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.”
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.
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.