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Thursday, November 17, 2005

"Oriental" Plates

I recently read an article from Goldsea titled The Asian American Woman's Burden. It was a whiny piece about how the Asian American woman faces such terrible oppression because we are never given the benefit of a doubt when we date: if we try to date inside the race, we have a hard time finding APIA men who see us as anything more than objects to stroke their own masculinity, whereas if we date outside the race, we are self-hating, racially ignorant sellouts (with possible Daddy issues). That's not to say that this isn't a real struggle for Asian American women; I, myself, have complained enough times about APIA men who complain about unavailable APIA women and yet who have no problem with turning their own oppression into an excuse to objectify, dehumanize, and lay claim to so-called "their" women. It's rough. But, sorry, it isn't the Asian American woman's burden. As tough as it is to be the APIA woman -- always the sellout, always misunderstood -- the Goldsea article only demeans our experiences by describing our quintessential burden in the context of mere romantic difficulties. If our greatest hardship is finding a boyfriend everyone can like, than I can't blame outsiders for scratching their heads at the thought of us as disadvantaged minorities. That's oppression like the Sweet Valley High girls were economically underprivileged. Obviously, our true burden is more tragic. We are not merely misunderstood, we are enslaved. As Asian American women, we are unknowing, ignorant, or complacent sex slaves of Hollywood and the white mainstream. Beyond the Full Metal Jacket fantasies we personify for every Steven Seagal, David Carridine, Quentin Tarentino, the Bloodhound Gang, and every distant member of the Wu, in many cases, we transcend the role of the prostitute, the masseuse, and the whore to become the blow-up doll, the Barbie, the Fleshlight. Laura Mulvey once famously wrote, "in their traditional exhibitionist role, women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote "to-be-looked-at-ness." To add race to this powerful characterization, the Asian American woman embodies the ultimate object of both racial and sexual "to-be-looked-at-ness" -- if we exist in the media, we exist only for the pleasure of the white, male gaze. Take for example, my earlier thoughts on Yunjin Kim in Lost -- one of the most recognizable Asian /Asian American women in media today, or Lucy Liu as the diversity quotient in Charlie's Angels. In both cases, the Asian woman exists to pleasure the male viewer, and is made relevant only when we fit into this role. Or take this article, most recently profiled in the ever-insightful Racial Pro-File, in which Xian posts his thoughts on The Chicago Tribune's profile of a new Japanese restaurant, Kizoku, which unveiled its new "body sushi" attraction. Remember that scene in Rising Sun? Or that cut scene in Hitman II? Well, forget asking us to walk on your back with our tiny lotus blossom feet, big American man, now, you too, can bring your wife and kids to eat sushi off of a genuine, naked, "Oriental" plate (although, as Xian at Racial Pro-File points out, this woman does not look Asian; whether she has Asian blood in her, she's definitly wearing yellowface, what with her overly emphasized slanty eyes and dyed black hair). Again, we see ourselves beingthe geisha, allowing ourselves to be sexually, racially and culturally colonized. Beyond our identities as women, we, as Asians have always been defined primarily in the imagination of the white European. Our experience as Asian Americans had its birth as objects of cultural slaves to missionaries and colonialists, and from that our history incoporated lives as coolies and immigrants and refugees and prostitutes. Asia in the minds of the White man, has been a place of unforetold sexuality, eroticism, and mystique, a place wide open to be phallically conquered. Even today, with the otaku, the fanboys, the Harajuku Girls, and all those who have caught the Yellow Fever (not to be confused with the Avian Bird Flu), we see White obsession with not merely learning about and appreciating the culture of the East, but colonizing it and owning it for the pleasure of the West. And here we are, in the modern day, when we are still expected to lie down on a table and present our bodies for visual consumption, in which we are to play the role of the inanimate table art for the pleasure of the oppressor, in which we as both Asian and women are placed into the role of the ultimate submissive. (Oh, and by the way, is anyone else thinking how totally unhygenic that is? I just had to put it out there.) They've gone past demanding that we, as women, be submissive and placating for men. I almost envy the June Cleaver 1950's gender role because at least those women have a brain and a voice (albeit silenced). Here, we have become room decor: a tasteful accent to a dining room table decked out with Martha Stewart Living accessory sets. What better to go with your fine silk linens and noveau-chic place settings than a real-live 'Oriental' girl, as your centerpiece? Goes lovely with all colours, this East-meets-West-meets-West-Africa will be the talk of the town! Especially sophisticated when used to serve your Thanksgiving turkey off of! You'll be the envy of all of your neighbours! Faced with this, why are we APIA women describing our burdens in the context of dating white men or Asian men? Why do we still care about the man we can't have and the man that we want? Why do we suffer through the indignities of monolid surgery, and skin-lightening creams, and crash dieting? Why do we continue to believe that we must still define our oppressions only in the context of attaching ourselves to the male patriarchy? We, as women, as Asian Americans, as a sisterhood, have yet to define for ourselves a genuine, self-identified, Asian American experience. We have yet to distinguish ourselves outside of the influence and control of Whiteness. We have yet to break out of the gilded cage of the opium prison we were placed in over two centuries ago. Dammit, Asian American women, we are more than the men we date. Paula Giddings once wrote in When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America, that "only the BLACK WOMAN can say 'when and where I enter... then and there the whole Negro race enters with me." With the oppression of both race and gender against us, it is only when the Asian American woman forcibly enters into the American mindset as an equal rather than an Other will we see a real tolerance for Asian Americana. Our burden is that we are too terrified, too unwilling, or too apathetic to take a stand. And yet, this is our responsibility. If only we had the courage to throw off the fig leaves, break the White man's cheap-ass chopsticks over his hedonistic head, shove that sushi down his lecherous throat, get our butts up off that pristine white tablecloth, brush ourselves off, put some freakin' clothes on, and break down the door of that gilded cage with one great, high-flying Kung-fu kick. But, with my sisters still stuck debating the white meat or the yellowfish, I won't be holding my breath.

