The Perfect Villain: Straight Asian Men

Women get together and complain about men. It happens. Yet no other group of women display such visceral antagonism toward men of their own race as Asian women do. We Asian women never say generally “men are horrible.” We say “Asian men are horrible.” We ourselves buy into the rumor that somehow Asian men are more misogynist than other men. The complaints ring universally: Asian men are more abusive; Asian men are more chauvinistic; Asian men are weak; Asian men fail to protect their women. Why?

As Amy Tan and many other Asian female writers have discovered, as every American who has ever watched the glowing screen mesmerized by the gloriously vicious Yakuza gangster strutting through the red-lit parts of Tokyo or the pockmarked Korean actor who is playing a Chinese guy who rapes and beats the white protagonist’s girlfriend know, Asian men are the perfect villains.

Byron Wong (of BigWowo.com and Fighting44s fame) wrote an editorial in the International Examiner, “Heterosexual Asian Men and the Invisibility Problem” (October 19, 2011) that sounded off on the lack of positive representation of straight Asian men. More surprising than the dearth of non-evil straight Asian men in the mainstream media (because really, white people getting it wrong about people of color–when has that been surprising) is the dearth of non-evil straight Asian men as a viable model even within the APA community. As Wong noted, the invisibility of straight Asian men in the APA blogosphere is a “mutually-recognized irony” among straight Asian men.

At APA conferences, non-profit organizations, and even on hit blogs, the voices of APA women and gay men dominate. That’s because APA women and gay men are easy to sympathize with. APA straight men? Not so much. They’re evil, remember?

See, it isn’t just the gloriously vicious Yakuza gangster who makes a perfect villain. Here is where the issues Wong brought up in his editorial weave into feminism. Just as women get defined by the men they’re with, men in turn are also defined by women…the women they protect.

Society defines a positive male role model as someone who can protect women. And if one hurts women, he is without question the purest form of evil, the antithesis of a positive male role model. So the vicious Yakuza gangster is a bad apple for obvious reasons: he hurts women. But the effeminate Asian guy is equally “bad” because he is incapable of protecting women. Sadly, that’s just how society still judges the genders. And Asian men are either the absolute perfect villain in that they hurt women or they are still no hero because they are incapable of protecting women.

In a sense, then, APA women hold APA men in lesser esteem because they’ve bought into the notion of straight Asian men as perfect villains: they’re the worst kind of horrible, the horriblest of the horrible men. Straight Asian men, as portrayed in the Western media and as believed by APAs, will either hurt women or are incapable of protecting and defending women. When I think back on all the anectodal evidence my memory has collected over the years, I can boil down all the Asian women’s complaints of Asian men to one point: straight Asian men don’t protect us and don’t support us.

I’m not saying that’s the reality-reality. I’m saying that’s the reality of the opinion. And it’s that opinion that’s got to change. Because with such strong latent biases against the straight Asian male anchored in us, we have no motivation to be compassionate or promote more positive representations.

In our eyes, the inequities that straight Asian men face weigh less, less than the inequities that Asian women and gay Asian men face. Is this because we are calculating with simple addition? Asian men just got their skin color. Asian women got their skin color plus being woman. Gay Asian men got their skin color plus sexuality. Is that how inequity should be weighted? By simple addition? Or is the mathematics of it more complicated than that?

The Wong editorial says that straight APA men are invisible. I disagree. They are fully visible: as perfect villains.

Are they invisible at APA conferences?  No, not really, at least not Minority Militant at the Banana I conference. Him? Invisible? (Although his personal blog is protected now, boo. He was always such a fun read. My kind of guy? Hell no. He disgracefully insulted a friend of mine. But a solid writer and sound activist? I’ll give him that.) Rather, a mockery was made of him and I cannot help but question whether the punishment fit the crime. Now, as I said, his blog is protected and what once was a distinctive voice in the APA community is lost.

Take as another instance any straight APA male blogger who raises the interracial dating issue. He would immediately get dismissed. A guy could make the most profound, valid, irrefutable point, and no one [who should be hearing it] would have heard it because as soon as we see “IR,” we tune out. Yes, “we”– APA females, I’m staring right at you.

