legislation. Interracial couples are now accepted, and often valorized, but a specific type of interracial couple. Asian women with Caucasian men is socially permitted and accepted, but Asian men with Caucasian women is socially banned and disapproved.

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There are countless Asian stereotypes in Hollywood and pop culture in general. According to Zak Keith, there are ten almost exclusively used Asian stereotypes: perpetual foreigner; martial arts; model minority; nerd or geek; gendered racism: sexualized female, asexual male, and sanctioned interracial couples; inferior and subordinate; mystic; archvillian, dragon lady, or yellow peril; caricature, yellow-face bizarre, and/or unfathomable; and willing or deserving targets of open denigration.

Source: http://www.zakkeith.com/articles,blogs,forums/hollywood-asian-stereotypes.htm

For the most part, Zak’s list is comprehensive. However, there are instances when Asian women are empowered, as in Alice Wu’s Saving Face (2004). Saving Face follows Wilhelmina, “Wil,” a young Chinese American surgeon; her unwed, pregnant mother, Gao; and her dancer girlfriend, Vivian. The film depicts the pan-East Asian social concept of “face” and how its interpretation changes.

Elaine Kim’s Slaying the Dragon: Reloaded analyzes the past 25 years of Asian and Asian American women in media and pop culture. One would think that much has changed over the last three decades, but in reality, practically nothing has changed. Asian and Asian American women still portray characters that lack depth and identity. Unfortunately, the same old stereotypes are still perpetuated today.

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Week 4 blog post

This week it took to a different speed where we viewed elements that contributed to this perpetual image that has been developed for Asian women through the history of filmmaking. In Shimizu’s book, The Hypersexuality of Race, it brings to light issues of how the public overexaggerates this misconception of Asian American women. Shimizu discusses about this “bondage of representation”, where this is a hurdle Asian women must understand, because through it all they must deal with this hypersexualized view society deems of them. As I was reading Shimizu’s book, it reminded me back to when youtube was in it’s early stages of development. There was a youtube group called Wongfu Productions who had released a video called “Yellow Fever”, this video is a story about how young asian men are trying to figure out why is it that Asian women are attracted to caucasian men. As a middle schooler watching that in my mind I was thinking, “That is so true ! All my friends that are girls always talking about how white guys are so hot”, for some of my adolescent life I had these notions and thoughts. Is it not society that believes these notions, but even Asian American youths ourselves that play into these perpetuating stereotypes. From the film watched in class, always seeing this heroic white male winning the subservient asian women effect how young asian american women viewed their own relationships with white men?

After today’s film I was in awe to see how the common stereotypes Asian women are being viewed is a product from a long history of media portrayal of them. I still cannot fathom how fast the direction had taken towards the progression of Asian women in films. Where it began as they weren’t even casted in leading roles that were specifically a reflection of their own culture, and how that in those movies even with the mass amount of movie production, it was easy to differentiate still that the lead roles were not Asian. Suddenly within a couple of years it became ok to decide that interracial relationships in the movies are ok, and that brought to light how cut throat Hollywood is. There are no morals in the film industry, all that matters is what can bring back the greatest revenue.

As I was watching Slaying the Dragon Reloaded, I found it interesting how characteristics of women hypersexualized were still prevalent in today’s movies and media. I personally would’ve never noticed it unless it was explained to me. It’s also amazing how today’s media feels like it is fine to cast Asian leads, but the catch is they take everything about them that is asian away other than physical appearance. Now they can say, “We did cast asian as main leads.” but the fact of the matter is that nothing about them is so, the constituents that shape their asian identity is basically stripped from them and they are just superficially there, but their character has neither anything to do with their racial identity.

Week 4 – Representation of Asian American Women

This week in class we discussed the sexual representation of Asian Americans with a heavy focus on the hypersexuality of women. Throughout the lectures and the readings in The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene by Celine Parreñas Shimizu, almost every example of a woman starring in Hollywood films or even as anchorwomen had them fitting a common role/image that the media had created. Asian women were seen as exotic, oriental, passive, delicate, submissive, and much more. A strong emphasis was placed on these traits defining women instead of viewing them as individuals. Men would idolize the exotic sexuality of oriental woman as seen in the stereotype, “Do you know what they say about Asian women?” This negative impression even caused some women to accept those roles in society and view their stereotypes as reality.

I feel that its extremely difficult to break out of this vicious cycle and to portray Asian Americans in a different light. For example, one of the filmmakers in Slaying the Dragon Reloaded (2011) explained how he wanted to cast the women without fitting any existing stereotypes but ended up doing so anyway. Now Asian American actors have become wary of directors and producers and what roles they really expect. In Slaying the Dragon (1988), actress Nobu McCarthy revealed that she turned an audition down when the directors told her they were looking for someone to fit the “Dragon Lady” image. I think that actors are moving in the right direction by casting and creating a character that expresses their individuality. Because it is so rare for an Asian American to perform in a lead role, choosing a right role becomes even more important.

