I have to hand it to my mom. She thoroughly prepared for “the talk.” And she did a pretty good job.
She didn’t use scientific terms, but her gestures of “down there” in Mandarin sufficed for eleven-year-old me. I got the picture:
When people love each other, they do it. But I had to be careful about sexually transmitted infections (“Use a rubber!”), heartbreak (“How do you know you really know someone?”), and men with Asian fetishes (“They need to be fascinated with you – not what you represent!”).
I’m telling you. The woman was thorough.
But what my mother didn’t prepare me for (and thank the goddess) was porn. I had to learn about porn the difficult way.
It was a while before I laid eyes on real porn. But even though I hadn’t seen a real porno, teenage-me had a pretty good idea of how Asian women were being represented.
That’s because teenage-me was (unfortunately) used to dealing with some pretty fucked up stereotypes about my body and sexuality before I could even define myself.
Like—hey—my boobs just came in. Don’t tell me if they’re “typical” or “big for an Asian girl.” I haven’t even been to my first gynecologist appointment, and you’re telling me that my vagina is smaller than average?
And I haven’t had sex with anyone yet. Don’t tell me how you like submissive Asian girls. Let me figure out my sexuality on my own, please.
And this is just the typical bullshit before Tinder.
This article is also not going to go in-depth about Asian women in various pornos. You can find those…well, you do the research.
Instead, I want to talk about how porn has taught us to value (and devalue) Asian bodies, and I want to analyze how we got here: Where did these stereotypes about Asian sexuality come from?
And like my mom, I want to be very thorough.
And in order to fully understand Asian sexuality in mainstream porn, we need to go way back in history to the colonization of Asian peoples. So let’s cover that quickly, first and foremost.
A Quick 101 on Colonization
Colonization is the mass migration of a group of peoples to already occupied land. Colonization may bring an upheaval of language, culture, and privileges as the new settlers usually deem themselves more “civilized” and thus, entitled to certain benefits.
To be clear, colonization is not when two groups of people live harmoniously together – nor does colonization always bring turmoil. Though we normally associate colonization with militarization, colonization can also occur over time and without bloodshed.
But the bottom line is that colonization is never by choice or an equal exchange of power.
And this history of colonization is written in the basic porno plot involving the submissive Asian. Sex, another tango between dominance and subordination, shows us exchange of power.
But similar to an oppressive history course on colonization, the basic porno plot tricks us into thinking both players enjoy an equal exchange of power.
And when millions of people consume pornographic images on a daily basis, we need to reexamine what these images actually mean.
So here’s what porn has taught me about my Asian body and what that all really means.
I Must Be “Submissive” – And Enjoy It
Okay, let’s get a bit graphic.
Porn has taught us that Asian women love to be dominated. We’re looking up with smiling faces, usually wearing ridiculous pigtails, giggling, and giving blowjobs. And loving it.
The stereotype is that we are demure and shy. We follow orders and enjoy it. We love to service you so much that we gravitate toward service jobs, like giving you a massage, fixing your nails, and waiting on your table.
So we take a similar role – sexually subservient – in mainstream pornos.
In short, Asian women are infantilized.
We follow orders and enjoy it – I’m talking Stage 3 in Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development – to feel accepted like children.
Thank you, porn, but we are #NotYourAsianSidekick.
What Does This Really Mean?
My Asian body has been colonized to sell a fantasy of compliant submissiveness.
This fantasy teaches me to be sexually submissive by showing images of other Asian female bodies like mine acting submissive during sex. Because if that Asian female body is enjoying her dominance, it makes it okay, right?
This colonization of Asian bodies is an extension of Western nations’ colonization of Asian peoples. On screen, the Asian body is dominated into compliant submissiveness, mirroring the real submissiveness experienced by colonized people.
Let’s look at the basic porno plot starring the Asian masseuse, for example.
We’ve all heard about the massage parlors where you can finish with a “happy ending.” This isn’t a new stereotype. Asian women working in service industry jobs are too often conflated with providers of commercial sex. Cue the ridiculous gong, silky kimono robes, and “Me love you long time” lines.
But this link to sexual services is not by choice, and it dates back to colonization.
Asian female bodies in service and sex industries are a product of survival.
These industries are often the only jobs available to women during colonization since they don’t require much language skills or higher education.
Think about it: Colonization brings an upheaval of the status quo. An alien language is introduced, the marketplace is in flux, and (with militarization) foreign men are imported.
