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We’re oppressed and sexualized for our sex and race as Asian women living in North America

By Da Hye Son
March 27, 2021

Last week, a white man murdered six Asian women in settings of sexual exploitation.

As if being murdered isn’t tragic enough, some of the discourse around the victims constructs the murders as a by-product of Asian women’s “temptation,” perceived sexual deviance or submissiveness, and getting men like the murderer/john himself “addicted” to sex, rather than a result of the violent, racist, misogynist actions of a white man.

The “Asian whore” trope is a sexual exploitation fantasy going back to when US army soldiers raped women in the third world countries they were invading. The “dragon lady” stereotype is an extension of the US imperial history of raping Asian women, and defines Asian women as sexually available for white men’s taking. It’s an all-American male narrative, created and perpetuated to sexually exploit and keep Asian women in a subclass.

The Georgia sheriff spokesman (now removed from the case) described the murders as a result of the killer having a “really bad day,” and being “fed up, at the end of his rope.” This statement is a sign of the social and cultural context in America that sees the murdered women’s fate as deserved. The murderer was trying to “get better” from his “mental illness,” the cause of which was supposedly these women; therefore, their murder is portrayed as an unavoidable reaction for “enticing good white men.”

The difference between me and the Asian women being pimped and prostituted in America is not as substantial as I used to tell myself. Had I been in the same physical space, in the eyes of the murderer I would have been indistinguishable from the six Asian women he killed.

All Asian women suffer the repercussions of racist and misogynistic stereotyping of Asian women.

We’re oppressed and sexualized for our sex and race as Asian women living in North America.

When Asian women are screened by Canada Boarder Service Agency, the state’s mistrustful treatment of us for being potential prostitutes looking to sell ourselves to white men is applied the same to me as to a trafficked and/or exploited Asian woman. It falls on each woman to distance herself from the “default” Asian prostitute stereotype regardless of how her life differs from the next Asian woman in order to be granted entry.

And the consequences suffered by each Asian woman as a result of the intersection of racism and misogyny can differ greatly. Even if we may be reduced to the same “interchangeable” Asian female body to the eyes of johns and often the state, those of us who have class privilege are far more likely to escape the reality of being prostituted. 

Asian women don’t come to America because they dream of being used as sexual objects, pimped and humiliated. It’s the oppressive constraints of their sex, race and class that force women to fulfill the racist, misogynist sexual fantasies of white men.

My college degree, fluency in English, and permanent status don’t save me from being fetishized and sexually targeted by men for being an Asian woman, but they do protect me from living the reality of being prostituted and being murdered in a “massage parlor.”

In reacting to the Georgia shootings, I could let out a sigh of relief that the terrible things happening to prostituted Asian women are not my reality and move on. I might convince myself that if I’m not affected by something because of my class, then that’s not my struggle, not my fight.

But I must remember that distancing myself from her struggles does not guarantee my own safety or elevate any women’s status in this patriarchal world, including my own. I have an obligation to fight for all women, and it’s by fighting in solidarity with our sisters across race and class that we can overthrow patriarchy as a system of oppression on all women.

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