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?