Sexy Little Geisha – Racist Stereotypes Perpetuated By Pop Culture and Fashion

I admit I am highly sensitized to racist attitudes about Asian stereotypes because I am part Asian. So when I saw this today, I got pissed:

“Your ticket to an exotic adventure: a sexy mesh teddy with flirty cutouts and Eastern-inspired florals. Sexy little fantasies, there’s one for every sexy you.”

via Sexy Little Geisha – Sexy Little Things® – Victoria’s Secret.

Victoria’s Secret’s new “GO EAST” line of lingerie indulges in “touches of eastern delight.” Now, I am no prude, these models are all lovely, but the stereotype perpetuated here with the “sexy little geisha” is offensive to my roots. Complete with chopsticks, fan, and ridiculous removable obi sash, this frankly hideous costume bears no resemblance to Japanese Geisha. I find it interesting that not a single Asian model was used for the entire line.

Contrary to popular belief, Geisha is not synonymous with prostitute. Geisha are highly trained, accomplished entertainers. Some of the first Geisha were actually male. Unfortunately, prostitutes who solicited American servicemen after World War II called themselves “geisha girls,” which has served to perpetuate the stereotype.

This skimpy outfit is an affront to the tradition of Geisha, which celebrates the beauty of a woman through subtlety. A traditional Geisha exposes very little flesh. Only her hands, her face, and the nape of her neck is exposed. She is mostly covered in white makeup, with a few strips left bare. Her beauty is accentuated by her elaborate dress and hairstyle.

Being half-Japanese, I have experienced male attention inspired solely by my Asian appearance. I have been told how “exotic” I look, like a “china-doll.” I enjoyed the attention when I was younger, until I realized that the attraction was based on stereotypes that reduced me to a sexual object.

Perhaps I sound like an asshole, complaining about male attention and being thought attractive. In the past, men accused me of being “stuck up.” I was a bitch for not appreciating their “compliments.” Girls often called me names as well, telling me “go back to your own country.” Once a girl said that I was “dirty-looking” and that I was “lucky” to get a man to look my way. It is the KIND of male attention that disturbed me, with its threatening and aggressively sexual nature. Men inferred that I was a sexual submissive, well-versed in pleasure by virtue of birth, not experience. They wondered if my anatomy “down there” was slanted, like my eyes. Yes, they asked.

Neither the white half nor the Japanese half of my family knew how to accept my sister and me fully. My own mother, when we went to visit family in Japan, introduced family members as “my cousin” and “my uncle.” They were her family, not mine. White family members whispered that my mother was an opportunist who “took advantage” of my father with her exotic charms. They questioned my and my sister’s parentage, unhappy that my father had sired “mixed breeds.” I internalized this sense of “otherness” that essentially handicapped my relationships with others. I remain uncomfortable with intimacy and expressing my emotions. I cry when I get angry and I get angry when I cry.

For some reason, it’s still okay to make racist comments about Asians in pop culture. Consider the “Amasian” Jeremy Lin, who has wowed sportscasters with his uncharacteristically athletic powers-I mean HOW can an Asian guy be THIS good at basketball? This is a common point of discussion during  games. ESPN probably couldn’t WAIT to use the clever little pun, “a chink in the armor” after a Knicks loss.

Whitlock_original

Hahaha, get it? Because Asian men have tiny penises, amiright?

Asian American students experience far more incidents of bullying than any other ethnic group in the United States. 54 percent of Asian-American students report being bullied. 31.3 percent of whites, 38.4 percent of blacks and 34.3 percent of Hispanic students report that they are bullied in school. Part of the problem could be language and cultural barriers, along with a reluctance to tell anyone about being harassed. Army private Danny Chen apparently took his own life while stationed in Afghanistan following severe and brutal hazing by fellow soldiers. The only Chinese-American soldier in his unit, he was physically assaulted and humiliated while being called such names ans “gook,” “chink,” and “dragon lady.” On the day of his death he was made to crawl on gravel for 100 meters as others pelted him with rocks. So far one of his tormentors has been demoted and sentenced to 30 days in jail, with seven others still awaiting trial.

As a child, I heard similar taunts, though thankfully I was never physically assaulted. I have since always felt extraordinary anger when I see another person being victimized. I have confronted much larger men, calling them bitches and questioning their manhood, which was unwise, but reflects the depth of my scorn. My passion for equality for gay people was inspired by my own wish for acceptance and to feel like I belong. My experiences have opened my eyes to the plight of others who have suffered far greater injustice and suffering for things such as skin color, weight, or sexual orientation. I try to root out my own prejudices by recognizing that they exist.