And what about Frank Chin? Well okay maybe now he sort of has been MIA and if you were born any year after 1990 apparently he isn’t the only Chin you’ve never heard of. (So sad.) But once upon a time you couldn’t be involved with the Asian American Diaspora, literature, and not know Frank Chin. He was just that un-invisible. Frank Chin’s brilliance and impact on APA literature is incontestable. Yet the APA literati predominantly sided with Maxine Hong Kingston and Kingstonianism in that legendary Chin-Kingston feud. Chin was characterized by many as irrational, belligerent, and hostile, and with that characterization, his activist propositions were dismissed.

The problem isn’t invisibility; it’s being taken seriously. So the Minority Militant guy had a bit too much to drink at the Banana conference. So he isn’t ever going to win a Mr. Congeniality award. But he had real ideas, real opinions, and real ways of expressing those ideas and opinions. We shouldn’t have run him out of town.

As for the IR disparity, yeah, haha, we can laugh about it and say it’s just ‘cuz some of the guys can’t get some. Or we can say people of color don’t score as high on LSATs because they’re not as bright as white people. Or maybe the game is rigged from the get-go so that certain people will always lose. The LSAT racial disparity issue? A big serious deal. The IR disparity issue? Not a big deal. Why not?

Likewise, on the whole, the APA community did not take Frank Chin seriously enough and as a result, his legacy hasn’t gotten passed down to the younger generations of college APA the way Kingston’s works have. Only a few straight APA male activists have written empathetically about Chin, and they, too, weren’t taken seriously.

Why don’t we take straight APA men seriously? Is it a matter of invisibility? No. We see them. The truth is, we don’t really like them. They’re villains. They represent male dominance. Heterosexual dominance. And before anyone can do a doubletake on the logical fallacies there, we got the waves of APA women feminists who reinforce the villain archetype with narrative after narrative of straight APA men who fail to protect women, because whether or not we realize what it is we’re doing (*cough* traditional gender roles *cough*), at the heart of it that’s what women want: men to be protective. So it isn’t that Asian women believe the crazy villain stereotypes of Asian men; it’s that we don’t necessarily see them as protective over us, and so subliminally it’s easier for us to buy into the overt stereotypes, or worse yet, generate them, and then proceed to ignore and dismiss the rational straight Asian men who challenge those stereotypes.

Okay, so here is where I ought to make a confession. I have no idea where I’m going with this. I kinda started without a point, in case that wasn’t flawfully obvious already. So I’ll just end by sputtering the remaining thoughts that come to mind.

(1) While new and independent media have continued to offer more representation of straight APA men these days, they seem only to be fixated on having the Asian guys hook up with women. That isn’t enough to overturn the perfect villain stereotypes, especially if society still defines heroism as protecting women, not banging them. So. There should be more portrayals of straight APA men who protect women. It’s not enough that the Asian guy hooks up with a girl. That’s, dare I say it, such a heterosexual male chauvinist view of what it means to be a positive male role model. No. What’s more important is representing straight APA men in protective roles.

(2) Point number (1) is sexist. But it’ll work, if your goal is to use the media to improve the standing of straight Asian men. At least it’ll get Asian men noticed by women. Like how it works to wear something red and slinky if you’re a woman wanting to get noticed. In fact I think that’s why Asian women got noticed in the first place. “Me love you…

(3) Earlier in this piece I mentioned the mathematics of weighting marginalization. Here’s the complication: Since anything whites are part of is still considered more important, more worthy of public attention, i.e., the feminist movement and the gay rights movement, APA women and APA gays have that affiliation, and that sympathy. I’m not saying those movements perfectly include the voices of their APAs, but at least with that affiliation and sympathy, there’s mainstream support. Straight APA men are not a part of any white-backed movement and as a result, do not have any affiliations, sympathies, or mainstream support. They are the more marginalized and thus if there is any work left for activists to do, it would be to seek a dynamic equilibrium between the APA sexes. After all, isn’t that what feminism is all about?

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About akrypti

small town roots. enthusiast of many trades. oh, and yeah, high-maintenance like you wouldn't believe. tweet with me @akrypti.
This entry was posted in Discrimination, Lifestyles, Observations, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

152 Responses to The Perfect Villain: Straight Asian Men

  1. Bunni says:

    I’m hoping this is a joke too. A lot of the vitriol I’ve always gotten from APA men is because of me being extremely headstrong (like Tura Satana) and being proud of my mixed heritage (which seems like this author is threatened by such notions, since she has taken an ad hominum jab at me personally and “joked” that my dad was an American GI).

