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Open Letter to Ying Chu, of “The New Trophy Wives: Asian Women”

14 August 2009

I am super excited to introduce Torrent Magazine’s first guest contributor, Zoe Yang!

Here’s Zoe on Marie Claire’s recent article, “The New Trophy Wives: Asian Women.”

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I was really not going to write about this, because other writers have touched upon many of the same issues (just to name a few – Double X, The FriskyDisgrasian, and Jezebel). But even in reading their pieces, I feel that some major issues have gone unaddressed. Here is the original Marie Claire article, spliced with my own comments.

Call it the Woody Allen Effect. When the venerable director scandalously left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter, South Korean-born Soon-Yi Previn—35 years his junior—he may as well have sent out a press release: Asian-girl fantasy trumps that of Hollywood royalty!

Not two years after they tied the knot, media baron Rupert Murdoch walked down the aisle with fresh-faced Wendi Deng—17 days after finalizing his divorce from his second wife. 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, and we’ve got a curious cultural ripple. Were these tycoons consciously courting Asian babes? Do any of them qualify for the unnerving “yellow fever” or “rice king” moniker? It’s unsavory to think so. But after two or three failed attempts at domestic bliss with women of like background and age, these heavy hitters sought out something different. Something they had likely fetishized.

Show me a white tycoon with a younger Asian woman and I’ll show you five more with younger white women. Rich men like dating younger women, period. How backward is Marie Claire that these interracial couplings, hardly a tsunami of “examples,” are being treated as news? Some forty years after the last anti-miscegenation law was repealed, are you actually asking us to raise our eyebrows all over again?

To me, the term “trophy wife” refers to a woman who is beautiful, but vapid, meant to be seen, and not heard. None of the accomplished women listed above fit that definition. Not only is it insulting to the women and their husbands to cast them with that label, it re-inserts the tired stereotype of voiceless, docile Asian wives. This racial narrative is particular to Asian women – try to substitute in Latina or Black women and see if it makes sense to you. I suspect that you have unwittingly internalized stereotypes of Asian women as domestic servants, little girls, as seducers of white men, blended it all up in your head, and squeezed it back out in the form of a vile new noodle: Asian women as trophy wives.

Enter the doll-faced [Pause. Think about Chu’s choice of words for a second. I rest my previous point.] Asian sylph on the arm of a silver-haired Western suit. (Hello, mail-order bride!) [Hello cliche!] The excruciating colonial stereotypes—Asian women as submissive, domestic, hypersexual—are obviously nothing new. But decades after The World of Suzie Wong hit drive-ins and more than 20 years since David Bowie’s “China Girl” topped the music charts, why are we still indulging them?

Yes, why ARE you still indulging them?

Because they’re omnipresent—and often entertaining. Even now, how many cinematic greats, literary best sellers, or even cell-phone ads (see Motorola’s latest) characterize Asian women as something other than geishas, ninjas, or dragon ladies? As the object of opening-line zingers like “Me love you long time” (the infamous line from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket), 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.” Sure, I’m petite and was in fact born in Shanghai, but—to the shock of more than one guy I’ve gone out with—I’d rather down an icy beer and burger than nurse bubble tea and eat dumplings while massaging his back with my toes.

Um, I love bubble tea and dumplings more than beer and burgers, but that does not make me a “doll-faced sylph.” The difference between a stereotype and an individual act is the freedom of choice. I don’t understand what you’re trying to prove by stating your preference for beer and burgers as a point of pride.

[Aside: considering the problematic relationships many American women have with food, I am inclined to think that guys are probably surprised that you drink beer and eat burgers at all.]

“This is a common experience among Asian-American women,” says Bich Minh Nguyen, who broaches the stereotypes in her latest novel, Short Girls. “They’re dating a white guy, and they may not know if it’s a fetish thing.”

Maybe within the first…two hours. I mean, it’s pretty obvious. (Right ladies? C’mon now.) We could discuss the finer points of Nguyen’s claim: is physical attraction to a particular hair type or facial shape a fetish? It gets dicier here. My belief is that yes, they are still fetishes, but they are no longer necessarily racial.

“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.” In researching his new book, The East, the West, and Sex, author 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.

Young women in rural Thailand and Zhang Ziyi? Not the same. Read your history books – or heck, look it up on Wikipedia – we are not all the same, and we are certainly not disadvantaged to the same degree. Your confluence of the two not only strips the women you named above of all agency, but dangerously overlooks the social and economic conditions that produce these marriages in rural Thailand.