Anxious to dispel false assumptions of  my submissive and dainty nature, I developed the propensity to use foul language, laugh loudly and voice strong opinions. I made myself more abrasive to counter racist perceptions. Some myths I used to my advantage, such as the silly notion that I knew karate and that I was blessed with higher than average intelligence.  I now openly mock the thought that I might walk three steps behind my man and whisper quietly “as you wish.” I imitate the Vietnamese prostitute in Full Metal Jacket (“me love you long time”) for laughs. By throwing the stereotypes out there I hope to dispel their power, though I’m not sure if I should. Black people have claimed the “N-word,” taking away some of its negative power, but it is still an ugly word that is used in an ugly way by haters.

I am guilty of racist and classist attitudes myself, I can’t deny it. We are all products of our environments and prevailing attitudes about race and socioeconomic status. Studies have shown that black children have internalized the message that they are not as pretty or smart as a white child. The lower middle class and the poor similarly blame themselves for their own plight, judging by their voting habits and slavish adherence to the myth of the American Dream. We often unconsciously live out the assumptions that have been made about us.

Assaulted daily by propaganda and advertisements that reinforce these unconscious attitudes, it is no wonder that people find it difficult to overcome bias, especially when it pertains to their own identities. Many choose instead to embrace it, laugh at it, and claim it proudly. How else to explain the popularity of Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy, who make money by mocking their “redneck” audience? TLC has made an industry of perpetuating and reinforcing stereotypical images.

I’m afraid that all of those images and hateful words are never going to go away. I am worried that although Americans come in all races, colors, and religions, the prevailing image of an American will always be a white male. The idea of the United States as “the Melting Pot” is dead, replaced with the mantra of “take our country back.” From whom can only be the “other,” Hispanics, Asians, black people, Muslims…anyone NOT white/Anglo/protestant/bearing a penis. This division is what allows the power-brokers to guide our thoughts and actions. Mindlessly buying their definitions of what a “real American” is only serves to perpetuate the endless divisive rhetoric that serves no other purpose than to keep us distracted from our own freedoms being slowly stripped away.

20 thoughts on “Sexy Little Geisha – Racist Stereotypes Perpetuated By Pop Culture and Fashion

  1. I totally feel where you are coming from. That is totally offensive and just plan stupid ass marketing on Vickie Secrets part. What’s next? To get the appeal of the African-American community, are they going to have a black woman with gold teeth, a gold chain, weave down to her Achillies heel, fake bullet womb on her leg, two kids around her ankles all while on a stripper pole with her “baby daddy” watching in the background with a fistfull of dollars to get African-American women to buy thier bras and panties and call it ‘Keeping the twin sisters in da hood?’ That’s totally ridiculous. I’m a racist and a classist too. I’m racist and classist to stupid, close-minded, ignorant, insensitive sons of bitches who can’t get out of thier own way and or out of their little box to see the whole picture of all races. Stupid bastards!!!

    • LMAO, you tell it like it is, as usual! I am so grateful for you and all the other blogfriends out there that let me know I am not alone. This is the one place I can reveal my feelings without reservation. Thank you, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have someone out there who hears me:)

  2. Amaya, I read both your two recent posts. Thanks for sharing this and I too hate to see people victimized. Please know the “take the country back” crowd is scared of the real America which is that diverse melting pot you see as going away. It is a painful move forward, but let mention two things from an Old Fart’s perspective. Back in the hateful Jim Crow era, could those people imagine a time today where it is much more accepted in mainstream to have bi-racial couples? There are still bigots among us, especially in NC. Yet, I also see the LGBT company gain acceptance beyond the Anita Bryant bigotry of the late 1970′s. You are a great American for shining spotlights on the bigotry. Keep on brabbling. I love you for it. BTG

    • You are so right, we have come a long way and have a long way yet to go. One thing that sets this country apart from most others is the fact that we have SO many different types of people here, which has contributed greatly to our culture and identity as a nation. It just seems that in the just the last few years much of the progress we have made has been eroded by this pseudo-christian/conservative movement to roll back equal rights protections and introduce more and more oppressive legislation. We have to continue to talk about it so that we can continue moving forward. Thanks so much for your kind comments and support!

  3. Upton Sinclair once said when terrorism comes to America it will be carrying a cross draped in an American flag. Long before 9/11, we had the KKK and other White Supremacist groups. Since 9/11, the groups that would have been ignored gained footing to protect against any group that did not look and worship the way they do. That is why I did the post on God and the Civil War – which side was he on? I like your style.

