Same garbage, different continents

by Jolene Tan // 7 February 2010, 17:22

Over at Racialicious, Thea Lim discusses an American website, "Classy Asian Ladies", which fetishises Asian women ("Asian" is used in the American rather than the British sense, referring to the Asian continent more generally rather than specifically South Asia). Drawing a supposed opposition between Asian-American women and other American women:

It seems that in today’s society the average woman is becoming very competitive and even a bit more masculine than their counterparts in earlier generations. All the while it seems to be just the opposite is taking place for Asian women who tend to retain their sense of femininity and well-known cultural attitude of gentle and caring support. …

Asian ladies ... are known for their loving and gentle nature, they are extremely loyal, supportive, and dedicated to their men. One of the great qualities you will find in the Asian women at ClassyAsianLadies.com is how important their man is in all aspects of their lives. It’s not about what a man does for a living or how much he earns; the Asian woman at ClassyAsianLadies.com will stand behind her men in times of trouble and stress, while rejoicing in his periods of success. She always thinks of her man first! …

They rarely complain, are gentle and constructive with their criticism ... Did we mention that Asian ladies are among the most beautiful females in the world? And they are well known for retaining their youthful beauty and shapely figures well into middle age and beyond.
On this side of the pond, a "Thai bride" agency offers more on the same theme:
If you are one of the growing band of disillusioned genuine single Western gentlemen, who is "sick to the back teeth" with the new breed of twenty-first century woman. If you are disillusioned with the kind of de-feminised, over sized, self-centred, mercenary minded lady, available on the Western singles scene, who is only out for what she can get. ... we introduce gentlemen to the kind of decent, marriage minded Thai ladies ...
For me, there is something especially ironic, and empty, about the characterisation of "Asian women" in opposition to Western women, because funnily enough, this is exactly the sort of reasoning used by some men in Singapore - in that place, you know, Asia - to justify participation in the regional “bride trade”, through which they purchase women from Vietnam and other countries.
A Singaporean man was seen distributing leaflets to passersby, promoting luxury cruise packages at a cost of S$13,800 (US$8,365). For an extra S$9,800 (US$5,940), a single man buying a luxury cruise could choose a bride on the spot to accompany him on his trip.

"It was like a TV advertisement, and it was so humiliating," the Thanh Nien daily reported, quoting a Vietnamese employee at a computer firm in Singapore.

In recent years, an increasing number of Singapore men, unable to find love at home, have sought their brides in Vietnam, China and Indonesia. Many are convinced that foreigners make better wives because they are perceived as more domesticated, less arrogant or materialistic compared to their Singapore counterparts.
The website of one of the bride businesses enthusiastically reproduces the following bullet points from a Singaporean news story (page two here) on the subject:
  • "Mr. Yeo said that he is getting old, he need someone to take care of his 73-year-old mother and himself."
  • Foreign brides are more demure and accommodating.
  • "I want woman who will put the family and husband first, rather than demand cars, condominiums and credits."
  • Willing to bear kid. …
  • His wife takes care of the kids and all housework.
  • Her requests are simple, "care for her, don't bully her and don't go out look for other women."
  • Although racial fetishes in dating are not directly comparable to the purchase of mail order brides, the similarities in legitimising rhetoric are striking. As a woman from Asia, myself, I find essentialising language about "Asian women" far from complimentary, but rather dehumanising and Othering. The Western characterisation of a homogenous bloc of "Asian women" as ciphers of femininity - as delicate lotus flowers of mind-reading, uncomplaining wish fulfillment fantasy - has a particular resonance in light of the exploitation by the bride trade of the economic hardship faced by many women in Asia.

    Quite aside from cases of outright fraud or coercion in the "bride trade", for many women, marriage is their only or primary opportunity to secure a level of material provision for themselves and their families. It is unsurprising that some would look to richer countries to make the most of it. Once in an unfamiliar society, dependent on their husbands for economic provision and often immigration status, possibly unable to speak the local language, these women are in a position of great vulnerability. When marketers in the "bride trade" speak of women who are "demure and accommodating", they are promoting this very powerlessness as a key selling point.

    So the glowing tributes to "femininity", here, are not descriptions of women - any women - "as we really are", whatever that means, but celebrations of powerlessness. (We might well ask, of course, if tributes to "femininity" are ever anything but sops to inferior classes under patriarchy.)

    Comments From You

    Anne Onne // Posted 07 February 2010 at 18:17

    Yes, nice one. Thanks for this. I'm sick of seeing comments amounting to 'Western women* are so spoilt, obsessed with careers, slutty and masculine. I only like women from X because they are subservient, well-groomed and feminine in traditional ways''. I'm always like 'Yeh well YOU think they are. Let me tell you, buster, NO woman is what you think women should be!' I bet these asshats get a nasty shock when they find out that the 'pure, feminine, meek' foreign wife they fetishised actually turns out to be a flesh and blood woman with spirit and ambitions and yes, even a temper. Because regardless of where we're from, and stereotypes, we're ALL people.

