Understanding the Construction of the ‘Asian-Guy’ Stereotype
Pretty much on a daily basis I feel someone not-so-slyly staring or double-glancing at me and my Hong Kong boyfriend holding hands. So what’s the deal here?
I'll admit, before starting university in the UK, I knew very little about Hong Kong and indeed Asian guys in general. Coming from such a small rural town in the English countryside had simply meant that I had never been exposed to Asian culture. The only ideas I had to go on concerning Asian guys came from the portrayal of them in Western media. Akin to all the stereotypical tropes it has unfortunately created, my image of Asian guys was that of an effeminate, shy, not-so-passionate-when-it-came-to-lovemaking man- either that or Jackie Chan. None of this was due to my, or anyone else’s, conscious ignorance to foreign culture, it’s just how it was; the information wasn’t there for us, so naturally, we didn’t know. But then I met my Hong Kong boyfriend.
Every person, regardless of cultural background, is an individual. It would be ridiculous to generalise, categorise or judge according purely to factors of nationality. Yet we do. Why don’t we judge every flavour jam as the same when we see it on the shelf in the supermarket? They’re all in glass jars, they all have fruit. Well obviously, we can tell that all jam’s jam, but within that category there’s strawberry, raspberry, over there’s blueberry… If someone asked you to buy jam you’d say sure, which flavour? So why do so many of us have such a singular opinion of Asian men as one ‘type’ when obviously there are an infinity of possibilities within each individual?
To begin with, jam’s never had to deal with being a binary ‘other’ to our Western selves. We automatically know there are a plurality of flavours of jam; when it gets down to it, we don’t simply think of it as one collective ‘jam’, there’s always in our minds the understanding that not all flavours of jam will be the same just because it shares the same noun, ‘jam’. However, (and bear with me here) when we think of men between East and West, we have the tendency to think of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Here, we do consider Asian men as one collective ‘type’, and this ‘type’ is ‘other’ in relation to ‘us’ on the opposite side of the binary pole. Thinking in this binaristic fashion does not allow us to naturally view Asian men as individuals since we’re so busy thinking of them as a collective ‘other’ to ‘us’.
Meeting my boyfriend abolished my conception of what an Asian guy ‘should’ be like, and encouraged me to think instead what this particular person is like. Of course, cultural backgrounds, styles of parenting, traditional values etc. can affect an individual’s behaviour, way of thinking, life perspectives, dating styles etc. but this is not to say that an individual is exclusively dictated by what their culture and childhood taught them. There are an innumerable amount of factors that can shape an individual, no one should focus solely on the binary tag ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern’ when forming an initial opinion of someone.
Equally, an Asian man cannot be defined by the stereotypes that the Western world created and projects onto him (the whole effeminate, shy, small penis deal the media’s shared out). This misconception, one which I myself was disillusioned by, is often why we are so shocked to see a Western girl dating an Asian man. What the media has taught us an Asian man is like just doesn’t appeal to what Western women have been accustomed to thinking and have been taught is ‘attractive’. On top of this, we assume that all Asian men simply must fall within this stereotype because they’re on that binary side of ‘Asian guy’. So what’s that girl holding that guy’s hand thinking?
Well, if we can detach ourselves from the media-produced stereotypes that have become so ingrained within us as truth, and detach ourselves from thinking exclusively in terms of binaries (East and West) we can start to see each man for who he really is, not an Asian-stereotype, but as 100% binary-free, stereotype-free individual.
I feel more and more people are taking this step in understanding, and that it is occurring at an exponential rate. I still feel a not-so-sly stare from a passer-by as I walk holding my boyfriend’s hand. But no media or binaristic-thinking will ever deter me from continuing to hold on.
Tags:General Relationships Language & Culture Lifestyle
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