"You know, my last three girlfriends were Asian."
November 30, 2014 6:36 PM   Subscribe

How can somebody on the receiving end of the unfortunate manifestations of Asian fetish ("yellow fever") suck it up and get on with her day/life as best as possible?

Racist remarks are annoying to begin with, but they become a larger emotional burden when there's a distinctly sexualized undertone to about half of those remarks. I could be oversensitive. (My life would be a lot easier if I were merely oversensitive.) I usually don't dwell on it too much. But some days, I want to jump out of my skin.

I don't need this to be a discussion on whether Asian fetish exists in the US (because it does, period) and whether it's wrong or "a harmless preference." The bottom line is: its manifestations are exhausting to me.

If I were trying to date, avoiding places like OKCupid would probably be standard advice, but I'm not, and I still have to listen to this nonsense. Strangers have told me things like, "you know, my last three exes were Asian," or have tried to address me in what they think is an term of endearment in some Asian language. Some of it isn't even directed specifically to me-- once I had to listen to a white male senior lecturer drop the completely irrelevant fact that his wife was Asian in the middle of his talk. In a similar vein, one of my male friends wryly made the observation that "having an Asian girlfriend is like driving a BMW."

It makes me feel sad and kind of powerless, almost like a general feeling of, "even if nothing outright is being said right this moment, I'm probably being viewed as this little submissive... thing... by somebody in the room..." It makes me feel a bit unsafe around white males, partly because the fetish is pervasive enough such that it is not surprising if any given white male I come across in my day happens to have it. This isn't something I can accurately discern until it has exploded in my face. Talking back doesn't always work because they get defensive and even more scathing / racist in their remarks, or they simply don't get it ("come on, everybody has a type"). Complaining to HR would not do much, because the comments are often "compliments" and the incidents are diffusely distributed across multiple people, though consistent enough to be bothersome. I can't avoid all white males because the demographics of my workplace don't make this an option. Plus, that seems hypervigilant-- I understand that not all white males act or think this way.

There are AskMes about yellow fever, but they do not provide many suggestions on how to deal with this practically and emotionally.

Also: the man who raped me was white and had a young Asian wife. It could have just been a coincidence, but I know that it really wasn't. This also sort of adds to my upset and possibly to my feelings of being unsafe around white males, though I would feel bothered by the other numerous "yellow fever" incidents regardless of this past event.

Anybody-- Asian-American women in particular-- who has experienced this sort of thing and feels like they have a handle on it-- I'd love to hear your suggestions.
posted by gemutlichkeit to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I'm the Anglo mother of two half Tibetan little girls living in Australia. They're already getting this flung at them and I despair. You're not imagining it. I'm going to watch this thread for tips for my daughters going forward.

One thing I will say is that I have sometimes tried to set myself as an ally to young women I observe being subjected to this. I confirm that what they're sensing is actually happening and is repulsive. Sometimes it has included me talking about or showing a photo of my daughters(if they're not with me).

I hope that sometimes people are trying, badly, to declare themselves to be allies. The sad fact is that I very much doubt a man could ever achieve that without profound suspicion. At least to me.

I wish you luck and offer support. I hadn't thought about this much before it was foist upon me after our first daughter grew...and even as a primary school age child, she's getting it. Fortunately her five year old little sister is tough and most people know if they try that with her she'll kick them in the shins. An action I would endorse.
posted by taff at 7:00 PM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Would you feel comfortable saying anything in these situations? "It's inappropriate for me to know that about you" (or "I have no desire to know that about you" or "It's inappropriate to assume that I want to know that") might help with some of the "compliments."

I'm not Asian, so I don't want to pretend that I have more insight or experience than I do, but I do know that reading and participating in blogs and Tumblrs and other places where women are safe to do the "OMG WHY ARE THEY SUCH JERKS AND CREEPS????" thing helps me. Of the stuff I read with an Asian feminist focus, I like Angry Asian Girls, but I'm sure there are others. Searching for Asian feminist communities may turn up sites or groups that fit better for you.
posted by jaguar at 7:05 PM on November 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Adding on Jaguar's comments - asking "why did you think to tell me this?" is a slightly more polite way to snuff it out - or at least give them enough rope to hang themselves with.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:11 PM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Full disclaimer: I'm white. I do not know the specific problems that you have. I do understand being fetishized as a woman (who was once) in a same-sex relationship, so my advice will stem mostly from that. Unfortunately I don't have any real practical advice, it's mostly just how to deal with the emotional and mental taxation that comes with objectification.