19 Comments:

Anonymous alicia said...

We, as women, as Asian Americans, as a sisterhood, have yet to define for ourselves a genuine, self-identified, Asian American experience...we are more than the men we date...

With the oppression of both race and gender against us, it is only when the Asian American woman forcibly enters into the American mindset as an equal rather than an Other will we see a real tolerance for Asian Americana...Our burden is that we are too terrified, too unwilling, or too apathetic to take a stand.


Well put.

This is what I'm sayin'...

11/18/2005 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Karlos said...

Maybe I could learn to like sushi... if you guys had just taken me to the right restaurant...

Still, it was always worth going to see J try to match you in a wasabi-eating contest; it's not every day you get to see a grown man cry.

11/18/2005 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

Discrimination is definitely there, and some racism too, but I just have a hard time seeing all of this, at least in these modern times as oppression.That includes other minority groups as well.I hear that word used a lot by certain people, and to me there isn't much oppression going on here in america.Discrimination and racism yes, but oppression? Not too sure about that.Maybe my definition of oppression is different or something.

11/18/2005 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger solitaire said...

Will white America ever stop thinking of the Asian female as a 'meek, docile, submissive geisha-type who serves green tea and smiles silently'?

Will they also stop thinking of the Black female as 'loudmouthed, promiscuous (sp), unemployed, uneducated with large asses'?

How will they rid themselves of these images?
Will it happen when they are no longer present?

P.S. That sushi thing was just... ICK! I like sushi but not on a nekkid person...or a clothed person, for that matter!!

11/18/2005 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

A few thoughts....

1) Any chick who's willing to lie naked and motionless as someone else's dinner plate lacks self-respect. The attition of psuedo-Asian yellowface makeup asserts racism so clear I'm surprised the protest marches have yet to commence. That's some 'ho shit.

