What is Fetishization?

Fetishization is “the act of making someone an object of sexual desire based on aspects of their identity.” Asian women are fetishized in romantic and sexual relationships, often in a disrespectful way, due to racial stereotypes. Fetishization objectifies Asian women and reduces their history, culture, and individuality to nothing more than their race.

How Media & Society Affect Fetishization

The media and the society encourage the practice of fetishization by normalizing “dating preferences” and stereotypes. A NPR research study demonstrates fetishization in that non-Asian men on dating platforms mostly prefer Asian women over women of other races. Moreover, western media has contributed to this issue by promoting stereotypes that fetishize Asian women.

  • The Lotus Blossom stereotype, which began with Pierre Loti’s French novel “Madame Chrysantheme” in 1887, portrays Asian women as quiet, submissive, and unintelligent in sexual relationships. This stereotype formed from the western belief that Asians are weak and need saving from white people and paints Asian women as people with no personality except the trait of being docile.
  • The Dragon Lady stereotype, which started with the works of actress Anna May Wong in the 1920s, labels Asian women as domineering, mysterious, and sexually alluring individuals that seduce men for their personal benefit.
    The Dragon Lady stereotype stems from the Yellow Peril, a term that created fear of Asia and Asian people through racist portrayals of the East as a threat. Later, films, movies, shows, operas, and books such as “Madame Butterfly” incorporated these stereotypes, furthering the issue of fetishization.

Examples of Fetishization

The fetishization of Asian women continues to develop in the media and has occurred over many years. In the famous musical “Miss Saigon,” 17-year-old Kim was forced into prostitution due to the Vietnam War. She meets, sleeps, and falls in love with Chris, an American soldier. Then, Chris leaves Vietnam and marries Ellen in America. Kim, on the other hand, gives birth to Tam, Chris’s son. Chris and Ellen then go looking for Kim in Vietnam. When they learn that she is still alive and Ellen tells Kim everything that has happened, Kim commits suicide in Chris’s arms, leaving Tam with Chris. The musical romanticizes prostitution and the suicide of an Asian woman due to the actions of a white man, implying the Lotus Blossom stereotype in which Asian women are forever dependent on western men.

Lillian, a young Asian woman, received fetishizing messages from white men on Tumblr. In 2017, she created a meme account on Instagram to show how white men would send her messages such as “I want to try my first Asian woman.” and “I need my yellow fever cured.” She used the account to speak up on issues about Asian women. When she stopped that account in 2018, she had close to 20,000 followers, and many of the followers were Asian women with similar experiences.

The Effects of Fetishization

Fetishization of Asians not only contributes to the toxic masculinity exhibited in many men but has also led to the exponential rise in racial hate crimes and attacks seen over the past year.

A domestic terror attack took place in Atlanta, Georgia state on March 16th and killed eight: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Kim, Sungha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delania Ashley Yaun, and Paul Andre Michels. Among the eight victims, six were Asian women.

The fetishization of Asian women is more than just a dating preference or a stereotypical portrayal of them in theater— it is a manifestation of racism and misogyny. This practice is disrespectful, degrading, and the invisible participant in hate crimes such as the attack in Atlanta. A baby step we can all take on the marathon to halt the fetishization of Asian women is to stand against the myths, acknowledge each Asian individual, and promote respect.