The most helpful thing for me was also the hardest: Stop internalizing the negative feelings. You may not even realize that you are, I didn't. It took a lot of reflection, a lot of mindfulness. Actively working from turning the sad feelings that spiraled inward, to anger projected outward onto the people that deserved it. When gross white dudes objectify you because of your race, that says absolutely nothing about you. If the same guys were walking up to you and saying "My last 3 exes had that same haircut", it wouldn't bring the same sort of helplessness. And that's because you don't identify as your haircut, but you strongly identify with your race, and it's much more personal. But it's really an indicator of their worth and behavior, not yours.

When I was finally able to stop feeling bad about what they said, and instead could feel angry because they were being such shitheads, my internal monologue went from I'm a queer woman->this asshole is being a weirdo to me because of it->lots of sad feelings about being helpless, feeling objectified, etc.
to something more like this I'm a queer woman->this asshole is being a weirdo to me because of it->holy shit, this guy is literal trash. so glad I know this. avoiding these guys foreverrrr
And, I don't know, that just seemed to take up a lot less mental energy. I still have to work on it, and I still get mega bummed sometimes when weirdos ask me stupid, unsolicited, questions about sex w/women. But it's really helped me shove off some of that mental baggage, and focus on other things in my life.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:36 PM on November 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm female and non-Asian, but one thing that got me thinking a lot about this stuff was hearing Asian friends talk about it in passing. I'm not sure that's going to eradicate some dude's "Asian Fetish", but the more you mention it in passing as it comes up/when you have something to say, the more the general public will start realizing how fucked up this stuff is.

I didn't think much of this stuff until I heard an Asian female friend tell a story about some asshole calling her "exotic" in a business meeting. Fuck that noise.

So, just, talk back! Call people out! If something like this happens and it stays with you for the rest of the day, don't hide it.
posted by Sara C. at 7:43 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm "Asian" (though I never actually refer to myself that way, I refer to my specific ethnicity because that is what has meaning to me. "Asian" on the contrary to actually getting at anything about me, just seems to put me in a VERY simplistic category of how people are always understanding this term all around me every day. I don't identify with it, it means nothing to me).

The reason why Asian fetishes can exist is because people are seeing "Asian" women and people as not individuals or a part of individual cultures and nations. They are the "same". How, otherwise, could people make some assumption that you're a "submissive thing" ?

I am lucky I do not live in a city that is more populated with Asians because even here I totally get what you're saying. It would be hard to deal with. I've been someone's desired fetish before, along with their liking for little dogs ( but not big dogs!), Chinese thinking and ideas, and other Asian women. Once when a guy I was dating told a girl at work he had a crush on (who was Chinese) that I was what I am she said "when you've had yellow you don't go back". That was many years ago and it still disgusts me how one can talk about oneself and others that way.

Unfortunately, nothing is going to change about how this is happening. Like I said it's not simply about the specific Asian fetish. It could be much worse because with this some people will hear and understand you because they can see it, or understand it theoretically. There are many things where this is not the case and no one would acknowledge what you see is happening is happening because people are basically cows and if it is not acknowledged by most of the population, it won't be acknowledged by any.
posted by Blitz at 8:25 PM on November 30, 2014

Best answer: My situation is sort of the flip side of this--the women / people of my ethnic group get a lot of vitriol and I see a lot of comments about how undesirable but I really think it's two sides of the same shitty coin. It used to stress me out what white + other people might be thinking about me based on my race and sometimes I get flashes of it but eventually got exhausted of it.

Basically, if they make shitty generalizations about someone based on race? THEY are inferior to YOU (I can see how this might seem nasty but it's how I had to rationalize it) not vice versa and you should actively stop yourself from worrying about how they might see you because they don't matter: they are uneducated and idiotic opinions. You know you are more than a stereotype, you know that you are your own person and three dimensional and hopefully you think you're awesome as well. And your opinion of yourself matters 1000x more than someone random's hypothetical opinion.