2) "Discrimination and racism yes, but oppression? Not too sure about that." - phillyjay

Philly, the question here becomes "What else do you need to call this stuff 'oppression'?" If you have discrimination and racism, you marry a pervasive and selective power dynamic against a specific group with irrational prejudices and historical stereotypes about the aforementioned group. That dehumanizing synergy constitutes not only 'oppression', but also the original American concept of oppression, from the Civil Rights Movement to today. Hell, the pictures show the pantomimed consumption of the Asian female. White folk are almost literally eating Chinese takeout! (Can you imagine the sexual harassment policy at that resturant? What if some enterprising young patron wants to play with his plate? What then?

Given this, the real question I ask you is why you find difficulty with applying the 'oppression' label here, where it makes sense.

11/19/2005 07:17:00 AM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

"Given this, the real question I ask you is why you find difficulty with applying the 'oppression' label here, where it makes sense."

To me it doesn't make sense.I don't see a picture like that and scream "oppression!!"Honestly the way some people talk, america (or should I say amerikkka as as some people are fond of spelling it) is this horrible oppressive country.Not pointing any fingers to anyone here just in general.Like I said before my definition of oppression is different.I look at other countries, see how they treat other minorities, women and compare it to america.Even with the problems we have here, there is a big difference.When I think of "opppression" I think of slavery,the holocaust,japanese interment, jim crow, etc etc.Stuff like that.

11/19/2005 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

philly, what was the core reason why jim crowe and internment was messed up? dehumanization based on race. why is this fucked up? dehumanization based on race and gender.

even though people aren't getting sprayed and having dogs sicced on them, even though no one is getting shot and killed, doesn't mean that the racism and oppression is any less viable. it's just more subtle.

in the end, treating asian women like things or whores is no better than anything else -- it's still the mainstream using their patriarchal power structure to maintain an institutionalized inequality and disenfranchisement of a marginalized group. it's just being expressed in a different, equally disgusting, way.

11/19/2005 03:05:00 PM  
Anonymous anashi said...

I don't think you can reason with people like Phil. They want to live in a fantasy world where the oppression on women is just a fantasy. After all he's benefitting from the exploitation of women, why should he be offended by it. It's part of his life, his culture. Just because that culture is twisted and misogynist, that shouldn't cause him any worry.

11/20/2005 02:13:00 AM  
Blogger Sheldiz said...

hey philly, as usual you and i are on a similar page... =) but i think the point that jenn/james make is that maybe oppression can't be seen as a sliding scale. it either exists or it doesn't. i don't think its possible to be 'kind of oppressed'. its like the adjective 'unique'. you can't qualify it with more or less or very or sorta. that's the way i see opression. but i do understand where you are coming from concerning other cultures and countries and how they treat basic human rights. you're right, i am more disgusted by the treatment of women/minorities in other places than in the US... but it begs the question to me, where does it end here? i'm nervous that racial and sexual equality in the US is at a standstill and possibly starting to move backwards. which makes me wonder how long before we end up as one of the countries people point to and say "shit, at least we're not in the US!" but yeah, no one is forcing these women to lay down naked on a table... and jenn is right, women (and especially minority women) have a hard enough time being taken seriously already, without our own members adding to the problems.

oh, and i don't think the poster above me has read enough of your comments on this site and others to make that judgement. i actually don't even think that judgement could be made based on your comments on this topic. whatevs, keep posting, keep the convo going =)

killing two birds with one post: jenn, hope everything is getting less stressful at school. james, hope everything is getting less stressful at home. =)

11/20/2005 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

"I don't think you can reason with people like Phil. They want to live in a fantasy world where the oppression on women is just a fantasy. After all he's benefitting from the exploitation of women, why should he be offended by it. It's part of his life, his culture. Just because that culture is twisted and misogynist, that shouldn't cause him any worry."

