‘Stereotypes, Fetishes and Fantasies:' Asian American Women Link Sexualization and Racism


Even as the man accused of killing six women of Asian descent in the metro Atlanta area told authorities he was motivated by a sexual addiction not racism, Asian American women were describing on Twitter the ways that sexualization and racism were inextricably intertwined.

They face harassment because of sexual stereotypes about Asian American women as exotic and submissive and for them, this tragedy seemed no different.

E.L. Shen, the author of a book about an Asian American girl striving to be a figure skating champion, tweeted that she is regularly called “China doll” on subways and streets. The sexualized and submissive stereotypes of Asian women have affected her everyday life, from being harassed in public to being objectified in dating.

“In college, I often went on dates with men who openly only dated Asian women or commented that they liked certain parts of my hair, my features, and the docile kind of performance that I was subconsciously giving,” she said.

Because of the belief that Asian people don’t generally “rock the boat,” coupled with a media that “sexualize Asian women for white pleasure,” Shen often projects an image that is “meaner” than she actually is to protect herself, she said. When someone expresses a romantic interest, she is wary of their intentions.

The six women shot to death Tuesday night were killed along with two others in three spas in Atlanta and a suburb. A 21-year-old man from Woodstock, Georgia, is charged with eight counts of murder. At a press conference the next day, law enforcement officials said Long had told them he was driven by a sexual addiction not racism and wanted to eliminate the temptation.

But many Asian American women in recounting their unique experiences dismissed the idea that the two could be separated. In the United States, they are subjected to a particular kind of sexualized racism, often from men who tell them they remind them of a girlfriend they had while serving in the military, said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

"The stereotypes that Asian women are exotic, submissive, and hypersexual are longstanding," she said. "When I first moved to the United States to attend college, I was shocked at the frequency of sexual harassment I was subject to because I am Korean. So many people interact with us based on their stereotypes, fetishes and fantasies about Asian American women.”

Choimorrow said this was the first time she recalled a national conversation about the particular harassment that Asian American face, something her organization has been addressing for 25 years. She and others are talking publicly, as they have never done before, about the kind of harassment they have experienced, she said.

But it is happening because six women died.