  2. TienVNguyen says:

    @Bunni It’s true we are a weak bunch that only likes submissive Asian girls whom we can’t protect but are abusive towards.

  3. Bunni says:

    @TienVNguyen I love your snarkiness! I wear a “I Make Boys Cry” button with mounds of pride, and it’s not just APA guys I make cry, it’s EVERY guy. >=D (evil grin)

  4. ErikaHarada says:

    @Bunni I didn’t see this in the article…did it happen elsewhere? I think it’s pretty awful if people are making personal attacks on here.

  5. Bunni says:

    @ErikaHarada Look for the “Afraid of being Too Asian” one. She basically takes a stab at me saying that my dad is an American GI, when both my parents are from the Philippines and my dad’s mixed.

  6. TienVNguyen says:

    LOL I hope this was a satirical piece, please tell me this was all a joke.

    Because as a straight Asian male I wouldn’t know how to reply without being stereotypically chauvinistic.

    But to ignore it would make me seem weak, which would somehow fit into the Asian male stereotype as well.

    So someone, anyone? Tell me there was not a bit of seriousness attached to this post? I would hate to have to stop going here if these types of pieces keep getting published.

    Thanks in advance.

  7. Bunni says:

    @ErikaHarada I’ve been bullied for most of my life for not being “Asian enough” by East Asian kids and white folks. One of the hugest pet peeves I have with the monoracial APA “progressive” movement is how they assume that every hapa who is half white has an American GI dad. Yeah, go tell that to my comrades in the hapa activist movement…

  8. Bunni says:

    @TienVNguyen I’ve met pretty of awesome hetero APA guys before, but most of them are scared of my Varla-like steez.

  9. Bunni says:

    @TienVNguyen Most straight APA guys are scared of me because I’m very opinionated. The gay ones commend me on my fierceness ^_^

  10. ErikaHarada says:

    I think this post has some good points, but overall…I dunno. There is an issue with the lack of positive representations of straight Asian men, yes. I definitely agree with that, and the fact that it probably ties into why straight Asian men have a hard time finding girlfriends or wives.

    Otherwise I don’t really understand the arguments — once again, Asian men and Asian women are treated like monolithic groups without even acknowledging cultural differences, individual aspirations, personalities, and thoughts.

  11. dzheng says:

    The commenters here asking if this is a joke or not only proves the author’s point that straight Asian men aren’t being taken seriously.

  12. mwei says:

    @Keith Oh how do you have an ad hominem attack that’s not on a personal level?

  13. ErikaHarada says:

    @Bunni I’m really confused as to where she was coming from with that comment…I mean, sure, it’s a joke, but why randomly poke fun at someone you barely know on the internet like that? Especially on a forum where everyone is pretty respectful for the most part? Idk. Maybe Akrypti can weigh in.

  14. mwei says:

    one thing I’ve always wondered: are gay Asian males offended by Ken Jeong’s antics in most of his movies as the flamboyant stereotype?

  15. TienVNguyen says:

    @mwei As a straight Asian male I do think he contributes to the “weak” stereotype, since most characters he plays are straight. In Community especially–he plays an absolutely weak, small, pathetic character who has no shame in himself.

  16. yu888 says:

    Perhaps it is true that there is some of this “anti-straight asian guy” sentiment within the activist communities. Those straight Asian guys who are progressive enough to be part of the movement are often surrounded by more aggressive, progressive, militant, et al, asian women and/or gay asian males which puts the straight males in the role of the less-oppressed. I observe this as a part of the movement and while I would not conclude that straight asian guys have any more of ” a hard time finding girlfriends or wives” than other guys, I can certainly see these guys as more in touch with their feelings and perhaps communicating their frustrations in this area more.

  17. Keith Oh says:

    @dzheng You took the words right out of my keyboard.