Seriously when I find myself obsessing over this I just say to myself in my head "NO." and seriously start thinking about anything else. It's helped with a lot of my ruminating habits.

Call out people in the moment if you're inclined, and don't if you're not. But stop wondering what random people might think of you. It doesn't lead anywhere good and it doesn't really matter in the end. Don't try to "accurately discern it [before] it explodes in your face." It's their problem, not yours.
posted by hejrat at 8:39 PM on November 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

Also not Asian, but...

I really think these sound like the "usual" expressions of racism and sexism in society. In this sense, you may find that you have more in common with Latina women, or Black men, than you think.

If you have a functioning HR department at your workplace, it's quite surprising that they are unresponsive -- after all, their job is to protect the company/organization from people like you sueing them for failing to prevent sexual harassment at work. You cannot influence what preferences other people have in dating, but you should not need to hear about them at work.

Because this is a structural / social problem, there is no way you can solve this by yourself. The easiest place to seek support might be with other Asian-American women, but as I noted above, you may find that other folks have surprisingly similar experiences.

Calling people out on this type of behavior is really hard, because people will say stuff like "Oh, you don't get jokes?", " So sensitive, eh?". This is because people get defensive -- very few people would admit openly that they are actually sexist/racist. Here, the most constructive response might just be "yeah, I'm just quite sensitive to this stuff -- I hear it a lot and it gets tiring. Could you please drop it?" By moving the blame to yourself (although you are NOT the one to blame here), you can soften the message just enough so that people can actually absorb it. If you just say directly that what they said was racist/sexist, they will immediately move into "defensive mode". This would not only be unproductive, but could also be quite disastrous when these are people you need to work with every day.

One way to make the calling out easier would be to make "allies" at work. Your allies can be other Asian-American women, but it may be advantageous to find someone more like Sara C (a sympathetic but perceptive "outsider"). Then, the ally will call out the offensive comment / behavior ("it makes me really uncomrtable when you say/do X"). It would be much easier for them to call this out since it is not a huge, personal thing to them. Depending on the hierarchical structure of your workplace, it may be useful to have someone more "senior" be your ally.

That being said, I don't think you should assume that all white men will view you in this way. In some sense, doing this is treating them like a "mass" of white men based on their gender/race -- exactly the type of behavior we want to counteract here. You can even give the more bigoted ones a more generous reading: in a way, they are these poor souls who never received enough education or developed enough critical thinking skills to withstand the racist/sexist socialization that they were subjected to.
posted by yonglin at 9:05 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I get similar weird comments about being Jewish - though the comments are of a different style. I recommend the blank stare in response and asking flatly for the person to explain more specifically what they mean. This puts them in a weird and socially awkward position of having to explain their inappropriate remark.
Example 1: 'My last three girlfriends were Asian.'
You: (Blank expression) Why are you telling me this?

Example 2: 'Having an Asian girlfriend is like driving a BMW.'
You: I don't understand what that means, explain it to me.
Person explains awkwardly.
You: 'I still don't understand', *tell them back their totally inappropriate response and ask* 'is that what you mean?'
Person says yes.
You: 'I don't understand the connection' or 'wow, that is totally offensive'.

Example 3: Address me in what they think is an term of endearment in some Asian language
You: I don't understand what you just said.
Person explains.
You: I don't understand why you would call me that.
Person explains awkwardly.
You: (stare blankly) Huh.
posted by Toddles at 9:20 PM on November 30, 2014 [40 favorites]

So first of all, you're not oversensitive at all. This kind of stuff bothers me a lot less than it used to, but this question is still literally keeping me awake right now, and in the past the whole Asian fetish thing has been hugely disruptive to my life. I totally get it.

