Monday, October 10, 2005

The Beautiful People

Praise be. We have been recognized. Esquire recently cited Gong Li, long-time legendary Chinese film star, as the sexiest thirty-something woman alive. And she is; I grew up with Gong Li being the epitome of Asian beauty, and moreover a talented actress (a skill often overlooked when compared to Gong Li's flawless Asian Barbie beauty). Nonetheless, I'm torn. It's nice to have an Asian woman (or indeed, a woman of colour at all) be recognized in Esquire's otherwise whiter-than-whitey-white-white-white list (Jessica Biel, Sharon Stone, Rene Russo). But then again, Asian women have long been valued and devalued as hypersexualized, Barbie doll women, existing more for the pleasure of the white male gaze than the intelligent and strong women that we (including Gong Li) are. Notice how all these highly talented Asian leading ladies go unnoticed until they are shown as sexualized. Gong Li was unknown to Hollywood until she began starring in overly feminine roles as the "sexy exotic Asian beauty", such as in The Chinese Box and the upcoming Memoirs of a Geisha. Yunjin Kim of Lost was rarely mentioned by American audiences of the show until the episode in which she bared almost all for the camera, at which point she transitioned from the invisible, demure 'Oriental' bride to the foreign sexpot, i.e. she was irrelevant until her sexuality was made available and tangible for American audiences. The sexism of this treatment is readily apparent when we consider that similarly talented Asian men are never recognized for their sexuality. There have been several "Men of Lost" features with the "hunks" of the show, yet Daniel Dae Kim is rarely counted among them, despite being not only extremely attractive, but also playing both a virile and compassionate character on the show. Other recognizably Asian/Asian American men like B.D. Wong, Mark Dacascos, Parry Shen, Dustin Nguyen, John Cho, Jason Scott Lee, Jet Li or even the infamous Bruce Lee are never seen in a sexual light. Think back to how often you have seen these actors play a romantic lead or even kiss a woman on screen, even though the characters are otherwise strong, passionate male leads -- their sexuality is oddly excised from the film. Only male actors who are not recognizably Asian (such as Keanu Reeves) seem exempt from this rule -- as if the exclusive club of racial sexuality has a prominent "No Asian Men Allowed" sign on the front door of the clubhouse. This paradigm illustrates exactly how sexuality is controlled by white men -- it exists to control women, in general, and women of colour in particular and dehumanize them as sex objects while simultaneously disenfranchising unwanted men of colour who might pose a threat. Regardless of whether we are hypersexualized or desexualized, we all end up screwed, but only the white men are enjoying it. So whoop-de-doo, Gong Li is the sexiest thirty-something woman alive. It sounds like a dubious honour to me.


Blogger James said...

Excellent post! I totally don't get Esquire's 'ratings' either; who are they to decide what men should find attractive? No amount of plastic surgery will make Jessica Biel palatable to me. She looks like a displaced Vulcan. Live long and Botox.

But one bone of contention: I know his ancestry, but be that as it may, I don't see how Keanu Reeves can be claimed as a Asian American. He's a White guy. Sorry. When audiences see Keanu on screen, they see a White guy. When's the last time Keanu recognized his Asian American heritage publicly? Folk can't claim everybody just because of accidents of birth.

10/10/2005 02:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

I was just gonna say, how does Mr Canuck-in-denial factor into being Asian? He's not....and as far as I know, never claimed to be. If he has, he sure as hell AIN'T. He has claimed to be a lot of things, from part Cherokee (or some FN (first nations) tribe) to part Hawaiian (yeah whatever) but I highly doubt any of it. He doesn't have the bone structure, for one thing, so if he has any of it, it's farrrrrrrrrr back in his history and not worth mentioning... If I am wrong, then I am wrong but....yeah, I agree with James, as far as things are concerned, he's a white bloke....

(little Keanu history - he grew up in Toronto or something at one time in his life, and I believe he holds or held Canadian citizenship at one time. He may be part native for all I know, but even being Hawaiian isn't classified as Asian (as far as I know). They're Polynesian, which is something entirely different...)

Now, getting back to your topic, I agree with you, and I'd go a step further. I call racism AND sexism in the worst way. As you said, they only deign to notice Asian (and other...Halle Berry anyone?) women after they've gotten their kit off. Men are acknowledged for their talents, women for the size of their....talents ;). How is that fair? As far as I'm concerned, it's not.

One thing I have noticed here is the serious lack of commercial representation of ethnic women in television in general. (I'm talking British media here) I sat and looked at all the commercials, as well as the television programs and 99% of the people (both men and women) were white. Despite the fact that people from the Indian subcontinent make up a substantial chunk of the UK's current population. I don't see this as being necessarily representative at all. Especially those areas (as you pointed out) of colour. (I prefer to call them ethnic areas and people, because calling them people of colour has bad connotations for me, racism and all that....)