But I suspect there’s something else about the East that’s seducing business bigwigs at this very moment: globalization. Consider that, stateside, Mandarin classes have spiked 200 percent over the past five years (apparently, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was an early adopter; he taught Mandarin classes in his Dartmouth days), and China has claimed status as the world’s top export nation. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell theorizes that Asian kids’ intrinsic work ethic makes them outsmart American kids in math. (In the latest Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development international education survey, Taiwanese students were tops in math, while the U.S. placed 35th.) It’s as though these Western men are hungry for a piece of that mystical Eastern formula. As such, Asians (in addition to African orphans) are hot commodities right about now—status symbols as prized as a private Gulfstream jet or a museum wing bearing your name (neither of which goes so well with a frumpy, aging first wife).

First of all, globalization – otherwise known as the encroachment of Western people, ideas, and capital into the Third World and displacing the people, ideas, and capital that was there before – is not new, and it has always been the root of Asian fetishes. Bernstein, as problematic as his book is, acknowledges that the thrill of escaping Western society was the most seductive element of an Asian woman’s body. But I doubt the Orient would have seemed as exotic (read: alluring) if it didn’t come nicely gift-wrapped with the trappings of power and a heady sense of entitlement. We only call it “globalization” instead of  “invasion,” now, because money enables what guns used to: the exploitation of Other cultures and by extension, Other women.

Secondly, “intrinsic work ethic”? “mystical Eastern formula”? Enough with the model minority myth.

Third, by “Asians” I think you just mean “Chinese.”

Fourth, what are you even saying? Is that hodgepodge of random facts supposed to prove that “globalization” is making white men want Asian women? Because we’re good at math? My brain hurts.

Finally, “dumpy, aging first wife.” Ma’am, step away from the blatant misogyny.

Tellingly, most current trophies of choice are far more than exotic arm candy. They are accomplished musicians and journalists, they have Ivy League MBAs and hail from prestigious political families (Mrs. Wasserstein’s older sis is former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao). Why, then, are these women falling for rich white patriarchs? Why be a target for headline comparisons to concubines?

Right, because Asian women should form their relationships based on the drivel ignorant people spout, or publish in Marie Claire…

When Wendi Deng was described as “The Yellow Peril” in a recent magazine profile, it only marginalized her achievement: As chief strategist for MySpace China, she has become central to News Corp.’s expansion into the elusive Chinese market—something Murdoch himself had attempted, and failed to do, before she came into the picture.

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?

Thank you for reinforcing the model minority myth (the second time, for those counting at home) AND suggesting that Asian women (yes, every single one of us) have the emotional capacity of suburban teenagers, all in one pithy (yet, lame) sentence.

Maybe these outsized, world-class moguls are stand-ins for emotionally repressed Asian dads (one cliché that is predominantly true).

…And we have Freudian analysis! Honey, everyone has Daddy issues. And you manage to reinforce yet another stereotype – that of men in non-Western countries being so repressed/repressive. Like white men are sooooo enlightened? Yeah, I’m sure Rupert Murdoch watches Oprah all the time.

Or… are these women just glorified opportunists? What’s so perverse is that while Asians have always revered their elders,

Wow, you sure managed to pack in a lot of cultural essentialism in one short article – I can almost hear “Please Bring Honor To Us All” playing tinnily in the background.

sleeping with a guy old enough to be your grandfather is just creepy—in any culture.

Can I see the anthropology degree to back up that judgy judgingness?

Skepticism aside, the new trophy trend does have its benefits. We’re already seeing a positive impact on global politics, economics, and the arts: The Chinese became privy to online social networking in 2007 with the launch of MySpace China under the News Corp. umbrella;

Gasp! China had no online social networks before 2007?? My God, it’s like Rupert banging Wendi brought them fire.

contemporary Chinese painters—including Xiaogang Zhang and Minjun Yue—have rung up nearly $400 million in sales on international art circuits since 2006, thanks to well-connected supporters like Ziyi Zhang;

And, possibly, just possibly, their own talents and China’s emergence on a grand scale. I don’t doubt that Zhang Ziyi has contributed a lot, I just did not know that she needed a white finance guy boyfriend to connect her to international art circuits. I mean, I think she may have been in a couple of movies…

and almost 43 percent of international adoptions, which have more than tripled since 1990, now come out of Asian countries (more playdates for Pax and Maddox).

But this couldn’t possibly be a result of countless people working to provide homes for impoverished children. Lets credit old white men and their sexual proclivities once again.