Lastly, one thing that I noticed was that both Slaying the Dragon and its sequel discussed the same issues even though they were produced over twenty years ago apart. This shows that not much has changed since the film first released. An example on the right shows that the two women are essentially the same confident, sexual, independent, and fierce character in both movies almost 80 years apart. Even throughout all those years, Asian women are still being represented in similar ways.

Week 4 Blog Post

This week, it was interesting to compare the portrayal of Asian American women in Hollywood cinema to Asian American men.  Where Asian American men are seen as asexual, Asian American women are seen has hypersexual.  These two portrayals are on completely opposite poles of the spectrum, and it is interesting to see how Hollywood, throughout the years, continue to reinforce these images.  Even in the modern era, we see examples such as Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angel as the “dragon lady” that holds an exotic/dominatrix image, and Ken Jeong in Hangover that holds an asexual/strange-asian-man image.  Celine Shimizu in The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian American Women On Screen and Scene, emphasized the importance of Asian American actor/actresses pushing the barriers and attempting to challenge viewers to expand the “normal” Asian American image to include not only the “dragon lady” image, but also the reality that Asian American women live.

On a completely separate note, I want to discuss the movie Slaying the Dragon, and more specifically Asian American women and their relationship with White men.  According to the film, as a direct result of the World Wars, Korean War, Vietnam War, and etc., white men have been lusting for Asian American women, not in an emotional context, but in a purely sexual context.  As time progressed, we began to see a rise in Asian American women (particularly Japanese women) marry White men.  A psychologist in this film insinuated that, due to the high percentage of Asian American women marrying White men, these marriages are not simply due to love and that there must be some unconscious component.  He hypothesized that Asian American women aspire to latch onto a white man, and not any white man, but a white man that is extremely masculine and portrayed as a “manly man”.  Thus, an ideal man is not of Asian, Latino, or African descent.  He is White.  Therefore if an Asian American woman is able to find herself a White man, she can feel a sense of acceptance from society.  As an Asian American women myself with a white boyfriend, I find this hypothesis somewhat disturbing.  I cannot imagine simply dating my boyfriend to feel a sense of acceptance, or anything other than the fact that I am attracted to his intellectual depth, his physical appearance, and out emotional connection. However, this film prompted me to question my unconscious motives for dating my boyfriend, if such motives even exist.

Hypersexualized Representation of Asian/American Women, No and Yes.

Look around the images on TV commercials and the Internet, and you will soon realize that women in general and women of color in particular are hyperseuxualized. Given the limited visibility that Asian/American women enjoy, those limited representations of Asian/American women, even though hypersexualized, carry a lot of weight within the Asian American community. Examples of hyperseuxalized Asian/American female characters include Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels, Maggie Q in Nikita, and Kelly Hu in the Scorpion King.

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In some movies, these characters are distinctively racialized, such as The Man With The Iron Fists and Kill Bill, while in others, the race of Asian American actress fades into the background and plays a less important role, such as Charlie’s Angeles. I agree with Celine Parrenas Shimizu’s argument that critiquing the hypersexialized representation of Asian American women simply based on the moralistic framework does more harm than good to Asian American women. When hypersexuality is labeled as unauthentic and immoral, it reinscribes the boundaries of proper Asian/American femininity. Then, it leads to the question: what SHOULD an Asian American woman look like, act like, be like? When there’s only one correct answer – she should be smart, disciplined, hardworking, moral, etc. – then we all fall into the trap of essentialism, just as dangerous as the hypersexuality of Asian/American women.

So, if we can’t refuse the hypersexualized representation of Asian/American women on the screen (since it’s so prevalent), can we deploy it for our own good? The answer, according to Shimizu, is yes. She argues that the perversity of Asian American females on the screen presents an alternative to the heterosexual white middle class femininity. The bad girl portrayed by Lucy Liu who controls her own sexuality and uses it to achieve her own agendas in many movies contrasts sharply with the good white virgin/house wife who listen to their men and fulfill their desires. Many Asian/American women are caught in the contradiction between the hypersexualized Asian women on screen and the Asian cultural expectation of women to be sexually conservative/repressed. For some people, such contradiction might cause them to endorse one femininity and completely condemn the other, while for others, it might open a door for sexually repressed Asian American women to see themselves as sexually desirable and open. Personally, I find viewing those hypersexualized images a pleasure not only because they are aesthetically pleasing but also because they provide me with the space to image how sexy a woman, an Asian/American woman, can be. Sometimes, the hypersexualized images can be liberating and empowering in that they allow me to step outside, at least for a moment, the cage of “proper” Asian femininity.

– Angel (Ruiqi) Ye