I'm prolly straying HUGELY off your topic but yeah....^.^;;;;;

10/10/2005 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Keanu's part Hawaiian and Chinese by birth; my contention was that his ancestry doesn't necessarily compute into Asian American ethnicity to me (a non-Asian American, full disclosure) because his success in Hollywood derives in part from the ability of mainstream White male audiences to identify with him as a sci-fi Everyman, just like them.

Keanu never denied his origins, but he makes so much money from the fact that they are overlooked that I wonder how Asian and Pacific Islander Americans can claim him as a famous actor from their ranks.

10/10/2005 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

When did Chinese come into the mix? I've not ever heard that, tho that doesn't make it not true or whatever. I'm going to have to do some looking around *chuckles* rather than rely on better informed ppl *smiles* since that's kinda lazy....

Anyway, thanks for the info...and yes, what you said is true...

10/10/2005 03:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bit ironic, considering the male kickboxers/other martial arts stars would be considered seriously HAWT by lots of folk. Bodies like dancers.


10/10/2005 05:56:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

I don't expect the media to show really diverse beauty although that would be nice.But then again the majority of people in america are white so I guess it makes sense that their beauty standards dominate.I Guess certain types are accepted more than others depending on the ethnicity, or weight how many non-slim women do you know who are considered the worlds most beautiful?.So some non-white goups are hypersexualized while others are desexualized, or both at the same time.

Having said that, the women I know who watch LOST think the korean guys is really hot.Some even think he's the hotest on there, so ther are asian male admirers.

10/11/2005 06:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

Actually, I think if you look at the statistics, there are more 'other' people than whites in the US now. People like hispanics, people of african descent (as well as immigrants), asians, indian/pakistanis etc. outnumber white people now (in the US, as well as in the UK). I believe that there are more immigrants in Canada as well - I remember reading somewhere that there were more Germans than French in Canada during the 80s, and that the Chinese from Hong Kong were going to be the next big minority....

So yeah....that's a stereotypical image, IMHO, and just what the white people want everyone to believe.

10/11/2005 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

phillyjay, I don't think the numbers should matter when it comes to equal treatment and fair representation. Just because we are in a numerical minority shouldn't mean that we should get mistreated or ignored, whether it comes to sexual politics or politics in general.

Regarding people who like DDK -- I *hear* people say that they think DDK is hot, but where is the treatment by the media or all the women gushing publicly? Without trying to be a bitch, it's like saying "Oh, no, I'm not racist, I have a friend of colour." That doesn't negate the institutional mistreatment of Asian men when it comes to sexuality.

10/11/2005 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

I agree the numbers shouldn't matter, and we shouldn't be mistreated or ignored, but I'm not surprised that it happenes.

As for DDK, beats me where the media is in all of this.They tend to pick and choose who they want to promote.

10/12/2005 08:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When we realize who runs the media then we'll understand these beauty contests. One would think the reader who buys the magazine rules the media. However it is the advertiser who finances the editorials and subsidizes the subscriber rates. When people write that is what 'the white people' want, do they really mean that's what 'white' advertisers want? Don't buy the product advertised if you don't want the editorial.

10/16/2005 12:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Lady Luck said...

Pardon, but i disagree. I am a woman of color and i would have to say that that is the same for almost everybody. people aren't noticed by hollywood until they are considered sexy, and a very good way for a female to be considered as such they have to be objectified. I think you're having more of an arguement against our hyper masculine society than Hollywood in general. It is society that condones this behavior, Hollywood is just more upfront about it. it's real easy to point fingers, but the truth is, since Hollywood is run by men (and our society demands that men be overt about their sexuality) to give the public what they want is to be famous. once one has reached a superstar status, they can then be more discreet, but the truth is that sex sells. And while it may be hard for ethnic women to get into the lime light due to societal constructs and oppresion, one has to imagine what it may be like for someone who looks just like everybody else. They may get famous, but unless they have some extra ordinary look about them, they are doomed to stay at a mediocre state of stardom. I mean, look at Halle Berry. she won an Oscar, but a lot of people have won oscars. No. People notice her because she won an Oscar and she's BLACK. i mean, she isn't even that good an actress, but she stands out because she did what all of those other white people did AND she's black (or mixed, but whatever). Ethnic people should stop declaring war against white people and start realizing that the only way you can achieve true acceptance (if you want it, I don't know why any one would...) is to conform to their social standards. Or, you can be an original and have people shun you (which is way more fun, but whatever)it's all about conforming to society. its up to you whether you do or not.

11/06/2005 12:36:00 PM  

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