What’s more, perhaps a proliferation of gorgeous, mixed-race, multilingual offspring (assuming a classical Mandarin tutor is on the Chen-Moonves registry) is just good for our landscape. However you look at it, one thing’s for sure: We’re going to have to get used to this new international power family—aging mogul and foxy Asian wife flaunting a double-wide with newborn and adopted Malawian tot. What’s next—the token trophy pet? I hear endangered Burmese rabbits are exceptionally cuddly.

Asian women dating white men may never really know if it’s a fetish thing.

And on that patronizing note, let me wrap this up: Ying Chu, I think your intentions were good. You express displeasure at Asian fetishes and provide some historical/political context, but I think writing is where you fell short. You tried to treat a serious subject in a lighthearted manner, and you failed through the rampant misuse of pop cultural touchpoints. You are probably twisting in anguish at the rage you have inspired from Asian women everywhere, and you probably feel misunderstood.

But even with the best of intentions, even with the most charitable reading of your article, I am disappointed that you failed to recognize your immense power as not just a commentator on trends but a creator of the very same. You have coined a term here, “Asian trophy wives,” and cast public scrutiny on the personal motives of Asian women making choices for themselves. (It takes two, but you blame the women by asking why they would choose to be with these old white dudes and providing only the most immoral of reasons.)

All for a trend piece on a trend that doesn’t even exist. Because here’s the thing: unless you know what someone’s motivations are, you can’t box her into your convenient theories on racially-motivated trends. To do so is…racist. By your own argument, even Asian women dating white men may never really know if it’s a fetish thing. If that’s so, Asian women like yourself should be far removed from naming other Asian women as complicit in that “fetish thing.”

– Zoe

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 11 September 2009 6:04 pm

    Fetishization is not confined to race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. In matters of sex and coupling there is always a level of fetishization that goes on. Men fetishize women, women fetishize men, men fetishize other men and women fetishize other women. It is a natural part of being human. You see someone attractive and you think, “Wow! I’d like that.” It is all part of life as a sexual being.

    The difference is power.

    Through democratization and globalization women in many parts of East Asia have gained access to greater and greater powers that were once denied to them by the highly patrifocal influence of Confucianism, which locates women in a position of status below the child.

    As women in Asia have fought for and attained more equal rights, I won’t say equal as the process is still ongoing, they have more agency over their lives. Part of this agency involves choice of sexual and life partners. Women now have the agency to choose what kind of life they would like, how many sexual partners they would like, and who those partners may be. Although many white men may fetishize Asian women, many Asian women also fetishize white men and act on their agency to choose a parter. For many it is a preferable selection of a mate to avoid the Confucian trap of becoming a man’s family’s servant and whipping girl for a mother-in-law in a traditional Confucian family. This is not a case of White men sweeping poor girls out of the countryside with the promise of wealth. Both parties have the agency to engage in a relationship and each brings something to the table. I agree with the first post in that many men in East Asia are importing wives from poor foreign countries to satisfy their family’s desire for a Confucian model wife rather than the local women who would not stand for that treatment. Women in East Asia are often better educated that their male counterparts and seek careers and advanced degrees, travel and leisure. They understand the power this gives them and they don’t want to waste it being someone’s whipping girl.

  2. 10 September 2009 11:50 pm

    Awesome response to a really stupid article. As a white guy married to a Taiwanese woman living Taiwan with many friends in similar cross-cultural marriages, I can only laugh at this article. Only 2 points: (1) I know many, many foreigners married here to femmes older than they are, sometimes by as much as 12 (in one case 22) years. My wife is 4 years old than me. (2) I wrote this on my own blog in response to an idiot in China writing about some western guy who was taking advantage of the desire of local females for foreigners:

    **I wish the Zhangs of the world would wake up. If women are sexually mistreated in Asia; it is predominately by Asian men. In Japan there are guides published about Taiwan for Japanese sex tourists; in China there are villages for the mistresses of Taiwanese businessmen. All over Asia women flow out of rural areas and into urban whorehouses at a rate even the insensate reproductive powers of H. sapiens can barely keep up with, yet this vast river of women cannot slake the thirst of brothels that have carpeted half a planet in prostitution and slavery. In Bangkok children are chained to beds and serve 50 men a day; in Taipei aborigine girls are forced into prostitution; Nepal is stripped of females for the brothels of Bombay; across Asia the remaining comfort women cry out to Japan for justice.**

    Attacks on white male/asian female relationships obscure the real and urgent issues of abuse of females in Asia.

