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This stereotype is old and outdated, and I shall tell y'all why.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