  4. When I complete a job application I say I am “American” and I am “Human”. I have been pushed on this before, even had a client say I can’t be these things, yet indeed that is what I am. Born both American and Human. Nothing else fits, my ‘race’ is a mix beyond two or three, filtered, shaken and stirred by all those who find comfort and attraction over the many generations that came before me. Does it matter?

    I am beyond and so over those who want me to dignify their questions. I have long since gotten beyond the idea. The cultural heritage, yes we should preserve these as they define us in so many ways. The racial identifiers, that is an entirely different matter.

    • Great idea! I always hated checking the race boxes. My dad used to say I was a Heinz-57, which is what they called mongrel dogs. He was joking, of course. But it’s true, I guess, we are a bunch of racially and culturally mixed up people and labels are becoming more and more meaningless. American Human works very well!

  5. Great essay! I can identify with you, Amaya. I’m of mixed Spanish, Mexican Indian and German heritage. In high school, some kids would tell me to “go back to México,” even though I was born and raised in Texas, like my father. Our ancestry in this state extends back to the late 16th century! When I tell other Hispanics about my German background, some often scoff and make Nazi comments. Bigotry is bigotry is bigotry, which equals stupidity. I think it’s amazing – actually appalling – that we’re still dealing with this crap in the 21st century.

    • Thank you for your comments, Alejandro. What a shame that you were treated that way. Bigotry is also ignorance, which can be remedied if a person chooses to be enlightened. I teach my children not to make such assumptions and judgments about people, but still they learn at school and in life that skin color and status makes a difference in how one is treated.

  6. I stumbled upon this blog entry and felt like I had to reply.

    I’m also half Asian, but on my father’s side. Even though he is not Japanese, this still bothers me. Also, the fact that ignorant racist people frequently mix up all Asians (they’re `all the same’, right?) means this kind of thing will inevitably be applied to all Asians. It’s appropriation and sexualisation. Reducing someone’s culture to nothing but a sex toy, so to speak.

    I also received attention based solely on my Asian appearance. I was creeped out from the beginning, but I never managed to put my finger on why until I realised they were projecting racist and sexist stereotypes onto me.

    I’m sorry you are not accepted by both sides of your family. I feel rather accepted, but living in another country from the rest of my father’s family and not learning the language means I was kind of cut off from them. I feel unable to fully connect to part of my roots and I can’t even communicate with some family members. There was and is definitely racism among my White family members. More of the stupid, ignorant kind where people honestly don’t know any better and can’t even comprehend why anyone would be bothered. Funny how I was always the envied `genius’ of the family, but today I am the least successful out of all my White cousins.

    I’m at least glad you did not experience physical attacks along with racist taunts. I regularly got pelted with stones and people threw eggs at our house, tried to hurl bricks through windows. Sometimes they came round with baseball bats to threaten us. The hatred was overwhelming. Some of these things even continued on past the year 2000, so everyone who thinks racism is dead is either really lucky or a very privileged White person who never had to feel terrified in their own home due to their skin colour.

    I never felt like a `real’ Briton, either. Whatever that means. Didn’t help that every time I picked up the mail I saw my Chinese surname butchered or Anglicised. Britain didn’t want me to exist.

    • Thanks so much for sharing some of your experiences! I agree most of the racist comments and assumptions are based on ignorance, not malice. That’s why a lot of people don’t understand why this outfit is offensive to some people. Sometimes people think that more “positive” stereotypes are acceptable, like being smart or “exotic.” I am so sorry that you were actually physically threatened and attacked. I hope you remain proud of both sides of your heritage. Being a bit different has made me a stronger, more compassionate person. Thanks again for taking time to comment. This is the reason I write. To share my thoughts and learn from other people’s perspectives.

    • I wanted to point out one other thing. When I was in high school, the White kids were the ones who often made racist comments to me about being Hispanic, even as light-complexioned as I am. In recent years, however, I’ve noticed other Hispanics, as well as some Blacks, are more likely to make racist comments towards me. Just like with Blacks, Hispanics often embroil themselves in the “light skin / dark skin” debate. With Hispanics, however, we really are White, or Caucasian, because of the Spanish and / or Portuguese ethnicity we often have. Full-blooded Hispanics, whether they’re from the Iberian Peninsula or elsewhere, usually resent being placed in the same category as other Hispanics, or Latinos, because that aligns them with Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, etc. And, they seem to bear a strong animosity towards that.

