Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Secrets of East Asian Women Part 4: Exoticness

Good morrow, friends! I've just finished an exam on Chinese culture, which is why I haven't been updating recently, and holy jazz, do I have a lot of things to say about China! But first things first. I promised you guys that I would unravel some stereotypes, and by George, that's what I'm gonna do!

Today's stereotype will be examined a little differently because it's a lot more obvious where it comes from, but, without further ado -- exoticness!

Stereotype: "East Asian women are exotic."

Cambodian dancers in traditional garb.
I have to admit, this is a stereotype I hear less and less frequently nowadays, but it does crop up from time to time and I've always found it problematic. At the same time, people can get away with it very easily, and I'll explain why. The thing is, this stereotype, unlike the previous two, can actually be undeniably true. However, it depends greatly on whom your talking about, relative to your culture, where you live, etc.

First, let's look at the meaning of exotic and what it entails.

The following definitions I pulled from 

ex·ot·ic /ɪgˈzɒtɪk/

1. of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad, but not fully naturalized or acclimatized: exotic foods; exotic plants.
2. strikingly unusual or strange in effect or appearance: an exotic hairstyle.
3. of a uniquely new or experimental nature: exotic weapons.
4. of, pertaining to, or involving stripteasing: the exotic clubs where strippers are featured.

All right, we have quite a few meanings here, but I'd certainly assume that when people describe an East Asian woman as being "exotic," they are probably referring to one of the first two . . . unless they're talking about a stripper, apparently (ahem*), but anyway . . .

So the question is, what does it mean to be exotic? Well, you have to be foreign -- i.e., not native and from abroad and yet not acclimatized. Aha! So right off the bat we can exclude Asian-Americans/Canadians from this label. Why? Because they are Americans and Canadians! (Check out my article on differences between East Asians and Asian-Americans here: In other words, someone who grew up in your hometown cannot be exotic. This can extend to immigrants as well. If someone has immigrated to wherever it is you live from, say, Tibet, and has lived in your city for a while, maybe 10 years or so, and speaks near-perfect English and maybe runs a business, then this person is what you could call acclimatized and therefore cannot be considered exotic. So yes, George Takei, for example, cannot be considered exotic . . . unless you're talking about the third definition! (har har)

The annoying thing about this word is that it could be correctly associated with women in East Asia, but only if you have little experience with East Asia and only in relation to culture, because lack of familiarity with a culture is really what dictates whether something is exotic to you or not. In certain contexts, using exotic in this way might be all right, but the problem I have with the term is the way I hear people using it in everyday life.
Actress Khulan Chuluun in her role as Borte (wife of Temujin, a.k.a. Genghis Kahn) in the 2007 film Mongol -- a character that a friend of mine, who interestingly enough is an East Asian Canadian, described to me as "looking exotic."
In my experience, when someone describes another as being exotic, it's not so much that they are exotic but that they look exotic to the speaker. For example, in my travels I've had acquaintances indicate a man or woman who might have really dark skin or who looked "really Asian" (not my words) or some such thing to that effect, and tell me that that person "looks exotic." I really don't know what to say to that. I grew up in what the UN considers to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world (Toronto). I continue to live alongside people from all sorts of backgrounds, to the point where I feel that no one can really look exotic to me, at least insofar as ethnicity alone is concerned, and for me that's really the problem. When people say someone looks exotic, it's totally a "racial" thing. That brings me to my next gripe.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the term exotic is that it denotes a kind of cross-cultural ignorance that, in my opinion, way too many people have. My problem is that you call something exotic if you're not familiar with it -- in other words, if you're ignorant about it. It reminds me of the old days of "the Orient" in which Asia was this strange and, yes, "exotic" land. You may as well call me Buddha, because like him, I agree that ignorance is the root of all evil. I wish to stamp out my own ignorance (as much as possible -- I mean, I will die someday and as such cannot be expected to learn everything) by reading and learning about all kinds of interesting things (not just East Asia). 

