The emasculation of Asian and Asian American men is a popular topic of interest within discourses on race and sexuality. The historical context and anecdotes of API emasculation, without fail, clearly suggest a racist and misogynistic hierarchy that defines men of color as the Other in direct contrast to white men who perform white hegemonic masculinity. In this hierarchy, API men are stripped of their masculinity, while black men at the opposite end of the spectrum are portrayed as hypermasculine. When racist ideas like these are reproduced in pop culture and media, these ideas are internalized and affect the livelihoods of those affected.
Today, these ideas continue to influence the portrayals of Asian and Asian American men in literature and media, and can be found in characters like Leslie Chow of The Hangover franchise, Henry Higgs in Selfie, and Dr. George Huang in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. In recognizing that this phenomenon is harmful and racist towards API men, communities have begun to try and change and essentially defy the stereotype.
Recently, an article published by Mic titled “16 Stunning Photos That Shatter Society’s Stereotypes About Asian Men” set to do just that. At face value, showing examples that negate the stereotype is an important act of resistance, and it certainly is a safe way to engage a wider audience. However, I remain skeptical, for two main reasons:
- The article features mostly men who grew up in East Asia, and not in the United States.
- “Asian American” is an umbrella term that describes people that come from an entire continent. Pacific Islanders also often end up being categorized under this umbrella term. “Asian American” in reality is incredibly diverse and heterogeneous, but in perception is homogenized by the overrepresentation of East Asians and East Asian Americans. This article reproduces such homogenization.
- By relying on men who are NOT Asian American, the article helps to propagate Americans of Asian descent as perpetually foreign and erases the different sociohistorical contexts of marginalization for Asians in Asia and for Asians in the United States.
- The men featured in the article still conform to white hegemonic masculinity, rather than challenging it.
- This is probably best exemplified by the fact that the hapas who made it on the list are very white-passing. And all of the men on this list possess generally accepted traits of white, Anglo-American beauty standards including defined cheekbones, high-rise noses, and full lips. In this sense, this list is not wholly challenging American beauty standards, but rather trying to assimilate men of color (specifically API men) into them.
Having minority representation is important. It’s so important to see our faces in the public sphere. As a consumer of pop culture, I’ve certainly felt more inspired and more excited because I saw a face that looked like me on TV. But it’s not enough. The article challenges current representations of API men in pop culture and media, but it is not trying to dismantle the current hierarchy in place, and that’s the issue I have with racial projects like this, which are helpful to a certain degree but not quite good enough. In the future, I’d like to see diverse masculinities instead of adherence to only one. I’d also like to see associations of masculinity and femininity deconstructed and a celebration of a non-binary gender expression. While it is still crucial to raise consciousness and address these issues to our communities, I believe that we cannot simply stop at representation.