Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Asian Men Are Less "Manly"?!

ok, this isn't a new topic...plenty of people have written about the fact that Asian men are perceived as comparatively not masculine in popular culture (not just here in the USA, but also in Asia itself).

White male models are used for underwear advertising, black males are used for adult videos (ok, maybe that one is just biological...but still), and as everyone knows, interracial couples with Asian females are much much more common than with Asian males (and because of that, Asian guys who get non-Asian girls, especially white ones, gains incredible respect from his Asian male friends as long as the girl is not too ugly).

This topic randomly came across my mind when I thought about the volunteer service trip I led a couple of years ago. A bunch of Americans, me, and my Chinese co-leader were in Yunnan province in China's southwestern corner building roads and teaching English in a remote leprosy village for two weeks. On the way back, we stayed in Kunming, the capital city of the province, where we met this white Yale alumnus (lets call him "Mike" for now) and went to karaoke with him.

After we got back to our lodging after singing our lungs out for a three hours, I overheard this conversation between two Chinese-American girls:

A: "...we were just ogling Mike..."
B: "yeah, cuz we haven't seen a real man in two weeks..."

OH BURN! Let me remind you that in our group of around twenty students at the remote village (half American from my group and half from Yunnan University), there were at least 12 guys including me. Unfortunately, the 12 consisted of 11 Chinese/Chinese-American and 1 short black guy who does not exactly evoke sexual desire in any way.

Now, aside from suppressing the anger of being insulted regarding my masculinity (practically in my face, too), I am actually still quite saddened by the natural nonchalance of the girls' facial expressions as they were having this conversation. If you were just looking at their faces without listening to them, you can swear they were talking about something matter-of-fact, completely true, and ridiculous if it was considered arguable.

I know, living in America, we Asian males should be used to this kind of things by now, but being told so directly still makes me wonder how we managed to achieve such a lowly social perception among females of literally, all colors.

Now, of course, the question that begs to be asked is: why does this happen?

Well, when I was studying abroad in University of Sydney in Australia not that long ago, I took a class on sexuality in medieval Europe. Basically, the take-away point of the class is that, while gender (male or female) is biological, the concept of sex (man or woman) is socially constructed. i.e. being male and a "man" is two totally different concepts and they do not need to correlate.

The perfect example of this happens in all-male prisons, where some weaker male prisoners are forced to play the "female role" (or "be the bitch") for the stronger, dominant male prisoners. Thus, "subjugating others" becomes the definition of masculinity in an environment where the biological gender difference does not exist.

Now, what does this have to do with Asians? The short answer is that the role-playing in the all-male prisons operates on exactly the same principles as race relations in the real world. Here is my take:

In Western society, Asians in general are portrayed as meek and submissive to others. This stereotype, in fact, is very well reinforced by the truth on the ground, at least in the USA. New Asian immigrants, lacking confidence in their English and understanding of American culture, tend to be shy. They avoid confrontational situations with Americans and sometimes may not even choose to speak to Americans and just stick to their own groups.

In the scope of the bipolar division of the world based on the social "sex," these Asians are certainly not domineering, and therefore cannot be male (...so, they are female)...

At the same time, the normal modern social thinking (and this is quite universal except in matriarchal societies), men are supposed to lead over the women (in a fashion slightly less extreme than the prison circumstance stated above)...so basically, the social construct of a Western multi-racial society such as the USA has pretty much labelled all Asians, male or female, to be "women."

In comparison, it is interesting to look at blacks, who are generally thought of as outgoing, talkative, and sometimes violent (some people consider this to be underlying racism, but it is very common belief), thus, blacks both gender are labelled "men."

Such social labeling the perfect explanation why many many people have sexual fantasies about Asian females or black males, and interracial couples involving these two groups are quite common. On the other hand, Asian males and black females tend not to be popular with people of other races. (by the way, Asian gay males are very popular, as "takers," of course, for the same reason)

The biggest irony for the Asian case is that in the traditional male-dominated Confucian society, Asian males practically wields all the household power, making the distinction of their "manliness" very clear in comparison to their female counterparts' role. Yet, sticking to such Confucian tradition has made Asian females even more "womanly" in the eyes of other races...