I agree with FirstMateKate and hejrat that it does not matter one bit what these idiots think of you (or me), and I think you get that, but there's still that leap to make from knowing that to actually being able to really stop worrying about it. This might seem totally out of left field, but I'm thinking of women I know who have decided to read only books by women for a year (or whatever), as a sort of feminist act, and I wonder if something similar might help you? (I'm a bookworm and have books on the brain, but you could try this for whatever form of media you consume.) In the course of a normal reading life, I come across stuff like that "having an Asian girlfriend is like driving a BMW" comment (ew, btw) tossed off casually by white authors of both genders ALL THE TIME. But when I go through a period of reading stuff by Asian women, not only do I avoid that, but my focus naturally shifts from what Americans think of Asian women to what Asian women think about all kinds of topics (including racist idiots). It's a way of turning the gaze around, I guess. It's a lot easier said than done, but try not to see yourself through their eyes.
posted by sunset in snow country at 11:41 PM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi, I'm an Asian American woman (married to a white man, though I've dated different races).

First, just like not all Asian women are "submissive things", not all white men are rapists. I understand that there is an association, but that's on you to fix, probably through therapy.

Second, the more Asians there are, the easier it gets, because must people will actually have Asian friends. I live on the west coast and don't have much trouble.

Third, my personal way of dealing with it is to be a smart ass and call it out. If I say something that might fall into a stereotype, I joke about it. If someone else makes a racist joke, I call them on it and explain why it's not true. And I just act like myself. I will not act more or less like the stereotype just because it exists.

And personally, I would never, ever date a guy if he only dates Asian women. I'm even leary of men who "find Asian women particularly attractive ". Luckily, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and I still had many men to date.

I didn't put my ethnicity in my profile and I never posted face pics. I had a pic of my back. Some people assumed I'm goth. Some people assumed I'm native american. Some people refused to meet me unless I sent them a face pic (I didn't meet them).
posted by ethidda at 12:18 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You're not oversensitive. I'm Vietnamese woman and totally get how exhausting and draining this is to deal with. I am often required to be highly confrontational at work (I'm an investigative reporter) and, partly because I am petite and young, my behavior gets racialized and sexualized and stereotyped in all sorts of infuriating ways. I often fall in this social space between just being myself (reserved, independent of stereotypes) and trying to combat every stereotype about Asian women.

I haven't quite figured out how to cope with this, you know, throughout life, but I totally second Toddles' blank stare/flat response suggestion.

I dealt with a lot of anger and overcompensation about combating sexism/racism/yellow fever at first, but it just made me tired and uncomfortable with myself and with others. I think it's totally up to you to react angrily if that's what the situation warrants, or to let something go if you don't want to call someone out right then and there, because it's not your responsibility, nor is it feasible, to singlehandedly change these kinds of crazy weird generalizations yourself.

The blank stare is not quite as satisfying as ripping someone to shreds but I find it's another form of confrontation that's less emotionally draining. It doesn't require you to lecture or educate someone if you don't feel like it, they feel appropriately stupid, and for the most part you can walk away from the situation without obsessing over what you said and if you should've said it differently.

Also, sometimes it helps to call someone out but downplay the comment afterward to diffuse the tension. At least in professional contexts I've found it establishes that I won't tolerate certain types of behavior. When people get defensive I'll often just reiterate my comment and then move on: "I'm not taking it out of context. Look, it's not a big deal -- I've already forgotten it -- just don't talk to me like that again."
posted by mmmleaf at 12:21 AM on December 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

If you haven't already, watch the documentary Seeking Asian Female. It's an interesting take on the subject of "Asian fetish" but it's also shot by a Chinese-American woman that has gone through similar challenges you have.

Now speaking through my own experiences as an Asian(Chinese)-American woman, of course I've faced dudes saying dumb stereotypical stuff about Asian women. Most typically like you have mentioned, it is linked to the idea that Asian women are desirable because of their perceived submissiveness.

I personally don't get this as much as my other friends do, mostly because I convey a more confident/defensive body language on the onset: they don't see me as submissive. It's like catcalling though; what the guys pretend to be are compliments are actually methods to control and assert their power through objectification of women. If you try to challenge their power directly, they are going to be defensive on the get go. Picture a cat-calling bro. Are you really going to change his mind? Probably not. But you can ignore it or just simply dismiss it like "um, whatever."

The more you dismiss *them*, the less power it holds. And eventually the less power it holds on you. Are you willing to let opinions from people you don't respect hold on to you? Because someone that ignorant to hang on to Asian fetish stereotypes (or other totally racist or sexist beliefs, etc) in my opinion do not deserve the time of day from me.
posted by xtine at 12:22 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm basically white, but my great-grandmother is Chinese. You're not making it up, and if someone called me "meimei" for no reason other than the fact that I had an epicanthic fold, I'd rage too.