  18. Keith Oh says:

    @[email protected] Bunni, you really have to remove the quotes from your last sentence. Methinks all the teasing you’ve received in the past about your background has made you hyper sensitive about any references to it. I’ve been there, slights turn into slurs. As a disinterested third party, let me tell you, it wasn’t an ad hominem attack. Perhaps you took it more personally because it wasn’t coming from Efren or Ernie who like to put in a bon mots or two. It’s part of her personality, and it wasn’t an ad hominem attack done on a personal level.

  19. mwei says:

    where’s the footbinding? you can’t have any IR discussion without the footbinding!

    (is that time of the month again for the IR articles to boost readership and notoriety? lol)

  20. lfdu says:

    I have to agree with bigwowo on the invisibility. I am not sure where the villain part is coming from. Maybe in the 80s and before, but nowadays, asian men in the media are either mostly invisible (in the background) or just portrayed as weak. I am also surprised to learn that asian women would see asian men as abusive, especially in this day and age, not to mentioned kind of contradicting. weak and also abusive ? (I guess abusers are really cowards) Can’t seem to win with asian women, Too little, and we are seen as weak, too much, we are seen as villains.

  21. Keith Oh says:

    @mwei I just got one last week when I was drinking with some co-workers.

    Me: Guinness is absolutely disgusting to me. It tastes like rubbing alcohol mixed with coffee grounds.

    Co-worker: What makes you such an authority on beer? You hardly ever drink.

    Was it an ad hominen attack? Absolutely. Did I take it personally? No way…I knew he was joking.

  22. mwei says:

    @Keith Oh so it’s okay as long you aren’t offended?

  23. mwei says:

    @lfdu the yellow peril image is also based on contradictions, but hey it works so why change it.

  24. mwei says:

    @TienVNguyen I’d think the Hangover movies and Transformers #3 has more of an impact, since they’re mega summer blockbusters

  25. TienVNguyen says:

    @mwei True, I haven’t seen the 2nd hangover or Transformers 3 (didn’t know he was in that actually).

    I think the cast typing of him in those roles is more dangerous because:

    a) People are easily manipulated into buying into stereotypes. The less experience you have of a group of people, the more a single person within that group will influence your views on the group as a whole (if that makes sense)

    For instance if an American has never met an arab/muslim person, or even a Harvard graduate or someone from say Texas, they’ll have conceived their own stereotypes upon them–but you’re from a community that’s full of muslim people, your stereotypes will not be as easily influenced by one person

    b) Being from California it’s hard to remember that the rest of the US is only 6% Asian–so most Americans have met an Asian person before, muchless befriended one in their lives. So they end up resorting to the media, like the movies to conjure up what an Asian person is like.

    So they see Ken Jeong on the screen, see that he’s Asian, and it will be implanted in their minds that that is what an Asian male is like.

  26. TienVNguyen says:

    @mwei a) Bring up a stereotype about a group

    b) Offend that group as much as possible

    c) Admit you don’t actually have a real point

    Profit!

  27. mwei says:

    @TienVNguyen the most important question is: how do you get a movie deal out of it?

  28. A_Lee says:

    http://www.8asians.com/2011/04/05/finding-understanding-asian-masculinity/

    Most of what I want to say here, I said there. Other thoughts:

    1. Asian-American men get the short end of the stick twice. Asian society is more patriarchal that contemporary white society, so Asian-American men will inevitably be considered part of that society by Asian-American women, because of in-laws and what not. Asian-American women who want to be “free” of Asian culture naturally see dating/marrying Asian-American men as continuation of that patriarchy. It’s not right or wrong, it just is what it is. Secondly, Asian society demands obedience from sons. So Asian-American men are considered docile and mousy, because that’s what it looks like to white American culture. Again, not right or wrong, but it is what it is.

    2. It’s a very good point that what’s key here isn’t getting the girl, but protecting her. Positive Asian male portrayals require both. There are plenty of “wise martial art” protector types, but they are usually safely de-sexualized, either by being old men, or married men with families elsewhere. On this front, maybe Glenn from the Walking Dead is probably the closest to being both a protector and a lover. Great show, by the way.

    3. It seems that Asian-American men are uniquely handicapped in this area. Certainly these guys have no problems getting women.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWVkqyrkcrc

    So while Asian men are at a disadvantage throughout the world (except at the Siberian border), it seems that Asian-American men have it even worse.