    Michael Turton

  3. Real Asian Feminist permalink
    15 August 2009 1:15 pm

    I’m disappointed. Yang sounds the alarm against stereotypes which are simultaneously AntiAsian and AntiWomyn. So far, so good. The problem is, a quick internet search makes matters uncomfortably murky.

    Specifically, imagine my shock when I learned that “feminist” Zoe Yang used to write a blog where she CELEBRATED her “fantasizing she was a Vietnamese prostitute and her [white, I presume] boyfriend is an American G.I.” (http://www.claremontconservative.com/2008/04/tsl-smut-life-or-sensitivity-training.html)

    And somehow I doubt that photos like this do much to subvert the dominant paradigm which objectifies the yellow body. (http://encyclopediadramatica.com/Zoe_Yang)

    It seems QUITE disingenuous for a writer to denigrate “sex kitten” stereotypes on one hand, while propagating such dehumanizing images, on the other.

    In the future, Torrent should actually VET bloggers to make sure they have legitimacy. Thank you.

    • Shiyuan permalink*
      15 August 2009 8:48 pm

      Hi, Shiyuan Deng here.

      Just to be clear: Torrent Magazine is 100% behind columnist Zoe Yang.

      We at Torrent Magazine believe that a woman can be both pro-sex, and pro-women. That Zoe has sex, enjoys sex, and feels comfortable enough with her sexuality to write about it on the internet, I do not think makes her less credible as a cultural commentator, a feminist, or an intellectual.

      It is a particularly conservative form of feminism that punishes women for having sex & talking about it. Your marshaling of “evidence,” mainly pictures and quotes taken out of context, to discredit & humiliate my columnist makes me think that you’re not really interested in feminism, or rigorous debate, or the Ying Chu article.

      I posted your pending comment because we’re not ashamed of Zoe Yang’s online footprints, but seriously. In the future. Get your sleaze off my blog.

    • jingtastic permalink
      15 August 2009 9:54 pm

      Interesting. Either you are one of my internet stalkers (probably the one who created that very Encyclopedia Dramatica entry), or you are a “real Asian feminist” (what an absurdly pretentious moniker, by the way) who actually takes seriously the attack pieces she reads on conservative websites and notorious hotbeds of racism and misogyny like ED.

      By the shallow nature of your faux-indignation (and the fact that you supposedly Googled a random blogger), I’m inclined to guess the former. Either way, your critique does not hold water, but I’m going to set things straight anyway.

      1) Race play has a legitimate place in discussions of race and sexuality, and I was hardly the first one to bring it up. For a great primer, I invite you to read Daisy Hernandez of Colorlines on the topic: http://www.colorlines.com/article.php?ID=46&p=2

      The fact that you think my broaching the topic automatically strips away my feminist card, or something, shows how ignorant you really are. (But that’s no surprise, since you’re most likely one of the guys who’ve been writing that I need to get raped.)

      2) The photos on Encyclopedia Dramatica are STOLEN and any idiot should be able to see that I had no hand in writing that entry.

      3) That aside, I fail to see how those PG photos are “dehumanizing.” Sorry, but not every snapshot of a woman’s sexuality is necessarily complicit in “the dominant paradigm.” Context matters. Before internet trolls saved them to their desktops and reposted them without permission, the photos were originally posted as part of an exploration on gogo-dancing on my blog, which had an explicitly stated radical agenda: to further discussions of sex-positive feminism. In that space and context – my own, where my voice was heard – the photos WERE very much subversive. I think this much is proven by the very volume of harassment that I’ve received from anonymous men. After all, these men don’t harass models, amateur pornstars, webcam girls, or any other women who work quietly within industries of sexual objectification. To reprise a phrase I used in the post, the nature of objectification and dehumanization is to be “seen and not heard.” People wouldn’t be trying so hard to shut me up if I weren’t so damn loud.

      4) Why does my personal history make any difference with regards to how THIS article is read? If you thought my reasoning or any one of my points was flawed, then please say so, and explain your thoughts. Do not resort to thinly-veiled ad hominem attacks. If my suspicions are true and you are one of the losers from Autoadmit, masquerading as another Asian woman to discredit me AND attack Shiyuan’s judgment for publishing me is really a new low.

      5) There is no inconsistency between what I’ve written in the past and what I wrote in this post. I’ve always believed in agency, and it should be obvious that the response I posted to Ying Chu’s article was not a piece decrying Asian fetishes but a defense of Asian womens’ individual rights to form their own relationships (race play optional) without being condemned as part of some sick trend.

      If you would actually like to learn more about my background and my older writing, you can get in touch – jingaling@gmail.com.

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