Feminism | Posted by Maya Richard-Craven on 08/8/2014

What Makes Asian-American Men ‘Undateable?’

When I look in the mirror, I do not see someone that I understand to be handsome by Western standards. I look mostly Asian, and like so many other heterosexual Asian males before me, I have internalized a lifetime of believing that my features, my face, my skin tone, in tandem, make me unattractive and undesirable.

- Noah Cho, “How I Learned to Feel Undesirable

Several studies have found Asian-American males to be the “least desirable” bachelors, a trend that may be exacerbated by a seeming across-the-board preference for dating Asian-American women by men of all races. The term Asian-American, in this case, covers a broad ethnic spectrum, including, but not limited to: “people who have origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand and Vietnam.”

Men who are considered Asian-American do not encounter all of the same cultural biases simply because their ancestors came from the same side of the world. However, many eastern Asian nations have tumultuous political and economic histories with the United States. As early as 1882, American leaders implemented nationwide laws that excluded Chinese laborers from entering the United States. At the turn of the century, this fear of “Mongolian peoples” became widely referred to as “Yellow Peril.”

In 1942, Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps across the country. As a young girl I was shocked to find out that the mall I honestly believed was a magical kingdom, had formerly been a military internment center, and the gaudy racetrack beside it once held hundreds of Japanese-Americans captive during World War II. Two more American wars with east Asian nations would follow in Korea and Vietnam, which only served to revamp public distrust in the region and in Asian-American men.

The war in Vietnam revamped public distrust in Asian-American men.

The ironic part of modern and historical contempt toward Asian-American men is that current stereotypes about Asian-Americans completely contradict the sensationalized beliefs and fears that used to surround Asian-American men during the 20th century.

In the article “Are Asian Men Undateable?,” Jubin Kwon notes that, ”Women think we have a masculinity that’s maligned and marginalized. There’s also this idea of relative invisibility, but that applies to all Asian-Americans.”

The emasculating conception of Asian-American men contradicts 20th century American perceptions of Chinese men as hard-working, economic competitors, and Japanese men as malicious, undercover spies. After speaking with my peers and watching academic interviews, I noticed that most people stated the primary stereotype they associate with Asian men is the myth that Asian men have smaller genitalia than men in other racial and ethnic groups.

Scholars also frequently mentioned the lack of representation of Asian-American men in romantic comedies and lead roles on television series, unless they are cast as crime-fighting karate masters, business owners or goofy sidekicks.

No matter the time period, it seems we, as Americans, continue to allow stereotypes to define our perceptions of Asian-American men, and to justify our racial preferences accordingly.Because American society has been incredibly Eurocentric for hundreds of years, the image of the white male is still romanticized. As a result, groups who have consistently threatened white male elitism are portrayed as unattractive. For many minority individuals, there is a pressure to assimilate oneself to what scholars call “the white gaze.” With the choice to assimilate comes the choice to surrender, to give up a part of yourself, your people, to “divorce your ethnicity“ out of a deeply rooted sense of racial-shame.As Cho explained that something about his Asian heritage left him feeling inherently unattractive, part of the “undateable” phenomenon may come from an unwillingness to conform to white culture’s expectations of someone as an Asian man in America. A similar “undateable” label has been applied to black women, who are statistically less likely to date outside of their race and more likely to be single.

But I think it is more desirable to have the strength to hold onto the memories, the places and the people who have contributed to what it really means to feel a sense “of otherness” in America, and to still be able to say, “I am beautiful, and so is my history.”

Originally posted on Neon Tommy

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