  29. hmoobguy says:

    @ErikaHarada I completely agree with you on your point about not understanding of cultural differences. Some people are just too ignorant to realize there are some differences for people acting a certain way. And yes, I have yet to see any “positive” asian males, this also includes my own dad, who’s not so great.

  30. Keith Oh says:

    @mwei For me, it’s all about gauging what the person’s intent was. Akrypti clearly stated that she was joking after she made the remark. With the absence of body language and tone in a forum comment, it’s hard to relay every nuance in a body of text. I can safely assume that if they were in the same room sitting around a lounge, her comment wouldn’t have been taken as a personal attack.

  31. ErikaHarada says:

    @Keith [email protected] Intent doesn’t make everything magically go away, though…and saying “I was being ironic!” or “I was just joking!” is often used by folks to be able to say something rude or offensive. In this case it sounds like Akrypti was genuinely just joking around, but it came out of nowhere (it’s not like they were speaking in a joke-y manner before that) and it came off as being a bit too personal, in my opinion. Unless they know each other well enough and are good friends or something, of course.

  32. Pingback: A Female Take on Invisible Asian American Heterosexual Men | bigWOWO

  33. bigWOWO says:

    Thanks, Akrypti, for this piece. I responded and pretty much agreed with you.

    http://www.bigwowo.com/2011/11/a-female-take-on-invisible-asian-american-heterosexual-men/

  34. akrypti says:

    @[email protected] [email protected]

    Whoa. This has just gone on and on senselessly. First, if I recall correctly, she pulled one of those inane passive aggressive twisted “ooh, I was made fun of for being so white-washed; I’m not Asian enough, tee hee!” Girl, please. We all know what the purpose of uttering that kind of comment is. There’s a level of hubris there and if there wasn’t, then I can only assume it was a joke, with which I replied with a joke as well.

  35. ErikaHarada says:

    @akrypti I think you kinda crossed a line by talking about someone’s background like that, though…I dunno. I didn’t really know what the original contexts were, but looking in from the outside it made me kinda uncomfortable.

  36. TienVNguyen says:

    @[email protected] [email protected] I’m not sure what’s worse, a personal insult on one person you don’t know–or insulting an entire group of people as the poster does above. “Straight asian men are all X”. That covers well over a billion people doesn’t it?

    PRetty impressive stuff!

  37. TienVNguyen says:

    @akrypti ” I get attacked on 8A all the time.”

    Only because you purposely invite it withe the shit..I mean, stuff you write.

  38. akrypti says:

    Oh and then below she pulls again this whole “Boys are intimidated by me because I’m so fierce. Rawr.” thing? Lordy. It’s kind of incredible. I am sure she is a great person in real life and so I never mean to attack the person here, but when your comments come off as silly, be prepared for silly responses. I get attacked on 8A all the time. I’m not sitting in a corner crying over it. Move on.

  39. mwei says:

    I, for one, am enjoying the whole cattiness… of akrypti’s profile pic.

  40. Takuma says:

    A very nice and well written piece. Society really doesn’t have a good image of heterosexual AM. Every time I see a bad portrayal I cringe inside. How many times have we been put into stereotypical martial artist or asexual roles? I wonder, but props to the walking dead character, Glenn. In the comics he certainly goes against all stereotypes. Oh and props to the author too for creating an awesome series.

  41. Ben Ef says:

    I think that this issue goes beyond a gender dynamic and can reduced to the question of how Asians are taught to conceive of themselves within the context of a community or society. The problem is one of thinking and how we think that has created a situation such as this. It’s troubling that (according to countless testimonies) a relatively socially influential and significant number of Asians seem incapable of forming a worldview independently from what they see on the television. Much as I hate to say it, Asian-Americans have developed into a community of followers – seemingly incapable of making discerning assessments of the information they are exposed to in the media. Many of us simply seem to accept what we are told via the media without questioning it – even worse we seem content to be this way.

    This is problematic for Asian-Americans – perhaps even more so than the issue of stereotyping. Why hasn’t our Asian-American culture produced any Masterpieces? If we were to catalogue the complete product of Asian-American intellectual and creative output, how much of that output could we say has the kind brilliance contained within it that people five centuries from now would still be drawn to? I would probably guess that there aren’t many such works in the repertoire.