In conclusion, I would just like to say that my analysis actually makes the prospect of Asian males trying to get females of other races look quite bleak. Other schools of thought on this issue (such as "Asian males are not popular because they are poor/not physically fit/don't understand American culture") all think that if Asian males, as individuals, change somehow, it would be possible for them to get their dream white/black/Hispanic girls.

But my belief says otherwise. The fault lies not with Asian males, but other races, who choose to always see Asians through a pair of colored glasses. No matter how non-Asian a particular Asian acts (and how wealthy he is), the stereotypes bestowed upon him does and will not go away in the minds of other races.

In other words, the only way to really change the situation is to entice other races to learn about Asia through their own experiences. Economic prosperity in Asia countries and communities will certainly help. The powerful pop-cultures of Japan and South Korea have generated (albeit confined to a small niche interested in anime/Korean drama/Asian pop music) greater popularity/sex appeal for Japanese and Korean men...

But more importantly, economic dominance can translate to social dominance in many occasions. Just look at all the hype in the American media about how the Chinese are more confident abroad as their economy surges. In all honesty, I don't see that "surge," but its great that the American media thinks that way: more confidence=more "manliness"...now we just have to wait for non-Asian American women to start thinking the same way...


  1. i actually took the time to read all of it lol. anyway, interesting point of view. you should come to the netherlands man. its pretty common for an asian to have white girlfriends here. ppl here dont really think as much in stereotypes as in the states or in sydney=)

  2. haha, thanks for reading all of it man.
    I had no idea Netherlands was like that (I was in France, Italy, and Germany, but that seem not to be the case) hmmm, maybe the Dutch are more open about these sort of things?

  3. haha yw;)! i too find this a very interesting topic - talked with dangerous kim about it regularly, haha!
    as far as i know, belgians and germans are pretty similar. the thing here is, if you grow up here you just 'participate' with all the things here, just like all the 'white' kids. And in high school, we dont really have group developments, i.e. jocks, cheerleaders, asians, indians etc., but just cool kids and the not so cool ones:P! everybody is kind of mingling starting from kindergarten, except for the first generation immigrants, who kind of fit your theory..
    in general though, dutch ppl are pretty tolerant and kind of 'like' foreigners, because its interesting/exotic, especially if you're normal/smart, well mannered, good dressed and dont fit the typical typical stereotype(s) that you create for yourself...dutchies have changed a little because of political developments (less tolerance), but thats a different story!

  4. hmmm...I guess its kind of different in America...over here, the second (and subsequent) generation of Asian immigrants, moves out of the Asian communities that their parents are in and moves into the "Asian-American" community...so rather than hanging out with non-Asians, they just hang out with Asian people who speaks English and don't behave like new immigrants...
    btw, who are you? (feels like I know, but want to make sure)

  5. wait, never mind, you are Soeradj, haha...how is grad school?

  6. haha yeah, soeradj from amsterdam;)! Im graduating this summer for my masters in law..after that ill probably hunt for a job and travel a bit, but to stay on topic a little, the asians here are kind of peculiar compared to what ive seen in the states and sydney (western countries). From what ive seen there, asians (second and third generations) are moving away from the stereorypical asian things (at least they try), like ddr, karaoke, taking pics like madmen etc etc, because they dont wanne be too 'fobby'...at least the asians ive met (mostly uni students). But here, asians who even are a quarter asian really WANT to be asian. They even organise asian parties here where everyone can be 'asian'..:S! The thing is, growing up here as a second or third generation asian, you dont really get a lot from the asian culture, and the parents usually have been trying to become dutch too, so they are generally normal dutch ppl, but when these kids turn into their puberty, they start becoming more interesting in there heritage, mostly because its something new, something 'special', its kind of 'cool'. its really weird. Ive seen guys who are 1/8 indonesian and 7/8 dutch (so he looks like a frkn dutch peasant) with garuda sowed on his jacket and indonesian flags on his back representing his heritage and picking fights with ppl which came from ambon (also indonesia, christian part).
    Anyway, that asians are less manly or something in that direction doesnt apply here i guess. I have thought hard about the reason, and i really like your perspective, but i think it comes from both sides: the generalisation from the non-asians and the behaviour of the asians. Dont know which came first, but here, where there are a lot of indonesians, the asians kind of became dutch with a cool tan, so its not hard to get white girls, haha. For the newly chinese immigrants, or some vietnamese its different. They hang out with each other and usually date each other..
    seems like i begin my own blog here, sorry about that;). also, i type everything in the order of how my mind works, so sorry if its vague

