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Sick of Yellow Fever: the Sexualization of Asian Women

Updated: Mar 13

TW // mention of rape

The steam of the shower envelops your body in a warm embrace. You close your eyes, allowing the droplets to cascade down your face. Lathering shampoo into your scalp is normally a therapeutic process, but this time, something is off. You look at—but don’t quite see—the stream of water taking the dirt and grime from the day down the drain. A dense fog has engulfed your mind, clouding any remnants of rational thought. You twist the shower handle shut and grab a towel from the hook. Stepping out onto the bath mat, you stare into your mirror. Although the steam has fogged over the glass, you can still make out the frown etched onto your face.

You moisturize your skin, brush your hair, and clean your teeth, all while staring at your reflection. Like always, you’re tired after a long day, but the hunch of your shoulders seems a touch more pronounced, the bags under your eyes a dash more evident. Finally, you collapse onto your bed, where you decide to check your phone one last time. The time on your lock screen reads 11:27, but your eyes are drawn to your wallpaper. You had set it a couple of weeks ago to a picture of you and your boyfriend—your dark locks, pale countenance, and brown eyes in stark contrast to his blonde waves, sun-tanned skin, and baby blues. Immediately, the frown returns. Just that morning, that picture had brought you joy, but now, all you can focus on is the clenching of your stomach and the shiver running throughout your body. Yes, you just showered, but you still feel dirty.

That night, you lie still underneath the covers, willing yourself to drift off into dreamland, but your mind refuses to rest. As the soft moonlight seeps through your windowpane in fragmented beams, you can’t help but wonder: Is he attracted to me because of who I am as a person, or because I’m Asian? Staring up at the ceiling, you mentally run over various scenarios, each one unearthing a plethora of questions and uncertainties.

Number One. All of his past girlfriends have your exact features—the same inky hair, creamy skin, and almond eyes.

Number Two. When you had called him, voice shaking as you recounted being catcalled by a group of older men sporting identical beards speckled with gray (“I’ve never been with an

Asian before, can you be the first?”), he had insisted that you were overreacting.

Number Three. That very afternoon, when you had been intimate for the first time, he had focused only on his wants and needs, paying no regard to those of your own.

Your mind keeps circling back to Number Three, and you’re transported back into that very moment, reliving a memory you want nothing more than to forget. You remember the hair raised down your arm, every cell in your body screaming in discomfort. You remember being reduced to nothing more than an object. You remember feeling used, feeling dirty. Now, in the middle of the night, you realize: yellow fever has struck once more, and you’re its latest victim.

Another pandemic is ravaging the world. It’s one that has existed long before the coronavirus, so long ago it’s seen as normal. It’s a disease that’s hundreds of years in the making, one that’s bled into the very framework of society. Yellow fever, paraphrased from an article published by Cambridge University in 2016, is a person’s exclusive or near-exclusive preference for sexual intimacy with Asians, predominantly Asian women. Yellow fever, born from a twisted and complex history, has caused unspeakable horrors and unparalleled pain for millions (particularly for women) over the course of history. Its effects are still very much real and very much damaging for the Asian women of the modern-day, in numerous ways. Something so pervasive, so normalized, and so glorified will never be good, no matter which way the misogynistic narrative attempts to spin it.

. The origins of yellow fever can be traced back to the late 1800s, when Victorian men, upon visiting port cities in Japan, became enraptured by