Wow, I don't know who you are but you are waaaaay off.Oppression of women in the world is real, but in america? I don't know about that.Like I said, I have a different view on what is considered oppression.Also I never said I wasn't offended by the image or that anyone shouldn't be.I don't nor do I want to live in a fantasy world.Just because I have a different opinion does not mean I can't be reasoned with.Jenn and james made their point which I understand and still disagree with.And I'm sure they disagree will mine as well and that's fine.I'm not benefitting from the exploitation of women (you got that from my post??!!) and it's not part of my culture.You're assuming a ton of things about me without knowing me.

11/20/2005 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

"I don't think you can reason with people like Phil." - Anashi

Anashi, you don't know Phillyjay and you don't know his style. Learn more before dissing him like this.

That being said, the concept of 'oppression' needing unfree labor or concentration camps in order to appeal to our anti-oppression sensibilities does not compute, in my opinion. It's not about seeing a picture and screaming "Oppression!!!" in some knee-jerk antagonism to good clean American fun. The problem with the restaurant discussed is that patrons consume stereotypical Orientalism with every tuna sashimi bite. Yellowfin sushi with naked yellowface place settings is not positive in any sense, nor does it promote the tolerance and equality America is based on.

For some, it's a private establishment, and the dictates of market forces should be the only real determinant of it's usefulness, given our capitalist society. But I find this restaurant repugnant because I don't believe ethnic culture (or ethnic people) should be commodified and consumed in this bazaar and ugly way. I fear that people who do not find these images snapshots of anti-Asian American oppression, generally speaking, do not find much wrong with the actions depicted, and that I do not understand.

It's like dildos in adult shops painted brown like Black male skin and grown to immense proportions, to be sold with pictures of Black male porn stars. The Alabama blacksnake people buy isn't sexy to them just because it's an enormous phallus. Many find it sexy because of the illicit and racist thrill they derive from the idea of sex with endowed Black men. Those people aren't just fucking plastic or latex or silicone, they're fucking me. Or at least, their perverted racist conception thereof.

These images offer the same psychosexual commodification, and use hypersexual Asian female sexuality - pliant, servile, promiscuous - to achieve racist pleasure.

As a person of color, I'm tired of this oppression.

11/20/2005 04:56:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

bizarre, not bazaar.

Man, I need sleep.

11/20/2005 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Just have to put it out there:

Phillyjay, are you honestly suggesting that oppression of women does not exist in America? Women are still paid less to do equal work in America, we are still denied equal treatment under the law when it comes to their own bodies. We are still depicted as hypersexualized whores in the media. Hell, we can't even participate in the military on an equal footing as men.

Men in this country still defend rape, objectification and sexual and economic abuse and control of women. Men still expect women to be the homemakers, the caretakers, and the housewives. Men, even you in this case, still expect that they can define, for us, what our experience is and should be.

Philly, as a woman in this country, I can honestly say that, just as Anashi is unwilling to give you the benefit of a doubt (and honestly, I don't know that I disagree with her sentiment since I, too, am frustrated here...), you, too, are speaking without a pretense at understanding. You are the beneficiary of the patriarchal system that promotes your strength and denigrates us as weak -- perhaps, until you examine exactly how different your experiences and the experiences of a woman might be, you shouldn't unilaterally deny that our oppression exists without expecting some kind of retaliatory remarks.

11/20/2005 05:18:00 PM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

Sorry Jen, but I'm not a feminist.You should already know that by now.All that stuff I don't consider oppression.If anything I consider it discrimination.Like I said different view.

"Men, even you in this case, still expect that they can define, for us, what our experience is and should be."

Hey it's fine to disagree with me.If you or Anashi consider me to be benefitting from the exploitation of women, accepting a misogynist culture, etc,etc fine with me.You guys obviously already figured out what I believe in and think, especially as a male.Sorry for having a opinion.By the way you're not the only one frustrated.

11/20/2005 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger Gar said...