I'm a teacher, so my perspective is skewed, but honestly people are dumb and well-meaning ones just don't know they're being asses. I also tend to see everything as a "teaching moment" and in my experience it doesn't ever take more than once.

Me: So, the chapter 2 test is next week.
Student: Ew, that's gay.
Me: Hmm, I didn't know that exams had sexual orientations.
Student: *embarassed* Oh . . . you know what I mean.
Me: No, I dont. *dead silence*

Student: Can you speak some Chinese for us?
Me: Sure! 我叫珊珊,认识你很高兴。
Student: *peals of laughter* Ching ching chong!
Me: What does that mean?
Student: Ummm . . .

Student: Yeah, I'm only attracted to women who speak Spanish [ew ew ew].
Me: Wow, do the people you've dated know about this?
Student: Why?
Me: Well, what if your girlfriend told you she was only attracted to you because you're black?
Student: *dead silence*

This is a good tactic if you are going to see the person a lot. Assholes on the street get no response, followed by a nice rant on one of the many good supportive websites mentioned above.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:09 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Also, I didn't mean to imply that you have any sort of "responsibility" to educate these dingbats. I just do because, well, teacher. You are not a one-woman crusade against "yellow fever". I at least get paid to challenge the assumptions of the ignorant.
posted by chainsofreedom at 4:34 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm an Anglo male, and the only reason I've dropped in here at all is to let you know that some of us are taking these dickheads aside for a quiet word in private when we notice this happening. We do, and I have.
posted by flabdablet at 4:41 AM on December 1, 2014 [15 favorites]

Are you or have you in the past sought counseling for the emotional trauma that resulted from your rape? It won't stop the racist comments but it could go a long way in giving you a foundation of self-esteem so that these comments don't affect you so much. I am so sorry that happened to you.

I would like to second the advice of searching out WOC/Asian feminist spaces online as a system of support and as way of learning how to respond to these comment. Sarcasm might not be your style but i find it works well for me in situations where a commenter is being utterly, unknowingly insensitive. I love the idea of saying "What do (your three past girlfriends) have to do with anything?" Or "What an odd, random thing to share with a stranger/coworker" etc etc.
posted by Brittanie at 5:22 AM on December 1, 2014

I'm not Asian but I'm a woman and thus men sometimes say inappropriate things to me. One thing that works for me is making a sort of "ZZZZZT!" noise followed by an exclamation of "Inappropriate!"

I developed the habit of reprimanding my dogs this way -- e.g., "ZZZZZT! Get down!" -- and so this new verbal tic bled over into my interactions with annoying humans. Turns out it works as well on men as it does on dogs! :D
posted by Jacqueline at 6:30 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you've got two things intertwined and that they are causing you so much grief.

Please seek counseling to process your rape. I think that experience is exacerbating your discomfort with the general asshole content of the world around you.

I too would be a total smart-ass in the face of these observations.

Jerk: My wife is Asian.
Me: And? You've provided me with this non-sequitur why?

Jerk: My last three girlfriends were Asian.
Me: My last boyfriend turned out to be an asshole. I appear to have something else in common with your exes.

Jerk: Something poorly pronounced in a terrible accent in a language you don't know.
Me: What are you REALLY trying to say?

It sucks that there's racism in the world, it sucks harder that even well-meaning, nice people can say racist things out of ignorance. Come down hard on the folks who are creeps, who are trying to make you feel a certain way about who you are because of your ethnicity.

As for nice people who are just ignorant, educate them kindly. "I know you didn't mean that to be racist, but it is."

For the sexual come-ons that people pass off as compliments, call them on that bullshit. "It may surprise you to know that I don't take that statement as a compliment, I take it as the racist, sexist statement that it is, and I've lost respect for you because of it."

It's exhausting being a woman in this world. It's more tiresome to have to be on guard for sexists and racist bullshit. Hang in there. Once you stop worrying about upsetting others, this will be a lot easier on you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:49 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I will nth the need to call people out. I think the example scripts are great. One other tactic that helps to put people in their place without putting them on the defensive is to explicitly assume best intentions.

