I’m not sure how to feel about the words “exotic” and “yellow fever.” I have friends who find it flattering because they feel accepted, wanted, and appreciated. What they don’t see is that they’re being hypersexualized and objectified. I never understood it. Growing up, I didn’t know what it was, but I’ve seen it my whole life. Being told that I look exotic and different felt weird because I really didn’t know what those words meant. I didn’t know how to react and definitely didn’t know how to feel.

“These stereotypes have roots in America’s postwar military incursions into Asia. In Japan, a network of brothels permitted by American officials opened as United States troops began arriving in August 1945. The brothels employed tens of thousands of women until Gen. Douglas MacArthur declared them off limits in 1946. 

In South Korea, an estimated 300,000 women were working in the sex trade by 1958 (after the end of the Korean War), with more than half employed in the “camptowns” around the American bases. Vietnam’s sex industry, centered largely on American bars, thrived during the Vietnam War. And the stereotype of docile Asian women persists. Nowhere is this more explicit than in sex ads and online pornography.” 

– Audrea Lim, “The Alt-Right’s Asian Fetish”

One day, during my first year in college, my friend, who’s also Asian, and I were both waiting at the bus stop in front of campus. We had just finished art class, and she was waiting for her mom to pick her up. We talked and talked until a caucasian man came over to us on a bike, interrupting our conversation. He looked like he was in his late thirties. Immediately, the conversation with him got very uncomfortable. He confessed he was splitting from his wife and was looking to marry an Asian girl next. I really didn’t know how to respond. He went on to talk about how shy and obedient Asian girls were. He had heard they were great housewives and cooks. Once he started asking about our relationship statuses, we wanted nothing more than to leave. 

A similar situation happened to me a year later. I worked at a fast-food restaurant but got a second job for that summer. I was supposed to be packing school lunches, but I got stuck washing cambros outside in the heat that summer. My coworker, a white male in his fifties, had an Asian wife. It only got weird when I overheard him talking to another coworker about how he needs to go for the Asian girls if he wants to eat well. “They take care of you. They’re great at doing chores.” He even directed him to go to a local church where it was “abundant with Asian girls.”

Despite the fact that I was sitting right next to them, they kept talking about Asian women in a way that was laughable. It was all just stereotypes. A manager at the fast-food restaurant that I worked at had an Asian fetish. He denied it and said he just prefers Asian women. “They’re exotic,” he said. When he told me that he preferred Asian women, things started to make sense. Ever since I started working with him, he was always so nice to me. He always stood really close to me and flirted with me, and I wasn’t the only one either. He did this to other Asian female workers too. 

I feel like this has somewhat made me hesitant to date men outside of my race, specifically caucasian men. I want to feel appreciated for who I am, not for who I’m believed to be, and I find no compliment in this. Men who believe this will be disappointed when they meet me because I’m not always docile. I’m not always obedient. I’m kind of lazy. I don’t even know if I’ll be a good housewife.

“For instance, it is true that I tend to be drawn to well-dressed men who are taller than me, but I don’t assume anything about them besides the fact that they are well-dressed and taller. But just because I’m Asian and female, why do some men make the automatic assumptions that I am quiet, docile, great at domestic tasks, eager to please men and that my vagina is more magical than average? And I am supposed to feel complimented when those people are attracted to me?

Being in love with the idea of someone without actually getting to know the person as an individual is unfair and disrespectful. It’s an awful feeling to realize that the cute guy who approached you is as interested in you as he is in every other girl who shares your race: you’re as special as the millions of others.” 

– Chin Lu, “Why Yellow Fever Is Different Than ‘Having a Type’”

Read also:
I Am Not Your Fantasy
A Look Into Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist
So You Want To Talk About Gaslighting