We live in the information age, my friends; if you have a question or are curious about something, look it up! Get familiar with the world! It's a crazy huge place with all kinds of cool stuff! That's why I blog the way I do about cultures different than my own. The thing is, like it or not (and let's face it, you might as well like it unless you want to be miserable for a long time), multiculturalism is now a fact of the 21st century. Even in small burgs you might easily encounter folks whose ancestors came from somewhere else, so I feel that people should make more of an effort to get along and learn about each other's backgrounds and whatnot. Maybe I'm an idealist, but I feel that someday the word exotic will be seen only on strip-club posters and unique salons. As the famous Chinese strategist Guo Jia said in the Red Cliff films (in which he was played by Gum Sing Mo, a.k.a. Takeshi Kaneshiro), "To learn a trifle about everything gives life more colour."            

The Truth! 

In my opinion, I don't see too much wrong with calling an East Asian woman exotic, provided she's not from your culture and you have little or no experience with hers. For unfamiliarity is pretty much what exoticness is all about. However, the idea that all ethnically East Asian women are inherently exotic -- which is what some people I've encountered actually seem to think -- is wrong. It certainly isn't the reason why I date East Asian women, or any other woman for that matter.

Next Post: The final and ugliest stereotype: "East Asian women are easy."                    
"George Takei is an exotic weapon," says Alex.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Secrets of East Asian Women Part 3: Submissiveness

Stereotype: "East Asian women are submissive."  
Hello again, and welcome back to my in-depth study on East Asian female stereotypes. I'll try to make an effort to get this out faster, as I would like to wrap this up at some point . . . but I digress. Today we look at what is in my opinion one of the most irksome, annoying stereotypes that East Asian women must put up with -- submissiveness. You may be wondering, "Why this one specifically?" Allow me to enlighten you. As far as submissiveness goes as a character trait for anyone, fictional or existing, I CAN'T STAND IT!

No sir, ol' Alex can't abide submissiveness, especially in his womenfolk. Now it may sound like I'm discriminating a bit, and well, quite honestly I probably am, but here's the thing: I was raised in a household in which the only immediate female, my mum, had graduated with two degrees and worked a demanding government job while pretty much keeping everything in order at home, keeping on top of bill payments, budgeting, and pretty much had the final say on every major decision that went on in our household, all the while being one of two major financial contributors. My mum always did what she thought was best, and Dad and I pretty much determined it was, given that what she thought was best for us WAS best for us, because, well . . . my mum's pretty damn smart. So why am I telling you this tale of my childhood? Because as little Alex grew and matured, he could not shake the notion that Mum exemplified all women, i.e., women are supposed to be smart, strong, self-motivated, and confident. That is the feminine ideal that I imagine. So again, why am I telling you this? Well, if you remember back in the first part (assuming you read it), you will recall that I admitted that most of my past girlfriends -- of which there are six -- have been either ethnically East Asian or totally East Asian (i.e., ethnically and culturally). See what I'm getting at here? Here's an equation:

Alex finds submissiveness to be an unattractive trait in the opposite sex + the majority of Alex's girlfriends having been "East Asian" women = not all East Asian women are submissive; otherwise Alex would not have dated them in the first place.


This stereotype is old and outdated, and I shall tell y'all why. 

Where does it come from?


Some time ago, in the era known as "the old days," women and perhaps especially women from East Asia were expected to be submissive. Why? Because it was a social norm. Of course, it was a social norm EVERYWHERE . . .  and still is in some cultures. However, because of the nature of this article, we shall look at East Asia.

As some of you may know, throughout East Asian history this thing called Confucianism was quite popular. What is Confucianism? It's basically a philosophy that started in China thousands of years ago. It revolves around creating harmony in society by living an exemplary lifestyle so that others may be inspired by your awesome and wholesome good nature and likewise be exemplary. Confucianism also emphasized the importance of structure, namely hierarchical structure, where servant would serve master willingly (provided he was good-natured and all that). The goal of Confucianism was to become a "perfect gentleman" through study and knowledge and peaceful, orderly living. This worked out pretty well . . . for men. For women? Well, turned out the Confucian emphasis on structure extended to the family as well, and women fell more into the servant category, especially in the more rigid neo-Confucianism that surfaced in East Asia in the 1600s A.D.