    Sadly think some aspect of the powerlessness is often tied into the idea that foreign women may not have as firm a grasp of English as 'Western' women, so their not being able to express themselves may be a selling point to men with controlling tendencies.

    Although racism against different women of colour (and sometimes ethnically white women) is expressed with different stereotypes towards different groups, I feel that at the base of all fetishisation of 'Non-Western' women is the idea of inherent sexual subservience as well as domestic subservience. At its core (and even when viewed from the viewpoint of Non-Western men fetishising other women of another ethnicity) is dissatisfaction that women in their group are too demanding, too intimidating and too liberated.

    What they don't get is that they're seeing women as they really are: diverse, thinking, flawed people, not the myth of the perfect woman on a pedestal. Until they see what women really are, they'll always be disappointed, no matter who they choose.

    Of course this is not to denounce interracial relationships based on equality and love or attraction, but where a woman is treated as an interchangeable cipher representing her ethnicity not herself.

    * Evidently it's not just Western men who fall into this way of thinking, though I personally seem to run into a LOT of them.

    Kath // Posted 07 February 2010 at 18:20

    Great post. Last sentence sums it up perfectly!

    Clare // Posted 07 February 2010 at 23:12

    I know Asian women who couldn't be farther from the stupid stereotypes. Good luck to men when they 'order' (screw them) these brides, and find out they have a fiesty, often dominant *human* on their hands.

    gadgetgal // Posted 08 February 2010 at 08:41

    I remember something like this happening once - I went to the pub with a guy I was seeing and and his friends (males and females, mostly couples). I ran into a couple of old friends from school, one of whom is Chinese English. The comments after I came back to the table after chatting to her were pretty much offensive all round - they basically felt the right to sexualise her as much as they wanted, adding that "she would probably do anything they wanted", etc. etc. This was offensive to me, as she was my friend and also so incredibly independent and intelligent she wasn't even on the same planet as these guys, but it also placed their girlfriends in a terrible position, because in being letchy as a group towards her they were totally disrespectful to the women they were with, who then did the usual of blaming the girl attracting the unwanted advances, not the arsehole boyfriends. So it definitely became something about setting up an opposition that wasn't even truly there - I think not only does the fetishisation have to stop but we need to be more aware that it's happening, and not put up with it when people do it. I didn't - I got up, after thanking them for being so damn disrespectful to my friend and their partners, and then left!

    JenniferRuth // Posted 08 February 2010 at 09:13

    I was going to make quite a long comment but Anne Onne just said everything I was going to say! She probably said it better anyway :)

    One thing I can add is that I hate how mail order brides have become a standard joke on tv and the idea of it has entered popular culture. It is viewed as slightly weird but no-one seems to associate it with the racism, sexism and abuse that is so clearly present. I shouldn't be surprised since it is just an extension of the general view that women are objects (and even more so if that woman is non-white).

    Jennifer Drew // Posted 08 February 2010 at 10:29

    Agree Anne Oone the one defining issue irrespective of race, ethnicity etc. is the global male belief that women exist solely to service men. Any woman, irrespective of her race, ethnicity etc. who dares to demand men respect her dignity and human rights is demonised as being 'too liberated, too demanding etc.'

    Reminds me - this is what feminism is all about - the fact women - like men are human and women like men are not disposable commodities. But demanding women's human rights is increasingly seen as challenging men's pseudo rights and hence the rise in men from differing countries believing 'buying a foreign-born woman' will restore/enhance their pseudo male power over all women.


    Carrie // Posted 08 February 2010 at 14:02

    "But demanding women's human rights is increasingly seen as challenging men's pseudo rights and hence the rise in men from differing countries believing 'buying a foreign-born woman' will restore/enhance their pseudo male power over all women."

    Thanks Jenifer Drew! You totally said what I have been trying to put into thoughts, but couldn't quite manage.

    When I read this, the text off classyasianladies made me so angry. Partly for the way it portrays women, partly because it's painting this picture of 'asian ladies' as one personality, and partly because I worry what kind of man is attracted by that description.

    "It seems that in today’s society the average woman is becoming very competitive and even a bit more masculine than their counterparts in earlier generations" = they're actually demanding some rights and lives of their own, like a man! And we wouldn't want that would we???

    They're contrasting this idea of the 'un-feminine' woman who might want a life or career of her own and a partner who takes an equal role in caring (and be vocal about that wish!), to a 'feminine' woman who is gentle, caring and quiet. It's building a picture of an 'ideal' women for men who believe they have some sort of right to control a woman, calling this meekness and deference 'femininity', and labelling all 'asian ladies' with it.

