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Asian American masculinity has been linked to the model minority myth and a hierarchy of racist stereotypes.
I used to believe it myself. Until I moved to Korea when I was 23, visiting for the first time since my adoption at age two, I dated only white women. As an adoptee with white parents, whiteness was the model of desire I knew. During my childhood, my parents insisted that we were the same as any other family — which, because they were white, I took as saying I must be as white as them to be their son.
I mean this literally. One day, I stood at the mirror and suddenly realized that I was Asian.
I used to wonder what took me so long to see myself. Now I wonder what I saw before that day. A white boy with white skin?
Or did I simply assume that the image in the mirror was white, because it was normal and normal was whiteness? I saw who they wanted me to see. That is the thing about desire: it comes from the outside.
Desire is a story in which you are a character. The most difficult sequence to watch is a montage that switches back and forth between shots of Kumail — the main character — courting a white woman, Emily, and shots of him tossing images of brown women into a cigar box one after the other, each deemed unworthy by comparison.
The dangers of white male supremacy
He hides his relationship with Emily from his parents, and when he finally tells them about her, he is the one who connects his love for Emily to his nationality. As an isolated case, the film would still be problematic, but what really frustrates critics like Tanzila Ahmed and Amil Niazi is how frequently stories about Asian American masculinity rely on sex with a white woman.
As early asscholar Elaine Kim noted this trope in Asian American literature, where the symbol of the white woman indicates an Asian American male character has been accepted into society or not. If the terms of masculinity are white, women of color are excluded. In fact, Kim found that one other group of writers also symbolized white women as access to American masculinity: straight white male writers writing about Asian male characters. In other words, the story of how we view Asian American masculinity can be understood as a story about white male insecurity.
P erhaps some history is necessary.
Chinese railroad workers were both valued and devalued as men. Railroad work was seen as exclusively male, and Chinese men were expected to work more, in more dangerous situations, and take less pay than white counterparts.
'good-looking for an asian': how i shed white ideals of masculinity
In addition, it was cheapest to prohibit wives and children from ing them, which also conveniently limited population growth the Act legalized this prohibition. Bythere were 27 Chinese men for every one Chinese woman, and with the railroad completed, the economic value of Chinese masculinity decreased while white fear of Chinese masculinity increased.
Out of this context, two different stereotypes of Asian American men emerged: emasculation and hypermasculinity two sides of the same racist, misogynist, homophobic coin.
Leading up to the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned Chinese immigration completely, much of the propaganda depicted Chinese men as out to rape and pillage. White masculinity depended on the sexual and economic possession of white women. If the hypersexualization of Asian American males was an expression of white male insecurity, their desexualization was an attempt to ease that insecurity.
Despite depictions of Chinese men as desperate for white women, they were also represented as asexual or homosexual both considered antithetical to white masculinity. This is where the stereotype of the Chinese American laundromat comes from. The effect helped both to address white male anxiety and to establish white heterosexual masculinity and patriarchy as the norm.
InElliot Rodger, half white and half Asian American, killed six people and injured 14 in an act of revenge against white women. Neither of these inventions, notably, are really about Asian American desire at all. These are problems of the limited male imagination. You experience this phenomenon when you dress as someone else would like you to dress, or when you act in a way you hope will attract the attention of your crush.
This theory of desire seems especially useful in explaining the model minority stereotype — that Asian Americans find success by working hard and following the rules — and why some Asian Americans perform the stereotype so dutifully. To be the model minority is to fulfill the desire of the other. That is, you perform the stereotype because it is the performance that whiteness wants from you.
Just as I saw in the mirror what my parents wanted from me. What makes the performance so alluring is that you also feel yourself become desirable to yourself. For straight Asian American men, this means wanting to be wanted in the way white heteronormative men are wanted.
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If an Asian American man can win the love of a white woman, he thinks, then he might have a claim to America in all its whiteness and straightness and maleness after all. Throughout, he makes snarky jokes at the expense of his own perceived emasculation such as how small his penis is.
Like Rodger, he blames his unhappiness on not being able to have sex with a white woman. Tomine is clear that Ben is no hero, that he is his own biggest problem. The tone is critical. The dream, and the masculinity, was never his to begin with. The best he can do, in the wreckage of his life, is to see that it has been a wreck for a while.
The book ends ambiguously, with Ben in an airplane, flying home, perhaps ready to see himself for the first time. African American masculinity has long provoked white fear of emasculation. Pitting a desexualized Asian American model minority against the hypermasculine stereotype of Black men marks yet another attempt to make Black men responsible for white male fear. That is, that societal power may come at the cost of sexual power. W hen I returned to Korea for the first time since my adoption, I met a woman I would love for the rest of her life.
I mean, we got married. I also mean, she died young.
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I had been carrying those three words at the end of every sentence. I had needed them to remind me that someone else was looking. Widowed now, I desire in the shadow of desire. No one will see you, they say. They wear their pyjamas all day, except on our daily walk. I say I will see myself, but they are not convinced. That was all she saw. So I ran.
The state of men Race. Supported by.
Matthew Salesses. Fri 23 Oct Topics Race The state of men features.
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