      Citizens of Latin America often mock Hispanic Americans because many of us don’t speak perfect Spanish or none at all. For example, I was raised speaking English because my parents didn’t want me to have a tough time in school like they did. I learned Spanish in school. I also don’t really identify with most Latin Americans, even though my mother was born in México, because I consider myself an American. On my father’s side of the family, our ancestry in Texas goes back to the 1580’s.

      Moreover, many Mexicans ridicule me because I don’t support illegal immigration or consider immigration the number one issue facing Hispanic Americans. In fact, I resent that Hispanic civil rights groups in the U.S. – which used to concentrate on work issues and voting – now seem to focus almost exclusively on illegal immigration.

      Some Hispanics also mock my ¼ German heritage from my mother’s side. Whites (Germans or otherwise) simply find it interesting. Bigotry comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. The people you often think will side with you can turn into your worst enemy.

      • Very good points, I have witnessed similar things. There are divisions and prejudiced attitudes within and among different races. It is not just a problem among white people. I appreciate your perspective on this issue.

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  8. I’m glad I found your post– I’m biracial myself, half black half white, and have experienced the same aspects of “other-dom” in my almost 30 years on Earth as well. I have a love/hate relationship with my looks and have had a series of questionable and downright volatile relationships with the “curious” white males of Western society. I have never felt well received in either racial group, even in my own family and my genitals, hair texture, and preference of sexual acts have been topics of uncomfortable conversations since my teens. Much like you stated your own feelings on such matters: when I get angry I cry, and when I cry I get angry. As a mother now, old feelings have resurfaced and I have been on a mission to ensure positive social change so that my daughter may never experience the pain of being called the incorrect racial slur because the moron shouting it can’t even decipher what ethnicity she is, or have that sub-conscience self loathing that American marketing executives thrive on. I don’t limit myself to “black” “causes” however, and take offense at ALL misappropriated culture, stereotyped imagery, and the extremely limited views of the peoples of the world that help line the pockets of American businessmen… As of current I am torn between my gut instinct of being utterly appaled by the newest Lalaloopsy doll (again, I have a daughter) ‘Yuki Kimono’ and just throwing up my hands as I have been told my entire life that I merely “look for fights,” and no one seems to ever see the underlying damage that “harmless” products, especially in the realm of gender marketed toys, cause.
    I’m so utterly tired of being forcefed the same image of the “Japanese woman,” (complete with fan, and chopsticks). I am so tired of allowing our youth through the marketing and sales of this image to perpetuate the stereotypes of not just Japanese, but all asian cultures– there’s no information given, no background, no historical context, Just an image. Just. The. Same. Image of the “exotic,” cute, and subservient Asian woman Western society knows as “The Geisha”… Thus furthing the preconceived cultural “ideas” that allow another generation of people to grow up unable to differentiate between Hollywood and Reality. It’s not just a “toy” to me. And I would love to hear your opinion on the matter.
    Cheers!

    • You make a good point about toys. I’ve got a particular issue with Disney Princess stuff and Bratz dolls. My girls always knew not to ask for a Bratz doll, especially the trampy Bratz baby! What the heck?! Am I being too sensitive? Maybe, I don’t know. My whole issue with racial stereotypes goes hand in hand with gender roles and the way it seems that girls are programmed to accept them from birth. Boys are as well, for that matter. You nailed it with your comment: “preconceived cultural “ideas” that allow another generation of people to grow up unable to differentiate between Hollywood and Reality.” This goes to the heart of nearly every societal problem, from prejudice to poverty. We are raised on certain “truths” and very few of us ever question them. You and I, being “other,” are perhaps blessed in that we are able to see those stereotypes and false truths as limiting and hurtful. I can only hope that this helps us to raise our children without these misconceptions-more likely to see the person, not just the image.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Dana. It’s so nice to know there are people who “get” what I’m trying to say. One fellow blogger was so outraged by the seeming frivolousness of this post, he dedicated his own post to ridiculing it!

  9. I appreciate this post. Disney, Hollywood are the hotbed of stereotypes, esp about Asians – and actually, Asian women. You know, I’m remembering my reaction when I saw the way they had drawn Mulan’s legs. Stubby. I cried out, “Hey, my legs aren’t like that!” I’d been told I should model them. (Gosh, I’ve never told people this.) My readers have reported their eyes have opened from the stories around the world I’ve been collecting in the Race we are “running”. I posted a recent submission from an Asian-Australian. I never knew there was such a group! And of course I told my story as well.

    Keep up the thoughtful blogging.

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