Marie Clare online (ht Rosalind) has a recent article on “The New Trophy Wives: Asian Women,” which is both insightful and naïve at the same time, even white-framed. The author, Ying Chu, raises the provocative question of why many powerful, older white men are now partnering with younger Asian women:
When the venerable director [Woody Allen] scandalously left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter, South Korean-born Soon-Yi Previn . . . he may as well have sent out a press release: Asian-girl fantasy trumps that of Hollywood royalty! . . . Rupert Murdoch walked down the aisle with fresh-faced Wendi Deng . . . .Then, CBS head Leslie Moonves wed TV news anchor Julie Chen; Oscar winner Nicolas Cage married half-his-age third wife Alice Kim; billionaire George Soros coupled up with violinist Jennifer Chun; and producer Brian Grazer courted concert pianist Chau-Giang Thi Nguyen. Add the nuptials of investment magnate Bruce Wasserstein to fourth wife Angela Chao and the pending vows between venture capitalist Vivi Nevo and Chinese actress Ziyi Zhang.
She then asks why this is happening, first suggesting this may be a type of colonial “yellow fever”:
The excruciating colonial stereotypes — Asian women as submissive, domestic, hypersexual — are obviously nothing new.
Her primary answer is that these are after all now omnipresent images and
often entertaining. Even now, how many cinematic greats, literary best sellers, or even cell-phone ads . . . characterize Asian women as something other than geishas, ninjas, or dragon ladies? . . . I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the cheeky blog stuffwhitepeoplelike.com, which ranks Asian girls at number 11 because “Asian women avoid key white women characteristics, such as having a midlife crisis, divorce, and hobbies that don’t involve taking care of the children.”
So these old and new racialized images are entertaining? We are supposed to laugh at such stereotyping of Asian and white women? Racialized steretoyping is no laughing matter, even if some naïve websites think it is. Then she moves back to a more critical analysis:
“It’s like a curse that Asian-American women can’t avoid,” says C.N. Le, director of Asian and Asian-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “From an academic point of view, the perception still serves as a motivation for white men.” . . . Richard Bernstein found that the Orientalist illusion continues to influence. “Historically, Asia provided certain sexual opportunities that would be much more difficult for Western men to have at home. But it remains a happy hunting ground for them today,” he says, citing one phenomenon in the northeastern region of Thailand called Issan, where 15 percent of marriages are between young Thai women and Western men well into their 60s.
She introduces the importance of the exotic Asian woman stereotype, but quickly drops it instead it and does not exploring what it means in the West. This sexualization of Asian American women in white-male minds is a major aspect of contemporary racism, and one deserving of much more analysis than we have in social science, never mind in the stereotype-riddled popular media. This stereotype is central not only for the elite-men-partnering issue, but much more generally to white (male) framing of Asian and Asian American women. There are, for example, a great many websites dedicated to pleasing the racialized exotic-Asian-female fantasies and images held by many white men across the Internet.
After suggesting that the partnering actions of white men may have some connection to their recognizing the power of China and the rest of Asia in contemporary globalization, she then reverses direction and asks why these often high-achieving Asian or Asian American women pair up with these aging white men of power:
While I’m sure that real love and affection is sometimes the bond in these culture-crossing May-December romances, could it be that power divorcés of a certain ilk make the perfect renegade suitors for these overachieving Asian good girls — an ultimate (yet lame) attempt at rebellion? Maybe these outsized, world-class moguls are stand-ins for emotionally repressed Asian dads (one cliché that is predominantly true).
So now we get her own stereotype of Asian men as somehow not really men as one explanation for the actions of Asian women such as these. As we point out in our recent The Myth of the Model Minority:
In the 19th century Asian American [and Asian] men were stereotyped in the white framing as oversexed and threatening to white women, but in more recent decades they have been more likely to be stereotyped as feminized or emasculated, a shift that may link to the rise of model minority stereotyping. . . . In the United States Asian American women are the group most likely to marry outside of their racial group. They outmarry more than other women and men of color, and much more than Asian American men. In many such cases a white racial framing in the minds of Asian American women may intersect with the sexualization of Asian American women in white male minds. Because their standard of an attractive male has become white-normed and because of the potential to enter directly into white middle-class [or upper-class] world, many Asian women find a white male partner appealing. In contrast, some white men are drawn to the Asian female stereotype of exoticized sensuality and submissiveness.