Great post, and I thought I'd throw my 2 cents in.

Mental/Emotional oppression is just as relevant as actual physical oppression. In fact, the former usually proceeds the latter. Incidents like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese American internment, or Vincent Chin didn't occur in a vacuum - they came out of circumstances of racism and a majority (white) culture that de-humanized its victims, giving the "OK" to treat them the way it did.

As for the question "Do Asian American women face oppression?" I think these statistics are very telling:

-Asian American women aged 15-24 have the highest suicide mortality rates among all ethnic groups.
-Asian American women over 65 also have the highest suicide mortality rates among all ethnic groups.
-Asian American adolescent girls have the highest rates of depressive symptoms of all racial/ethnic and gender groups.

(source: http://www.kcceb.org/campaign/mental/english/content.cfm?file=fact)

11/20/2005 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Philly, how do you distinguish between discrimination and oppression? The only difference is whether or not the power structure enacts an institutionalized form of discrimination against the marginalized group -- in other words, someone who discriminates upon another is able to exact inequality against that group using their own power and privilege.

To call this discrimination without oppression is to say "hey, those guys have a problem with you based on something you can't control" but that this doesn't constitute any real negative action against asian american women.

Again, how can you make that argument? And more importantly, if you don't consider this oppression, than where's your boundary? Does someone have to die before you consider a group oppressed?

11/21/2005 12:49:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

@Gar Mental/Emotional oppression is just as relevant as actual physical oppression. In fact, the former usually proceeds the latter. Incidents like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Japanese American internment, or Vincent Chin didn't occur in a vacuum - they came out of circumstances of racism and a majority (white) culture that de-humanized its victims, giving the "OK" to treat them the way it did.


Agreed. Prior to the Holocaust in Nazi Germany were years of mental and emotional oppression, including laws that discriminated against Jews both economically and socially. Prior to internment of Japanese Americans were years of treating our people like coolies, prostitutes and subhuman monkeys. Prior to slavery were generations of treating and depicting Africa as a feral place of barbarians and bizarre sexuality. Though many people died during the Opium Wars, I question whether it was the actual wars themselves that were more disturbing, or the fact that the British so dehumanized the Chinese that they were willing to addict them to opium and let them waste away rather than treat them as economic equals.

How (and more importantly why) someone could think that women, let alone Asian American women, are not oppressed in America is completely beyond me.

And philly, incidentally, you don't have to be a feminist to believe that women are oppressed. Feminists are only the people who are willing to do something about it.

11/21/2005 12:54:00 AM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

So in your view discrimination=opression?The two have to be linked?I don't see every single act whether it's racism or discrimination as opression by the dominate (or in other words white people) group.I don't use the word so liberally.

11/21/2005 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Philly, the danger I find in characterizing discrimination without oppression is the "vacuum complex", where independent observers of discriminatory action believe that the discrimination they see has nothing to do with the institutional structures all Americans use and benefit from.

Take 1960's era housing discrimination against African Americans. Black people, former veterans and professionals especially, found themselves locked out of decent housing opportunities, necessary to protect themselves and their families from crime and other social ills, because of racist prejudice on the part of White real estate agents. Some White observers would like to believe that the only people at fault were the racist real estate agents, but that wasn't the case. Those agents were in many ways reacting to the desires of middle-class White homeowners in popular suburbs who did not want to live around African Americans, years after the 'separate-but-equal' doctrine was deemed unconstitutional.

The point? White suburbanites who abandoned America's urban centers to escape integration with Black people benefit from the same racial discrimination that racist real estate agents displayed when they discriminated against African Americans in the housing market. The discrimination does not exist in a vacuum. When a large group benefits from the discrimination of some against another group, in an institutionalized and/or de facto format, oppression exists. There is nothing liberal about the way that word has been used concerning anti-Asian American female stereotypes in this discussion.

11/21/2005 01:33:00 PM  

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