    I think that it is true that great endeavours emerge necessarily from forming an independent worldview, which in turn is the result of the simple act of questioning, and as your very interesting piece has suggested, we don’t do this enough. The result is no Masterpieces and no Masters.

  42. hachoo says:

    This is an interesting piece. These sweeping generalization pieces can be dangerous in that they can be taken as offensive in a backhand compliment kind of way, but at least the overall point here is that there needs to be a positive straight Asian male role model in the media. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of that and Hollywood doesn’t seem to be making any progress anytime soon.

    Really, the only way to fight Asian stereotypes as a straight Asian male, or any stereotypes for that matter, is to not let them affect you. Live your life the way you want. Work hard, be confident, be kind, be honest, be respectful and everything will just fall into place.

  43. akrypti says:

    I agree with everything you’ve said, hachoo; but the whole “just live your life, be the best man you can be and that’s it” attitude is exactly what got us into the model minority pigeonhole to begin with. We should not let poor media representations affect self-perception or self-esteem, sure, but even when they don’t affect us as individuals, we should still stand up and challenge how they affect us as a community.

  44. akrypti says:

    @A_Lee Do you think contemporary Taiwanese society is more patriarchal? (I decided to break it back down to Taiwanese rather than the overly general “Asian.”) Our parents’ generation, yes, absolutely, without question. But ours, not so much anymore. Similar to what is going on here in the U.S., women there dominate men in education, in careers, etc. and similar to the U.S., most families run on dual incomes now. I’m not saying it’s not patriarchal; I’m just questioning whether it’s *more* patriarchal than what we see here in the States.

  45. Danny_Ahmed says:

    I noticed that these type of articles regarding relationships and images of the Asian male or female get most of the responses.

    So, speaking of the last 3 thoughts mentioned:

    Points 1 and 2 are about the media, and we need to be a little realistic about this. Asians in America are still the minority (also the minority of minorities, considering population-wise), so in matters considered, we’re not going to get as much attention as the other groups. Due to demographics, by default it’s going to be like that. Virtually all the media in the world does that, so we can’t really say it’s America only.

    I don’t know what to say about point 3. A lot of straight APA men I know are mainly concerned about 3 things. Their jobs, their hobbies and if they want to admit it, their families/friends. Some guys I know don’t intellectualize much about these things, and most of the time, they either ignore it or give people the finger.

  46. VanCityNights says:

    @ErikaHarada This guy purposely ups the stereotypes 10 fold, but his girlfriend is hot. There are a ton of crazy guys and girls in America. It can’t be hard for an APA to find a girlfriend if he wants a girlfriend, depending on his standards.

    I find it amusing that people asume Asian men have a hard time finding a girlfriend because the standards for boyfriends are so high these days. I know a ton of weirdos, losers and socially awkward people who have girlfriends.

    And now, for the obligatory video on how to properly be Chinese:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZIK03pQHwc

  47. VanCityNights says:

    @Bunni

    You sure you weren’t bullied most your life because you lacka sense of humour? Maybe arrogance (you do make a lot of arrogant comments).

    Usually in grade school those are the reasons. But the bullied person assumes it’s for some other reason because…they lack a sense of humour, and they’re arrogant.

  48. ErikaHarada says:

    @VanCityNights True, I think pretty much all the Asian-Am men I know are hooked up 🙂 I just hear a lot about the damaging effects of stereotypes on dating w/Asian-Am menfolk, particularly on the internet. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

  49. ErikaHarada says:

    @VanCityNights @Bunni That sounds really victim-blaming. I personally was super quiet and lacked any self-esteem through middle school and was bullied about my race because the bullies knew I wouldn’t fight back. Newsflash: people are assholes.

  50. hachoo says:

    I understand your point. Though changing stereotypes and how they affect a community is a high challenge in itself and I fully appreciate this blog’s ability to bring these issues to the forefront. Not everyone’s a politician, a writer, a blogger, or a celebrity. So what most people can do is to get themselves out there. Let there actions show they’re not the stereotype. Get more involved in community service and different groups. Take on more leadership positions, etc.

    Maybe a better explanation of my point is that every little bit counts. Live your life without letting stereotypes define you and let your actions speak for themselves and if you can get more involved in the community, even better.

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