    "Asian ladies … are known for their loving and gentle nature, they are extremely loyal, supportive, and dedicated to their men. One of the great qualities you will find in the Asian women at ClassyAsianLadies.com is how important their man is in all aspects of their lives." - Translated: this woman will put you first in front of her own wants/needs, and won't complain about it.

    "They rarely complain, are gentle and constructive with their criticism …"
    Translated: You can do what you want, treat her like you want, and probably get away with it. And she won't nag, like ALL western women do.

    "Did we mention that Asian ladies are among the most beautiful females in the world? And they are well known for retaining their youthful beauty and shapely figures well into middle age and beyond."
    Translated: Not only do you get a domestic servant for this price, but a hot one to have sex with too!

    It makes me worry about how vulnerable the women are who end up married to the kind of men who are attracted to this description. I'm sure that some of the women do ok, as Anne Onne said,
    'I bet these asshats get a nasty shock when they find out that the 'pure, feminine, meek' foreign wife they fetishised actually turns out to be a flesh and blood woman with spirit and ambitions and yes, even a temper.'
    However some women who enter this arrangement may not be able to stand-up to their husbands if they are not happy, and cannot show their ambition or temper because they are trapped in a controlling relationship through economic necessity or risk of being deported.

    (Apologies that this was a bit of a rambling comment! And as a I side note, I don't look down on being caring, dedicated, unambitious or putting a partner first as bad qualities. But I resent the way they are strung together in this text to refer to how a woman should treat a man)

    Jacqui // Posted 08 February 2010 at 22:28

    These stereotypes are off the mark, and most obviouly a way to pitt females against one another. Just like how women are constantly compared to predecessors, how things were better back when we were all submissive and had to depend on men.

    It's weird men expressly state they want these 'pseudo privileges' from women and use, like they always have, their ideas of what they find attractive (oh so important!), so submissiveness, domestification, to try to undermine our behaviours and aspirations. They try to make us feel the elephant in the room if we aren't their idea of 'meek woman', and point to times and places to have a rant about 'better women' in comparison. The world is a torturous place for some men who don't have their women exactly how they like them. That kind of privilege - to see the world in that way - is unthinkable to us, isn't it. But they're apparently not happy if Wicked Women of the West were left to their own devices after the men had gone to another country seeking women willing to make em a sammich.

    Which planet is devoid of men who only want relationships with the status of women? 'Planet anti- misogynist'.. Where men don't rape, laugh at, spit and become obsessed with the position of the other sex. Hate speak - hateful ads, tired jokes against women are a jailable offence, never thought of. Can you mail order yourself there?

    FeminaErecta // Posted 09 February 2010 at 13:45

    My sister (who is white)'s husband's mum is Filopino, and when it is mentioned (in conversations about race with work collegues, for example) that I have a mixed-race brother in law then I am met a lot of the time with many women exclaiming how gorgeus and sexy he must be, because of his Filopino 'otherness', and how lucky my sister is to find someone so attractive. Now, he is a good looking young man, but he is also a good person and good to my sister, which personally I think more important. I think white women can be just as guilty as sexualising Asian men, especially mixed race men with an Asian heritage, as white men can be.

    My second point is that his mother was a mail-order bride. His father 'bought' her for himself in the 1980s when he got to middle age. She was in her twenties. Her family were living in poverty. Her and her two sisters both set themselves up with an agency that charged an administration fee to his father to introduce the two, and to pay for flights over to Britain, and her two sisters to Australia. His father had been a workaholic all his life, had no idea how to meet women and saw the whole process as cross-continental dating agency. His father and his mother now have a very strong loving relationship. His father is a kind and considerate man who I have never heard say a single sexist or demeaning thing. She is able to send money back to her brothers, who were unable to leave the Phillopeans to marry into Western wealth (because women are stigmatised against using their material wealth to aquire sexual relationships in Western socieities) and who still live in relative poverty.

    I think that how these women are being described is appauling, of course I do, but I also think that women marrying in order to increase their material wealth by marriage when it is their choice to do so is not that bad a thing, I think that the element is choice. Of course, you can argue that having being born into poverty and having no way out of it apart from arranged marriage makes the idea of it being a choice laughable, but that is not the men's or women's fault, it is the Western capitalist system's, and it is that we should be opposing. Foreign women being seen as 'other' is part of the whole post-colonial Western pyschological problem there is in this country where it is still thought by certain people that because 150 years ago they were run by selfish, greedy, power mad idiots who went around the world nicking stuff and calling it their own that somehow makes them better than everybody else.

    That's what I think anyway.

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