Man: says something offensive
You: "I know you meant to compliment me and that's nice, but do you realize that your comment comes across as demeaning/disrespectful/rude? Did you want me to think that you are disrepectful?
Man: no
You: "Well this is why that comment is hurtful..."

Always make the correction about the behavior or words and not the person.

ALL people have implicit biases and they manifest themselves in all aspects of life. And the only way to eradicate these implicit biases is to acknowledge them and make intentional efforts not to rely on them.
posted by brookeb at 6:55 AM on December 1, 2014

Listen a bit to Suheir Hammad talk about being exotic. (SLYT) She may give you some ideas for response.
posted by oflinkey at 6:58 AM on December 1, 2014

Best answer: Asian woman here. nthing the advice that venting to/with other women can be really helpful. I have a mentoring relationship with a (younger) Asian colleague in the office and talking through how to deal with Bad Actors can be really helpful. (And my office did have a couple of them.)

As with a lot of things, office culture and power dynamics make a huge difference. At least in my experience. OP, you talk about a "senior lecturer" saying some inappropriate things. I think that some of the bad actors know (at least subconsciously) that saying some of that shit to a peer or a client or someone higher-up on the food chain isn't a good idea, but that they do it anyway or don't care when dealing with juniors. In large organizations with effective HR and/or diversity programs, peer mentoring and the tone set by senior leadership can be really helpful.

(So for instance, I had a peer who was on his best behavior when around me, but who was like a nonstop HR-claim generator when interacting with a young 20-something-ish new hire.)

A more-senior mentor in your organization, or just your industry, might be able to help talk through some of the specifics and help you address things.

Also, there are some awesome Asian writers and comics talking about this stuff. You are certainly not alone in noticing.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 7:01 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Hey, asshole, that was a really asshole thing to say. And since you were asshole enough to say it directly to my face, it's now your job to make sure that nobody else who works here, ever, again says such asshole things to me, or YOU are going to be the one I report to HR for creating a hostile workplace environment. So next time you and your little asshole buddies are hanging around the water cooler talking about how good my [x] would look on your [y], you better make sure to nip that shit in the bud, so I don't make it my personal mission to get your asshole ass fired. K thx bye"
posted by sexyrobot at 8:33 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just want to add that although I think you're correct that avoiding white men completely would be both difficult and unproductive, I hope you don't let anyone in this thread or anywhere else tell you that being wary of white men in certain situations means that you're part of the problem or that you're overreacting to your assault or whatever the concern of the day is.

Extreme example: A while back I was looking to improve my Japanese, and I came across a flyer for a Japanese/English Toastmasters group. I went on their website, took one look at their group picture (which showed about ten white men and ten Japanese women--no Asian men, no white women, no black or Latino people of either gender) and went NOOOOPE. Is it possible that the men in the photo are all dedicated linguists who want nothing more than to improve their target language? Sure. Do white men learning an Asian language often get unfairly tarred with the "yellow fever" brush? Totally, and I feel for them. Do I, personally, owe them the benefit of the doubt? Hell to the no.

That example is rather obvious, and something like taking tennis lessons in a mixed group would be another story, but my point is that if you're getting a bad vibe for any reason, don't talk yourself into hanging around because you're worried about being unfair. It's like the Gift of Fear, except I'm not concerned for my safety, so it's more like the gift of avoiding mildly irritating situations. I know part of the thing that's so annoying about these microaggressions is that they can seem to come out of nowhere, so this won't help you avoid it 100%. But if I feel obligated to stick around when I don't really want to, and then someone says something shitty to me, it really does add to the feelings of helplessness, so definitely exercise your agency and avoid optional situations where you think this kind of thing might be a problem.
posted by sunset in snow country at 9:46 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]

