Asian girls with white guys. White guys dating Asian girls. These relationships attract a good deal of divided attention anytime, anywhere.
Some might not care less about Asian-female-white-male or AFWM couples, seeing them as just another kind of couple. Others might disapprove and disapprove a great deal.
In a world where many gravitate towards cookie-cutter stereotypes, usually the latter opinion is heard more. That’s odd as people get together for different reasons. Each AFWM relationship and any relationship for that matter works differently. Not everyone is a stereotype and it begs the question: why stereotypically judge AFWM relationships?
Here in Melbourne, interracial couples are common. My professional and social circles are quite diverse, and AFWM couples aren’t an issue with me.
I’ve chosen not to share my intimate relationships online. So if you’re reading to find out my relationship status or whether I’m into a certain race, stop right here.
This piece is not an attack on any relationship or the worshipping of one. It’s a commentary on how I feel about AFWM and intercultural couples, why they get judged and thoughts on what can make relationships work, based on academic literature and what I’ve heard over the years.
To hate or not to hate on ‘yellow-fever’?
Speak of AFWM relationships, speak of yellow fever. Yellow fever is a term often applied to someone obsessed with Asian culture. In the context of AFWM couples, this obsession could be a sexual desire for Asian women, a fixation for stereotypical traits of Asian women such as submissiveness, quietness and petite body parts. In short, yellow fever objectifies, exotifies and fetishizes Asian women.
One can argue this phenomenon stems from the idea of Orientalism. Most notably critiqued by Edward Said in 1978, the ‘Orient’ represents the East and is constructed from a Western perspective (East as passive, West as active) in a post-colonial era; Orientalism is ultimately a study on knowledge and power between East and West. During WWII and post-Vietnam and Korean wars, over 20,000 Japanese women were enslaved as prostitutes to service American soldiers.
Creepy and disgusting are some words used to describe those with yellow-fever. Over the years I’ve had white guys trying to get my attention. Some years ago on a hot summer’s afternoon, I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green before crossing the road. This white guy about 30-40 years old dressed in a T-shirt and board shorts ambled up to me. He glanced down and casually said, ‘Nice slippers. Very small’.
Slightly unnerved, I looked down at my open-toed sandals. Well, I do have small feet. Wonder how long you’ve been watching me. The guy went on, ‘Where are you from? Singapore? Aaaahh, I know Lee…Kuan…Yew. He was a good man.’ The light turned green and I walked across the road, away from the guy and the 24-hour brothel that we were standing right in front of.
As I walked away, I didn’t look back. It was a creepy encounter. But I didn’t feel angry. Just not my type of person. And I let it be. He didn’t follow me. I didn’t have a problem with him.
But when is yellow fever a problem? That’s a matter of perspective. Writer Sheridan Prasso suggests in The Asian Mystique that when preference becomes a fetish is a fine line; both preference and fetishisation are ‘so pervasive in relations between East and West’. Nicolas Gattig builds upon Prasso’s argument, proposing it’s up to an individual if they feel objectified. So in a sense, yellow fever might not be a problem for two if two parties like each other for the stereotypes that they are.
Yellow fever and being obsessed with a person or culture could be a problem when it’s something one can’t stop thinking about; it clouds other opinions which one can learn from. However, yellow fever arguably is always a problem as it reduces others to stereotype, belittling identities, individual strengths and the right to representation.
It’s okay to have certain tastes, preferences and attraction. Our feelings can be hard to control. Yellow fever can be hard to control. From a scientific perspective, as evolutionary psychologist Bill Von Hippel proposes on sexual attraction, our minds recognise contrasting biological factors and people are attracted to others who they reckon have different genes or the potential to be a good parent – and ‘optimal outbreeding’ arguably presents less genetic mutations. From a sociological perspective, if someone constantly spent time around people of particular backgrounds, one could get along well with them and be drawn to them. After all, people gravitate to what they are familiar with when wanting comfort.
Today women of Asian background around the world are independent, accomplished and articulate self-worth. Domineering Tiger Mums are in fact forward thinkers and long-term planners. Some of us might be attracted to these kinds of personalities and intrigued by how cultural background plays a part in that. Perhaps that’s a different kind of fever alongside yellow fever and white fever, yet another kind of attraction.
There’s no reason why we can’t start a relationship right away based on physical, mental or spiritual attraction. But it’s important to remember that it’s one thing to be attracted to someone for their body and personality today, and another thing to want to be around that body and personality tomorrow and in the years to come.
Relationship racial micro-aggressions
When you date someone of another race, you might get called racist. Or a racist and traitor towards one’s own race.
It’s racist when a white guy prefers a quiet Asian woman and see their supposed submissiveness, luscious dark locks and vaginas as the best things to like about them. It’s racist when a white guy feels a white woman can’t ever be an ‘exotic mechanism’.
Some Malaysian women have mentioned they much rather date westerners. They cite reasons being a lack of connection with Malaysian men and the traditional norms Malaysians grew up with, and find more investment out of westerners with an adventurous side. Racist? Arguably yes because not everyone of the same race fits the stereotype.
Sociologist Karen D. Pyke writes this behaviour can be referred to as internalised racism which is defined as the ‘internalization of racial oppression by the racially subordinated’. In other words, the more someone associates themselves with their cultural (minority) community, the more they feel self-hate.
Within my circles, Asian women have said they get rejected by Asian guys for being ‘too outspoken’ or ‘too opinionated’. They’ve also mentioned the challenges of ‘being Asian’ and ‘being Western’ in AFWM relationships, both mindsets equally important to them. For example, one of my Asian gal pals mentioned she takes her shoes off at home like a typical Asian person but her western partner doesn’t – and they haven’t found a compromise after being together for years.
