Yellow fever is a widespread phenomenon. According to data collected from online dating sites, all men except Asians prefer to romantically pursue Asian women. There are many dating sites specifically tailored for white men looking to date Asian women. There is even a Tumblr blog that compiles messages from “creepy white guys with Asian fetishes.” Furthermore, yellow fever was also depicted in Debbie Lum’s documentary, Seeking Asian Female, which takes a close look at relationships between white men and Asian women.
So the real question is not whether white men have a preference for Asian women, but why? The answer varies depending on whom you ask. Some argue that it’s because Asian women are more docile, submissive, and tame than their raucous and outgoing Caucasian counterparts. Others claim that it’s a harmless preference based on physical appearance, no different than a preference for blondes or girls with tattoos.
Unfortunately, neither of these answers is correct. Asian women are simply not any more docile or submissive than any other ethnicity. It is egregiously misguided to assume that an entire ethnicity of women has one set of personality traits and that characteristics are determined by race or by country. The fact that some men believe this reflects the limited experience they’ve had with real-life Asian women. Even worse, it suggests that perhaps they are viewing Asian women more as one-dimensional objects than human beings.
Objectification is already something that all women face regardless of race. Their cleavage is used in advertisements to sell products or services, and even well-intentioned men speaking out against sexual assault implore other men to imagine women as “somebody’s wife, mother, daughter,” never realizing that perhaps the woman is also a “somebody.” But when race gets involved, objectification takes on a different dimension. For Asian women, in particular, objectification reduces them to infantile figures—delicate, submissive, and dutiful.
The fact that docility and submissiveness are viewed as favorable traits for Asian women is very telling. It implies that non-Asian women are too loud, too opinionated, too intimidating and that men would prefer women who keep quiet and acquiesce to their every demand. The stereotype that Asian women are meek, though blatantly untrue, nevertheless reveals that perhaps yellow fever is more than just an innocent preference based on physical appearance.
The world is a different place today. Now white men and Asian women meet each other as classmates or colleagues, more or less equals. And when white men and Asian women begin dating, it’s often because they have a genuine romantic connection, not because he views her as a commodity.
Yellow fever is dangerous because it strips away the individual identities of Asian women, reducing them to nothing more than an unfair stereotype of their race. Fetishization is a form of objectification because when you seek someone out because she is Asian, you are seeing her as a racial trope rather than an individual. And that’s why Asian women are suspicious of white men who serially date Asians: we’re concerned that we’re just one in a long list of submissive objects for them to use at their leisure.
That being said, not every white man dating an Asian woman is intentionally perpetuating the legacy of commodification, and not every white man attracted to Asian women is deliberately reinforcing these racial stereotypes. There is nothing wrong with being a white man who is attracted to Asian women. Many times, it is a subconscious desire that you can’t control anyway. So go ahead; pursue all the Asian women you want, so long as you understand the long and complex history of exploitation that used to shape your attraction to us.
Feature Image: Julia Schorr