Yes sir, in the perfect neo-Confucian society, women were relegated to doing all that stuff that some fools refer to as "women's work," consisting of cooking, cleaning, child rearing, and being a "good wife" and all that stuff, as it would have been considered improper and inharmonious for men to do those same tasks. Confucianism also dictated that a good wife must follow and indeed "submit" to the will of her husband and, after his death, her son. Very misogynistic, no? (However, an often overlooked principle of Confucianism was that it required authority figures to exercise benevolence and that husbands were expected to treat their wives with this same benevolence and good nature.)

So, yes, this is where it all came from, and this continued to be the norm for thousands of years in the most well-known East Asian cultures. Woman submits to man. It was pretty much the same story in just about every other country, if you know anything about history, but yes, East Asia had it big time. However, you don't see too many modern Confucians . . . I wonder why?


South Korea's South Gate in Seoul in 1900 (above) and again as it is now (pic taken from
If you're a believer in modernization theory you could argue that East Asia "modernized" considerably more recently than the West. Want an example? Just over a hundred years ago -- around the time when Canada's industrial revolution had already gotten underway -- Korea, currently one of the world's most prolific exporters of electronics and cars, was essentially a medieval, agriculturally based country in which people walked around in traditional garments and soldiers used swords, spears, and bows and arrows (they had guns, but even those were pretty archaic). Pretty mind-blowing, eh?

As anyone who studies history can tell you, as countries "modernize," ideas often change, often becoming slowly but surely more progressive. This is what has happened in places like Korea, China, and Japan, but because of the relatively recent time and speed of their "modernization" there exist many older folks who still retain a lot of the old values and mannerisms. I would argue that this is one of the sources of the submissive stereotype. I've even had older East Asian women tell me, possibly in jest, that I should get a girlfriend from their respectable country 'cause she'll be submissive and therefore a good wife. Somehow I feel that the women of my generation and younger would not agree. The problem is that stereotypes often outlive the truth of the matter by eons and are not updated to match the ever-changing reality of the situation.
Movies and Anime 

"Don't you have a hungry husband somewhere?"
This is gonna be a short one, I promise. So, for anime it's pretty much the same deal as the previous part (read it to see what I'm saying). For movies there's a bit more to add: a lot of East Asian films that get famous in North America happen to be period pieces. In other words, they take place a long time ago and portray realities that are just that -- from a long time ago. These are not to be confused with the modern-day reality. So, yeah, that's all I've got to say about that.

The Truth!

If you live in just about any major city in the world, you have probably either gone to school, worked, partied, or at least come into contact with East Asian women at some point. For those of you who have, I must ask . . . Have you ever seen or talked to an East Asian or ethnically East Asian woman you could describe as being submissive? I know I haven't . . . and if you're lucky enough to know me on Facebook (heh heh...), you'll have noticed I have tonnes of East Asian women on my friends list, nearly all of whom I have come in direct contact with at one point or another (I generally don't add people I've never met in person). Suffice to say it's a pretty large number.

The whole submissive Asian thing dates back to times of antiquity and has all but died out in both East Asia and just about everywhere else. Let me tell you -- no, WARN you -- if you're expecting to enter into a relationship with an East Asian woman who will cater to your every whim, you've got another think coming, buddy! Trust me, I'm telling you for your own good. There are, of course, individuals who are submissive, but there are people like that everywhere, and they should probably start being more assertive.

It is true that as far as women's rights are concerned, East Asian countries still have quite a way to go (although, one could argue, we all do). But still, many strides have been made, and continue to be made every day, improving the social status of women in these countries. Modern-day, especially young, East Asian women are pretty darn similar to women here in North America. Many of them aspire to work and hold jobs even after marriage and children and to continue to pursue their own goals, education, and ambitions. If they didn't? I wouldn't date 'em!

'Nuff said.