Then there are some of my Asian friends who’ll only go out with another Asian person. Funny how if someone prefers going out with someone else of the same background, it’s not usually seen as racist but an oath to cultural loyalty and pride. Traditional Asian culture tends to be on the conservative side and upholds the importance of following cultural customs – maintaining ethnic purity and solidarity is number one which is what dancer and author Jenevieve Chang writes.
We might not agree with certain aspects of our culture. That’s okay, and that’s similar to how each of us have preferences for certain things. It’s not racist when we don’t discriminate against what we don’t associate with but simply let it be.
So can we selectively choose to date someone of another race and not be racist? Maybe, maybe not. In any relationship, at some point one’s cultural background will come up which could be talked about, and then accepted or swept under the rug. Relationships aren’t perfect but about give and take – and if we can’t accept with some things in a relationship, maybe that’s not the relationship for us.
Practicality and privilege
Some have practical approaches to intimate relationships. Some get together because they feel they can get something out of a relationship. Some want someone who can look out for them. Some want someone to pay their bills. Some want someone to feel a little less lonely.
Many of us get along best with our peers or people around our age. Looking at large age gap AFWM relationships, one can help but wonder why these couples get together. The story might go: the woman wants to ‘marry up’ and move to a developed Western country for a more comfortable lifestyle, and the white guy someone to dote on him. They might get together through a matchmaking mail order bride route, starting off as pen pals and then hooking up in person.
Maybe it’s true love for some match-made AFWM couples. Or maybe not because some of these relationships in Australia end in one party exploiting the other financially. Filipina e-brides on sponsored visas here have faced domestic abuse and are six times more likely to face abuse compared to mail-order brides from another country – and hesitant to speak up as domestic abuse is a taboo topic in their culture.
In addition, in the age of modern love in China, well-educated ‘leftover women’ are finding suitors in western men through online dating. With being single often seen as a let down in Asia, some have said Asian men are terrified of their accomplishments and see western men as more open towards gender roles. And so they hook up.
Such match-making relationships could be relationships of convenience, relationships where the Asian inferiority complex and white privilege comes into play. In the midst of infatuation and wanting to be in a relationship for the sake of being in one, cultural stereotypes are exploited for personal gratification.
When a relationship is a relationship out of a need, someone will give you the time of day. But it doesn’t mean it’s a relationship where you’ll truly understand each other.
Judgement from the world
Going out with someone of a different race, chances are others will judge.
Others might be concerned about how you and your partner might not get along because of cultural differences. Others might look at AFWM relationships in this racist world and be reminded of white sexual imperialism during the colonialism eras of WWII – and don’t want a repeat of that.
Maybe that’s why some look down on kids born into interracial families. Look more Western than Asian if you’re someone with Asian-Western heritage, there’s the perception you’ll have a better chance in life – perception that Western genes dominate, ‘whiteness’ dominates society (when really everyone deserves opportunity). Moreover, Asian women dating white men are at times seen as brainwashed by white superiority and as white women in yellow face who can’t truly represent other Asian women – the start of breeding out one’s own race. This is ironic as we all have our differences, have constantly evolved biologically for six million years and diversity is about accepting each other for the way we are.
Hapa, halfies, hafu, half-bred, half-caste are some (offensive) names ascribed to those of mixed lineage. Half connotes not whole; not whole connotes something broken and lost forever. Going back to the notion of ethnic purity: people can be proud of their heritage, cultural traditions and lessons passed down from generation to generation – and want to maintain that for the sake of ‘face’ or pride.
So when you go out with someone of another race, you might be seen as ‘not good enough’ for someone of the same race. Not worthy enough of dating among your own race because you’re too ‘different’ for having different beliefs. A black sheep of sorts ending up with someone of another race at the bottom of the barrel too.
Do others have a right to tell you whom to date? No. Fact is, we’re each entitled to our choices, opinions and the way we want to live our lives. In the face of resistance from others, that’s when you really question what your relationship means to you and why you stand by that person, and what is it about them that is important to you – and you to them.
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As mentioned at the beginning, each relationship is unique and works differently. Some relationships take on a more modern mindset, others a more traditional perspective. Each of us have different wants and needs out of our relationships at different points in our lives.
Notably, the representation of Asian women, Asian men and Westerners in the media underpins cultural stereotypes and assumptions about multicultural relationships. In mainstream media and Hollywood, Asian women are often portrayed for the male gaze while Asian men as meek caricatures not worthy of affection or acceptance, undateable and emasculated (with the Asian masculine space erased) – Westerners dominate with their voices. In the eyes of mainstream media, one race is worthier than the other.
In reality, many of us are capable of seeing the bigger picture and seeing each other as more than stereotypes. Hence why I’m writing this post, and probably why there are countless articles out there on intercultural relationships, representation, individual rights and more. Hence why I’m not judging the white and Asian guys who’ve both told me I’m nothing more than: a body to get down on and fill up, too Western, too Asian, too quiet, too opinionated, too prude, a white worshipper, a China doll, a banana, ling ling, a good girl, a six pack under the arm and a stubborn head.
Our choice of a partner comes down to a number of factors: what we look for in someone, whether we get along, who comes our way and more. Each relationship depends on preference as much as circumstance, and chance.
In mutually understanding relationships, there’s no need to prove to our partner we’re good enough for them. No need to justify our background to each other be it in a same-race or intercultural relationship, just like no need to justify each other’s annoying habits. We can learn from opposites, feel comfortable around similar traits.
‘Where are you from’ matters but there’s more to a relationship than one’s background. Inevitably there are cultural differences in most relationships. Once we accept these differences and acknowledge they matter, it’s not a big deal. But it’s always a big deal how you feel about each other every day, and a big deal about that thing called trust between each other.
What do you think about interracial relationships? What makes a relationship work?