We all know the stereotype.
We’re all familiar with the trope.
Asian men just aren’t “desirable.”
Our frames are too delicate.
Our mannerism aren’t “masculine.”
And of course, our penises are just too small.
All of these sentiments are well echoed in the entertainment industry.
Asian men are rarely cast in a leading role because who would want to watch a movie about an Asian guy?
More often than not, we’re relegated to a mere sidekick usually for a desirable, white protagonist.
But, it’s not just the entertainment industry that plays into this stereotype.
Steve Harvey, too, has reified this idea that Asian men just aren’t worth it with some racist “jokes” that he made this past January.
In sum, he stated, in reference to a 2002 book called How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men (which is a whole different can of worms in and of itself), that “there’s just no way someone could be attracted to Asian men” all while laughing uncontrollably.
Now, while Steve Harvey’s clearly racist remarks deserve to be rifled through with a fine-toothed comb (and has been), I want to focus not on his remarks, but the reaction of his remarks among Asian-American men who were rightfully offended by his words.
The most notable voice that comes to mind is an article written by Eddie Huang titled “Hey, Steve Harvey, Who Says I Might Not Steal Your Girl?.”
In the article, Huang goes in on Harvey and laments the real, hurtful idea that “women don’t want Asian men.”
Huang is a well-known restaurateur and chief who wrote a book about growing up as an Asian America. The book was later adapted into ABC’s hit tv show Fresh Off The Boat.
Huang makes note of how marginalized people are not afforded the privilege of being whole, complex human beings and comments like the one that Harvey’s made remind Asian men of that.
Moreover, he touches on the “structural emasculation of Asian men in all forms of media… produced an actual abhorrence to Asian men… That’s why this Steve Harvey episode is so upsetting.”
While I agree with Huang that we as a society need to drop the erroneous notion that Asian men are not worthy partners in any sense, I take issue with the way that Huang, and many other people who think like him, has decided to approach this problem.
First and foremost, the “Mr. Steal Your Girl” reference.
Why are we treating women as objects to be stolen in the first place?
Shouldn’t they have the privilege to be complex human beings?
Why are we approaching this topic from this specific angle?
Also, as an Asian-American man who is impacted by conversations about “Asian (e)masculinity,” I have grown quite tired of this whole mantra behind “masculinizing” Asian men.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree that the experiences of Asian men who feel emasculated by society and media ought to be validated.
However, why is masculinity the center of this conversation?
I feel that Asian men exist in all facets outside of feeling “emasculated” and their voices ought to be uplifted as well.
I identify as a feminine, queer Asian-American man, and I do not feel liberated by this rhetoric around “masculinization.”
How does an Asian-American man like me fight into this conversation?
If fighting against Asian emasculation means letting Asian men talk about “stealing” someone’s girl and other low-key misogynistic things while feeling like a “man” about it, then that is not something that I can get behind.
Huang himself has been criticized as someone who exhibits misogynistic language and attitudes and if battling Asian emasculation means advocating for his right to feel “manly” when he jokes with his friends about women, then I cannot stand with him.
Fair and accurate media representation of the Asian-American experience in all forms written by Asian-American folk is something that I can get behind.
But, this centering of masculinity as the end all, be all for representation and desirability of Asian men has got to stop.
This reminds me of the way that people tried to fight against Steve Harvey’s words on Twitter by retweeting photos of masculine presenting Asian men to prove that they thought Asian men were “desirable” and “attractive.”
But, the problem here isn’t that I want people to think that I’m hot.
The problem is that we as a society need to decolonize what we deem as attractive and why.
Furthermore, people like Eddie Huang (though well-intentioned, I’m sure) need to step back and think about who benefits from their advocacy for the Asian-American community, who is left out, and who is negatively affected by what we’re fighting for.
These are the conversations and dialogues that I feel need to be had, and emasculation can exit, stage left.
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Cover Photo Credit: See-ming Lee/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)