January 30, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 29°F

ColumnsInto Identity

My ethnicity is not a fetish

At 22 years old, I’m at my prime dating age. Like many young women my age, I’ve faced my share of dating obstacles: bad dates, loss of interest and breakups. On top of all that, women of color, like myself, face being stereotyped and fetishized.

I can’t describe the discomfort that goes through my body whenever men — mostly white men — tell me they exclusively date Asian women. It’s as if I’m some sort of target or prey for some of the men I’ve encountered. After hearing these sentiments for most of my pubescent life, I began to wonder why this was the case.

Shien Lee, a Taiwanese event designer living in New York City, published a blog post in 2012 on her website, Not Your China Girl. Lee examines why white men like dating Asian women, a question that has plagued Asian and Asian-American women. The most common reason is because East and Southeast Asian women were traditionally brought up to serve men, which paved the way for Asian women to be stereotyped as docile and obedient. In turn, the men feel like they are the dominant, more powerful partner, making a stereotypical Asian woman desirable.

If all Asian women are quiet and docile, then call me a witch. The most important Asian women in my life — my mother and grandmother — are some of the strongest, most confident and assertive women I know. Like me, they’re both far from quiet.

Perhaps one of my favorite perceptions of Asian women is that we’re “exotic.” I question anyone who uses that word to describe people because I would only ever use “exotic” to describe some wild animals and food. I’d rather not be characterized in the same manner as animals or food. And Asian women are far from exotic. We make up most of the world’s female population, especially when 48.76 percent of China’s population of 1.3 billion identifies as female. As I jokingly put it, I am the world’s average woman.

This isn’t just a problem with Asian women. Black, Hispanic and Latina women are fetishized, too. Compliments that are meant to be flattering are always creepy, especially when they are directed at a woman’s race or ethnicity.

I’m going to leave a little bit of advice from a young Asian-American woman to the white men who like women based on their race or ethnicity: Please don’t post that you like or prefer x-race or ethnicity in your dating profiles. Don’t say those things to us either. We’d like to think you like us based on other criteria other than what we look like. You know, like our sense of humor and common interests. Those are some great traits, too, and it doesn’t matter what you look like to have those.