  7. nah, no worries, if you want, you can do couple of posts on my blog here as well, haha
    I guess, from what you say, Dutch-born Asians tend to go after Asian things because they are not exposed to Asian culture as much...I am guessing thats because of Asian-Dutch community is very small?
    if thats the case, then Asians over there being easy to get white girlfriends totally make sense. Asians over there still have a certain exotic (in an attractive way) factor that Asians here no longer have due to ubiquity of Asians here.
    Historically (by that I mean the first wave of Asian immigrants, circa late 1800s) Asian males in the USA all had white wives, precisely because Asian-American community didn't exist and they were seen as rare and exotic

  8. haha yeah that makes sense man. i talk a lot about these things with my asian friens here, thats why i keep commenting. Some of my dutch/indonesian friends studied abroad too, like in HK, and their white friends were much more popular over there, whereas here it really doenst matter, perhaps mix ppl (part white dutch, part asian) are more popular.. but the same white guys that cannot get gf's here are frkn popular in asian countries with the girls, how weird is that!?
    The asian community here is not small, but its very different than i think hwat you're used to. The majority is indonesian. They came starting from the 40s, after indonesia became independent from holland. Other indonesians and chinese moved to south america, started generations of lives there and later on moved to holland (like indians who moved to s america, i.e. my great great great grandfather). These asians and indians may look like that, but are more south american than asian, haha. so its a weird situation here, only the 'real' immigrants, like how you know them i guess (directly from hk/china/japan whatever) kind of fit your description, but in my opinion is because they stick with themselves, mind their own business. Hard working ppl, but they dont really get involved with the society, shame...
    but dude, even if non asians generalize a lot (i know it sucks). isnt it true that when you talk with them its different? from my own experience, for example in sydney, when ppl saw me they labelled me as 'oh must be another indian', but when they talked to me they were like 'hey you're different, whe're you from?'. suddenly i became 'cool'. i hated that, the labelling, but i guess its how ppl work..:S

  9. you know its funny, I get that in Sydney too, cuz majority of Chinese people there are students from mainland China, they rarely see Chinese-Americans like me (so I am "different" too, like you, haha)...I kind of talk about this in my latest post. Even if certain people are of same ethnicity, their different backgrounds cause them to be completely different...
    Now, I don't know about over there, but over here, Filipinos and Indonesians get different receptions (compared to Japanese/Chinese/Korean) since they are considered Pacific Islanders (not Asians), doesn't necessarily make them more popular, but it does mean the usual stereotypes applied to Asians doesn't really apply to them....
    Also, I think Europe tend to be much more open to foreigners in general compared to America cuz people here are so nationalistic ("America is the greatest country in the world") whereas population movement within Western Europe at least is pretty normal....

  10. In Atlanta, where I come from, I always try to get White and Black guys to back off from my fiancee who's Asian like I am. They're always trying to steal her away from me. And White and Black guys are notorious for being home wreckers where I live and steal Asian guys' Asian wives or girlfriends.

  11. Hey sorry for spamming your blog this past few hours, but thanks for raising many of these topics :) I'd like to keep following your blog.

    I totally agree that it's disgusting and unfair that Asian men had been assigned this negative image, and if I'd blame anyone, I'd blame American pop culture for making Asians feel inferior that even some Chinese American girls would go as far as reject men of their own race. (I'd also like to blame American pop culture for many, many other things related to people having negative self-image, but I'll save that for a different topic).

