Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Let's talk about Asian male desirability
Have you heard of Sessue Hayakawa?
He was a Japanese actor and one of the first Asian leading men in Hollywood, at his height during the 1910s - early 1920’s. Hayakawa was widely considered to be one of the biggest sex symbols of his time.
No? Okay, let's try again.
Maybe you’ve heard of Daniel Dae Kim?
He is a Korean-American actor and producer with a multifaceted career and has been instrumental in breaking stereotypical asian roles. Kim is widely considered a heartthrob and was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2005.
How about Henry Golding, you know, HENRY GOLDING!?
The Malaysian-born English actor, whose breakout role in the landmark 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians catapulted him straight into the limelight. He played romantic lead Nick Young, and was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2019.
What do all these men have in common? Contrary to the common stereotypes and “emasculated Asian male” tropes we too often see, these men played the desirable lead.There have been very few high-profile instances in which the media has portrayed Asian men as desirable without reinforcing hegemonic masculinity. It's a very fine line, and without ultimately recycling the very same systems of oppression and racial castration that marginalize the Asian male diaspora, we must really reflect on what we considered to be attractive and why.
Can the mainstream media be blamed in its entirety for negatively impacting the Asian male diaspora? No, but they are still responsible for continually perpetuating damaging tropes. According to Chris Heathwood’s theory of desire, our environment and consumption habits directly impact our internalised thoughts and actions.
“You’re told you’re not good enough and then at some point you start believing you’re not. I’m a Korean living in Australia and for me, it really goes full circle,” says twenty-six year old David*.
It is rather complex and without getting into the history of racial castration, discrimintaion and stereotypes - Yellow fever is a one sided affair that doesn't extend to Asian men. Due to the emphasis of desirability of the qualities of Asian women, Asian men are othered and desexualised.
Actress Alyssa Chang likens it to an automatic assumption “that I’m quiet, meek, great domestically and that my vagina is well magical”.
Conversely, twenty-four year old Asian Australian Jackie* talks about his fight against the stereotyped narrative.“It's a constant battle and I'm always trying to rise above it”.
The qualities of Asian women are desired and the qualities of Asian men are othered and desexualised. The strong reciprocity between masculinity, race and sexual desirability does not work in the Asian males favour.
Chef and author Eddie Huanglater’s op-ed in the New York Times voiced his angst against the Asian male desirability trope.
“The one joke that still hurts, the sore spot that even my closest friends will press, the one stereotype that I still mistakenly believe at the most inopportune bedroom moments—is that women don’t want Asian men.”
Is it changing?
Yes, just painfully slow. The mainstream media has been catching on to the notion that Asian male desirability needs to be celebrated more. However, no matter how well intentioned, not all representation is good representation.
Decades of racial castration, subconscious and conscious conditioning will take time to be unlearned and redesigned. What is deemed masculine and feminine is a slippery slope and each must be celebrated without shaming the other.
Bio: Aaishah Janif is a multilingual South East Asian-Australian with a dry sense of humour. She holds an undergraduate degree in Commerce and is currently studying a Master of Journalism. She’s a published journalist, producer, host and content creator, who wears many hats in the digital world and has a penchant for fashion and finance. She’s innately curious and fascinated by the world.
Instagram : @aaishahjanif