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Yellow Fever: Preference or Fetishization?

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to shame people for having a type or being more attracted to a specific race. I simply want to address the unhealthy fixation towards a group of people under a racial lens.

Dear Asian Youth,

Have you heard of the Yellow Fever? No, I am not talking about the viral haemorrhagic disease passed around by mosquitoes. Instead, I am referring to the social phenomenon in which white males develop an obsessive sexual preference for Asian females - also known as a fetish. Though this fetish is exhibited by all races, it is proven to be more prevalent amongst predominantly white communities.

“Yellow Fever is not a preference. It’s a racial prejudice,” said Jessie Tu from The Sydney Morning Herald.

Those with Asian fetishes are not attracted to Asian people as individuals, but rather attracted to a projection of “Asian-ness” they’ve placed on their targets. East-Asian females have stereotypically been labelled with adjectives such as submissive, delicate, obedient, exotic due to their traditional values and cultural representations in Western media. Fetishizers enforce this narrative of the “ideal East-Asian female” and construct fantasies of the perfect Asian lover. This is a reason why white individuals who are exposed to Western media have a higher probability of sexualizingAsians.

The social disease of the Yellow Fever is not something new. In fact, it has quite a substantial historical background. Tracing back to the late 1800s, Victorian men who first visited cities in Japan were completely entranced by doll-like and subservient images of Geishas (female Japanese entertainers). Later on, in the early ages of Hollywood movies, Asian females were consistently casted for roles with heavy emphasis on their eccentric sexuality, for example, different roles played by Anna May Wong in 1930 Hollywood films. She portrayed a woman who lured people in with her servile and unthreatening appearance, using her sexuality as a weapon against men while concealing her domineering intents. Through observation, the greatest modern-day culprit of this societal problem is still the media. From musical performances to televised programs, a majority of Asian females have been exoticized and eroticized in a way that adheres to Western standards. To illustrate, Katy Perry's 'Offensive' Geisha Performance At American Music Awards serves as a prime example of western sexualization of asian cultures. In the performance, Perry is seen wearing a “sexier” version of a kimono (a traditional Japanese garment) before a Japanese-inspired backdrop with lanterns and cherry blossoms as she sings about unconditional love. Many have criticized Perry for appropriating Japanese culture while also promoting the idea of Asian females groveling for love. Aside from the heavy sexualization of Asian females, the enforcement of stereotypical characteristics also contribute to the growing Yellow Fever. In a New York Times editorial by Audrea Lim, she explains why many white males are more inclined to fetishize Asian women. “Asian women are seen as naturally inclined to serve men sexually and are also thought of as slim, light-skinned and small, in adherence to Western norms of femininity,” Lim writes. The idea of Asian women being less-opinionated, less-harsh, and less-resistant is something that feeds the ego of some white males.

Shuruti Mukkamala and Karen L. Suyemoto from The American Psychological Association conducted a research project in which they compiled main stereotypes Asian American females feel discriminated against. A few prominent ones on the list include: exotic, a follower, submissive, cute, and small. However, unsurprisingly, many Asian females do not possess the aforementioned traits. This is not to denote anyone who does exhibit these characteristics, but rather to remind everyone that these labels are not definite for each individual Asian female. It places these women in a constrictive box of what they should and should not be like. Many individuals venture to find their partner with expectations of certain personality traits that come with the East-Asian ethnicity. If a person does not fit their cultural stereotypes, their partners are not entitled to feel disappointed or angry. These restrictive expectations can make people feel segregated or objectified. This raises a question: what is the difference between having a type and having a problematic fetish? When you are sexually attracted to an entire ethnicity because you believe all members have the same personality and behavior characteristics, you probably have a racial fetish. In a way, you are denying their identities as nuanced individuals. If you want your partner to have specific personality traits and lifestyle values, that’s completely fine. But it is harmful to have the mindset that your standards will be met because your partner is of a specific race.

In its essence, to fetishize a human being is to objectify them to the point that they are divorced from their individuality. This is why it is important for us to acknowledge how dangerous and problematic this social disease of the Yellow Fever truly is. There are thankfully “antidotes” to combat this prevalent “disease.” As a society, we need to start by discontinuing confining racial stereotypes. This can be done through diversified representations in the media and or professional education about racial identity. We have to actively take the step to shift our mindsets and acknowledge the implicit racial biases that we don’t even realize we have. It is crucial to call out and oppose the enforcement of stereotypes on people and look beyond the generalizations and allow individuals to define their own identity.

- Eva Zhong


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