Asian women have suffered a history of being overly sexualized by Americans. Although this notion has come to light in recent weeks, it has always been present throughout the centuries. And in many old Hollywood films, the racist, stereotypical tropes forced onto Asian actresses were a strong asset to the plot of movies. Now, in the 21st century, these stereotypes are still a powerful force in determining how Asian women experience racism and sexism in the U.S. at the hands of white men. This was an issue long before the recent hate crimes in Atlanta ー and if the media continues to portray Asian women as anything other than human, these tragedies will persist. As a result, the media has a huge responsibility to raise awareness and educate people on Asian experiences.
Traditionally, Asian women were portrayed in old Hollywood movies as one of two characters that are equally as damaging to them in real life. In one of these stereotypes, Asian women are portrayed as a “lotus flower,” who are expected to be submissive, obedient and eager to serve the white man. Even today, the media has curated this and has made it easy for white men to take on a white savior persona when interacting with Asian women. In popular movies, such as “The Last Samurai,” white men are always depicted as the hero, coming into war-torn Asian countries and taking the women to America. But these overly romanticized scenarios harm Asian women and give white men the false idea that they are being a hero. White men also expect Asian women to only desire them, which leads for Asian men to be largely emasculated by the media and seen as less desirable.
In the second stereotype, Asian women are also portrayed in the media as hypersexualized “temptresses” made to seduce and steal the white man from the white woman. Just as in the case of the “lotus flower,” the media has played an equally powerful role in putting forth this image of Asian women as seductive, overly sexual objects instead of human beings. American media romanticizes Asian women and makes them out to be exotic sex objects, even if the reality is far from this. For instance, white women in Hollywood often joke and hypersexualize Asian women as a way to put them down and make the stereotype that they are trying to steal the men away from them.
In a routine by comedian Amy Schumer, she jeers about men liking Asian women better because they don’t talk back and have tiny genitals. Tina Fey is notorious for using Asian women in her work and characterizing them as hypersexualized women who can’t speak English. This can clearly be seen in the movie “Mean Girls,” with overly sexualized Asian minors experiencing statutory rape at the hands of their gym teacher and passing it off as a disgusting joke. Both of these instances and more prove that the hypesexualization and dehumanization of Asian women in the U.S. have been kept alive and well. And because of these stereotypes of the “lotus flower” and the “temptress,” racism and sexism intersect for Asian women ー and this has proven to be fatal.
In Atlanta, of the eight people killed, six were women of Asian descent. The shooter is described by the media to have killed them as a result of his sex addiction and that he was simply trying to “eliminate his temptation”. But this ignorant assumption is harmful and should be seen instead as a racist, sexist hate crime perpetrated by the hypersexualization of Asian women in the media. News networks are claiming that he had a sex addiction, but there is much more to it. This is yet another obvious instance of Western imperialism and the effects of the fetishization of Asian women.
The gunman in Atlanta murdered Asian Americans, and the media is making it seem like they are simply massage parlor sex workers and not human beings. Much worse, this reporting in itself is equally problematic because we should not see sex workers as less than human beings either. Mainstream media is brushing over the fact that these women were technically sex workers, which not only dehumanizes Asian women, but also those in the sex industry. No one deserves to lose their lives, and the media has a responsibility to do better when reporting on these matters.
Although the tragedy in Atlanta is one of the more recent events that have exposed the racism and sexism that Asian Americans are subjected to, sexual violence against Asian women has been an issue before it was ever brought to light. And while the media is addressing these issues later, it is still better than never ー but they need to handle it with better reporting. Major news media have a role in educating the public and spreading the awareness that Asian women are not something to be sexualized and saved by white men. Additionally, they must encourage people to show up to protests and read more informative articles and books about Asian cultureー not just fantasy mangas. And most importantly, they need to show that Asian women are people and that it is not difficult to treat people like human beings.
More than better reporting and raising awareness, the media must also hire more Asians to be present in newsrooms. Asians should have a voice when it comes to covering these types of stories because they can specifically understand the many ways that racism and sexism play a part in these atrocities. Asians in newsrooms would do the most justice to important stories like this because they have firsthand, intimate knowledge that their white counterparts lack. This would be a powerful way to amplify the voices of Asian Americans and make them feel like less of a walking stereotype in the US.
Although these experiences have been endured for much longer than the past few years, the media has a unique opportunity now to uplift Asian women in a way they have not before. They also have the opportunity to acknowledge the link between sexism and racism and how this has played a part in violence toward Asian women for centuries. The time is now for the media to take a bigger role in stopping Asian hate and ending the fetishization of Asian women.