Now the terms for survival are different. With more soldiers, there is a demand for bars, strip clubs, and money for sex. The line between service and sex is blurred.
More importantly, when the colonizer and the colonized look different, it results in Orientalism. Orientalism is when generalizations are made about Arabic, Asian, and North African people based on perceived and universal differences.
This is how we produce the stereotypes that “All Asian women are submissive” and “All Asian women want is sex” – instead of “These Asian women are trying to survive” and “These Asian women want sex for money.”
Because maybe you don’t know this, but the “Me love you long time” line from Full Metal Jacket is really a remnant of prostitution during the Vietnam War.
When war is rampant and the demand for sex is high, you advertise the longevity of your lovemaking to the customer. Your Asian body becomes the commodity. The exchange is money for lust. The exchange is survival for enjoyment.
And this advertisement has stood the test of time. Business was so good that Asian women don’t need to do much work nowadays. We are automatically sexy and desirable.
That’s why Asian women are still the most desired on dating sites.
Asian comedian Kristina Wong is so confident in her sexual appeal that she swears it doesn’t matter what disgusting things she does because “someone wants this!”
So the next time you walk into a salon and hear an Asian language being spoken, please consider colonization and survival rather than sex and submissiveness. (In fact, working in nail salons helped thousands of displaced Vietnamese refugees assimilate to their new lives in the US.)
Because historically, Asians involved in service- and sex-oriented businesses are surviving – not submissive.
I Must Be “Small and Tight” – Down There…
Let’s not forget about our magical “I heard that Asian women are tight” vaginas.
But this is a good stereotype, right?
Umm, no, not really. See, this stereotype sounds wonderful – as most quote-unquote “positive stereotypes” do – but it clearly reduces us to our sexual parts.
Also, have you noticed that we are always “getting it” from black men? Like big, black men. With their gigantic penises (also a dangerous racial myth, by the way, that elicits a culture of fear).
It’s almost like we’re purposefully paired with culturally stereotypical big, black men to emphasize this idea that Asian women are super tiny.
News flash! People come in different shapes and sizes, regardless of their race. Like, “fat Asians” totally exist.
What Does This Really Mean?
My Asian female body has been sexually juxtaposed with big black men to drive home Orientalism. Orientalism essentializes societies and their people as static. Therefore, it creates the gospel that “All Asian women have tight vaginas.”
With Orientalism, we not only make absolute assumptions, but we insist on differences between “us” and “them,” the West and the East. Orientalism prevents us from seeing people as individuals, seeing them as stereotypes instead, which allows colonization’s legacy to prevail.
Because as soon as we essentialize people down to their body parts and how they’re different from “us,” we take away their humanity. These differences are what propel colonization of peoples.
And right now, colonization’s doctrine of difference is hidden behind pornographic images of difference as well. Except these differences are packaged as “raw sexuality” and the idea that “Asian people are just sooo exotic.”
But exoticism is more than curiosity when they create harmful sexual stereotypes.
Like how Asian women are the model minority – even in porn. We are lithe, tight, and ready to go with a smile.
The Asian woman in porn is kind of like how Asian people are portrayed in the real world. We are smart, successful, and we don’t rock the boat.
We are model citizens. Even our vaginas are model vaginas!
But the thing about being model citizens with model vaginas is that somewhere, somehow, we start becoming spectacles in a freak show. Step right up and see the world’s smallest vagina from the Far East!
Colonization’s influence on porn may give us “sexy” images of petite Asian women, but they also drive home dehumanizing racial stereotypes.
No matter how “positive” these stereotypes may sound, we are still the “other” – the spectacle. And white is still the gold standard for normalcy against which everything else is measured..
Colonization’s fingerprints are all over our mainstream porn, y’all.
We’re not just watching people have sex. We’re consuming colonization’s legacy. If we can’t tell what “sexy” actually looks like, we run the risk of being colonized all over again.
So I speak as my former teenage-self when I say this:
Porn is not a reflection of my individual sexuality or perceived power. My culture was already colonized. I refuse to let my body be colonized, too.
Amy Sun is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She has worked with providing resources and support for Asian/Pacific Islander survivors of domestic violence in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia areas. She also holds her Masters in Women’s Studies from the George Washington University, where she has researched the coming out processes for trans people who identify as FTM and MTF. In her past life, she was a middle and high school math teacher.
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