    However, being an avid fan of Jrock (and an Asian myself), I feel like what you mentioned in the last 2 paragraphs can be "dangerous" in itself. I'm saying this because a user named "asianlovrgurl" (I altered that named slightly to protect her account) just commented on a Jrock music video I posted online, commenting ONLY on the physical beauty of a band member. Ok, I've been there too, we're all vain because we look at mirrors. But a few months ago, when I was lining up at a concert for a Jrock band playing in an American anime convention, I came across and talked to these white girls, who were super-excited because, after they had been obsessed with a DIFFERENT jrock band since middle school, their dreams are coming true now that they'll finally see some beautiful Asian guys on stage. Just couldn't keep a straight face after they said that, but luckily I didn't say anything in response for the sake of politeness.

    So while I have to admit that it can be temporarily a good thing for Asian men, who for so long had been portrayed as unmanly, I find it disturbing that now there's a whole generation of Western kids who are exclusively attracted to Asian guys just because they're Asian. One of my best friends is an Asian guy who have a bad self-image, clearly due to having grown up in in a black neighbor, USA. He thought of Asians as ugly, until he discovered K-pop. I really don't think that would help him in the long run.

  12. thanks for reading ,glad you like it...ummm, in many ways, I think you are a bit too bullish about the potential of Asian pop culture to enter the mainstream in the West, especially the US...and because the common stereotypes about Asians are so well-ingrained in Western thought and well-reinforced by reality (your ordinary Koreans are just as likely to be engineers, lawyers, doctors, etc as other Asians) a few good-looking Oriental entertainers are not going to change the situation that much...

  13. Hi Xiaochen,

    I happened to stumble upon your blog a few weeks ago and I've enjoyed reading some of your viewpoints on different topics and issues about Asia.

    But this particular topic was really disheartening, especially as a Chinese-American who's spent all his life in the states.

    Did you ever find out why the women said that about Asian men? Also, were they really "Americanized" so to speak?

  14. Hey!

    Thank you for reading!

    And I totally agree that it is truly disheartening (and that is exactly why I am writing about it...)

    I suppose the mainstream media in the West is partially to blame for how women feel about Asian males, and as Asian-Americans, we ourselves have not been very aggressive in breaking whatever stereotypes the media use to portray us (docile, meek, nerdy, nonathletic, you name it).  I guess in a way, we the Asian males are the ones who are not truly "Americanized," i.e. just not conforming to the general stereotypes foreigners have about Americans (straightforward, funny, "cool," laid back...).  It is something we as Asian Americans really have to work together for.... 

  15. Dude, heading over to London in less than two months!  See you in Europe!

  16. Korean men have mandatory military service, so they come home all buff and ripped. except for the cooks. they gain weight. ya, is that unmanly?

  17. masculinity/femininity is not an objective criteria that can be used uniformly across different cultures. Sure, in the West, Asians may have to take on the predominant Western perception of what is "manly" and what is not, and even outside the West, they will have to, to a certain extent, due to strong Western pop culture influence.

    But, on a fundamental level, this is much more about whether Asians are able to hold onto its own cultural definitions at this age and time. Any cultural concepts such as "manliness" are dynamic and bound to change over time, even within one single homogenous society (not to mention a place as diverse as the US).

  18. I heard a lot of Black men go for Filipinas in all of Cali, is that true for what you described in Atlanta or are the races more diverse usually?

  19. California is a rather special place, the rest of America is not nearly as diverse or tolerant

  20. "Furious" George RockwellOctober 14, 2013 at 1:02 PM

    Black men can only get the ugly filipinas. Attactive northeast Asian women have nothing to do with us, and the fact of the matter is, attractive white and latin women don't want us either unless we're ballin' outta control. Not that I care sense I have yellow fever, but just putting things in perspective.

    Black folks: Protect yourselves at all times.

  21. i think there is some inferiority complex in that comment. The situation on the gorund can't be that bad.

  22. "Furious" George RockwellOctober 14, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    Look at statistics. A white man gets a new girl every night in China, while Black men are stuck jacking off. heterosexual Black men have no reason to travel to Asia.

    Protect yourselves at all times.