Having had a bunch of female Asian friends, and several friends who had a thing for Asian ladies, the most effective retort I've seen is just, "Gross." Treating it like someone discussing their porn viewing habits or something else inappropriate seems to shut it right the fuck down, or at least has in my limited third-party observations. I understand that there are gradations in the "yellow fever" thing — I'd like to think that my brother ended up married to his supremely awesome Korean wife because he got into Korean culture enough to move to Korea and his wife shares a lot of those interests (natch), but even still if he started talking about all Asian women as one thing or another (which he was a lot more prone to before he moved to Korea or met his current wife), a simple, "Gross," was enough to shut him up too.
posted by klangklangston at 10:32 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, just want to add that I totally understand how these comments make you feel unsafe. I feel that too - especially at work. Having endured a lot of emotional abuse from men in my life the most infuriating thing about the Asian stereotype is a plays on a lot of power dynamics that already ooze from our horribly sexist society but add this extra appalling layer of racism, veiled under what is supposed to be positive attention. Sometimes comments are ignorance fused with lust..and sometimes they seek to assert a power over you that is unfair and uncalled for. Which is why I want to reiterate that if you want to get angry, GO AHEAD. Most people are not perceptive enough to realize how thoroughly gross what they are saying is, and so that's always a judgment call. Sometimes "gross" isn't enough, and you should pay attention to your instincts, because it can be just as cathartic.

This is a more extreme example, but once a source, who had been professional with me up to this point, solicited me for sex via text. At first I went along with it because I didn't want to lose the source relationship -- then rage got the better of me and I chewed him out. I was worried he wouldn't talk to me again but after licking his wounds for a day or two, he went back to providing me with intel without any more nonsense. I want to point out that I am 22 years old and he is in his 50s, a government employee. I felt that was clearly him playing on my race, sex and age to regain a feeling of power. I did not hold back in making it clear, in very profane terms, how little I cared for that kind of speech and how disrespectful it was, but also I didn't make it about him and made it clear I would forget the incident and move on. Harassers will all react differently, so you really do have to consider multiple strategies in responding to people you have to preserve a relationship with. In this particular case the full-blown feminist rage reset the professional relationship on my terms and gave me a warm smug feeling inside that I still draw upon today :)
posted by mmmleaf at 12:31 PM on December 1, 2014

For me a part of it being aware of the overall situation and how I could relate to the people involved with the harassment. If it were a complete stranger on the side walk I'd feel terrible for a few min or hours but then I'd write it off eventually as a uncommon case. Although, I've been in situations where a idiotic comment would kill the entire conversation and I'd make note how the specific person acted inappropriately towards me and how I would avoid them in the future.

If it's related to the workplace I'd be sure to record/find enough evidence of the incident and then call HR as there are laws in place to prevent toxic working environments. It's a bit of challenge if the other person has significant power over me and instead I would look for the fastest way out of there.

I ended up having a zero tolerance w/harassment once I graduated from HS because you at the end of the day it's not worth it. Nothing I can do or say will change another person's behavior and at worse it might escalate the situation. Although, I will call out poor behavior and report it if I get a sense the community moderators will take action.

I suppose I find myself picking and choosing my fights carefully nowadays. In a perfect world I'd be able to rely on sarcasm and cold stares to get my point across but some days I'm tired of it all. For example, I'll see these horrible people and the only thing I can think of how I can get away as far as possible from it.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 7:03 PM on December 1, 2014

klangklangston: "the most effective retort I've seen is just, "Gross.""

That's what I was thinking, too. If you call it racist, you're just going to get an argument about why it's "actually not racist, and you're wrong". If you call it offensive, you're going to get the "can't take a joke" argument. It seems like the approach that would work best, on the average, would say "Why are you telling me this? That's kinda gross" and make that "kinda gross" face. If they move on in the discussion to something normal, drop the "kinda gross" face. If they persist, or start defending why what they said was not kinda gross, don't say anything more, but maintain the "kinda gross" face.

The word "kinda" makes it less of an absolute statement, which makes it harder for them to pull the "if I find anything even slightly in your position, it all comes down like a house of cards, and I win" approach. It also puts them slightly less on the defensive, while still being reprimanded, so they're less likely to switch over to full-defensive mood. And then by not following up (not even to say "I don't want to discuss this"), you make it clear that you're not in this for a discussion or debate. Keeping the face on makes it clear that backpedalling and defending it is part of the "kinda gross" thing, and as long as they keep talking about the issue, they are still being "kinda gross".
posted by Bugbread at 10:02 PM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, for exact same reasons, "kinda creepy".
posted by Bugbread at 10:25 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

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