  23. plenty of porn out in Japan with titles like "My first black man"...well, enough to get some for curiosity's sake heh

  24. I work in Europe. My department at work is quite multicultural. The ones who speak up most about their culture tends to be Europeans, especially southern Europeans. They tend to have more pride in their culture. Africans, middle easterners (west Asians), and East Asians, tend to not do that as much, and that could be one solution for change.

  25. I will have to disagree with that. Talking more just means they have more affinity toward open expression, it doesnt at all mean that they are more proud of themselves than people who dont want to talk about it, even if it seems like they do. Being quietly proud (i.e. too proud to actually go explain to others of your silent self-righteousness)

    That said, what does this communication thing have to do with "manliness"?

  26. Chinese people simply have different standards for assessing the perceived qualities that are usually associated as a matter of course with either gender. Starting a bar brawl isn't manly in Chinese eyes; it's childish, crude, and irresponsible. A manly man stands up for his beliefs in a recognized form of conflict, such as reasonable discourse; if he wins the conflict, he should be generous and humble, and if he loses, he should be open to criticism and seeking improvement. The paradigm of thought regarding propriety in Chinese circles, called「禮」, disapproves of instinct, and presupposes self-regulation in thought and in action; if it follows that a man who behaves as a man ought to is a manly man, then a Chinese man who understands and practises 禮 is a manly man in China, wholly deserving of respect. A childhood reader called 弟子規 specifies the qualities that every boy ought to learn: 首孝悌 (filial and familial piety in the first place) 次謹信 (secondly care and fidelity) 泛愛眾 (then progress to love the public) 而親仁 (and hence one approaches virtue). These qualities take precedence over physical fitness as a barometer of manliness in China.

  27. I mean, its all good and well if we consider "manliness" as a trait that exists in isolation in different societies, but obviously this is not the case in today;s world of globalization. Especially when you consider Western cultural supremacy in Asia (let's admit it, people do think European/American culture is "cool" on this side of the Pacific), how traditional Asian cultures define masculinity is pretty much completely meaningless even in the strictly local context.

  28. I am an American man of Asian descent. I have had a dozen+ sexual partners and numerous long-term relationships. Every single one of these women have been white and have been exceptionally attractive. As an Asian male, you are predeterminately limited by racial stereotypes at birth. This doesn't matter. African-Americans still become successful and gain positions of power and authority and are viewed with intellectual respect despite the stereotypes against them. Stereotypes are easily broken, simply by exhibiting behavior opposite to what is defined by those stereotypes. When you immigrate into a culture that is characterized by certain values, the fullest and quickest way for the people living in that culture to embrace you is to assimilate. You are conceived of as weak? Hit the gym, lift, and start learning bulking and strength-training. You are conceived of as shy? Start striking up conversations with random strangers, especially of other races. You are conceived of as feminine? Modify your behavior. Become confrontational when others become confrontational. Eliminate submissiveness from your nature. Stand up for yourself. Stop apologizing for things that either aren't your fault or have little to do with you. This isn't an issue that is going to be solved by saying, "well I shouldn't have to convince people!" and sitting back and blaming everyone else. Stop acting like you're a victim. These stereotypes exist because the vast majority of Asian-American men continue to propagate them. They live emasculated, fearful and unmotivated. They're told that they are weak and they believe it. You may think you are different, but what is there that gives anyone else the impression that you aren't the same? It's not fair. It never was. Luckily for you, Asian culture has already taught you a superior determination and will with which to use to overcome the hurdles and preconceptions heaped upon you. "They" aren't keeping you from being perceived as a man. You are the only thing that is limiting you. You want to be looked at as a man? Then be a man. Be more of a man than any of your white, black, Hispanic, whatever peers. No one will question your masculinity. Men of all races will respect you. Women of all races will flock to you. Get up, stop making excuses, and go forge yourself into a man.

  29. I'd have to disagree. While this article brought up good points, nowadays, with the popularity of anime and K-pop, many girls are into Asian men.

  30. But non-Asians who enjoy K-pop and anime are definitely the tiny minority.