Same garbage, different continents

Over at Racialicious, Thea Lim discusses an American website, “Classy Asian Ladies”, which fetishises Asian women (“Asian” is used in the American rather than the British sense, referring to the Asian continent more generally rather than specifically South Asia). Drawing a supposed opposition between Asian-American women and other American women:

It seems that in today’s society the average woman is becoming very competitive and even a bit more masculine than their counterparts in earlier generations. All the while it seems to be just the opposite is taking place for Asian women who tend to retain their sense of femininity and well-known cultural attitude of gentle and caring support. …

Asian ladies … are known for their loving and gentle nature, they are extremely loyal, supportive, and dedicated to their men. One of the great qualities you will find in the Asian women at is how important their man is in all aspects of their lives. It’s not about what a man does for a living or how much he earns; the Asian woman at will stand behind her men in times of trouble and stress, while rejoicing in his periods of success. She always thinks of her man first! …

They rarely complain, are gentle and constructive with their criticism … Did we mention that Asian ladies are among the most beautiful females in the world? And they are well known for retaining their youthful beauty and shapely figures well into middle age and beyond.

On this side of the pond, a “Thai bride” agency offers more on the same theme:

If you are one of the growing band of disillusioned genuine single Western gentlemen, who is “sick to the back teeth” with the new breed of twenty-first century woman. If you are disillusioned with the kind of de-feminised, over sized, self-centred, mercenary minded lady, available on the Western singles scene, who is only out for what she can get. … we introduce gentlemen to the kind of decent, marriage minded Thai ladies …

For me, there is something especially ironic, and empty, about the characterisation of “Asian women” in opposition to Western women, because funnily enough, this is exactly the sort of reasoning used by some men in Singapore – in that place, you know, Asia – to justify participation in the regional “bride trade”, through which they purchase women from Vietnam and other countries.

A Singaporean man was seen distributing leaflets to passersby, promoting luxury cruise packages at a cost of S$13,800 (US$8,365). For an extra S$9,800 (US$5,940), a single man buying a luxury cruise could choose a bride on the spot to accompany him on his trip.

“It was like a TV advertisement, and it was so humiliating,” the Thanh Nien daily reported, quoting a Vietnamese employee at a computer firm in Singapore.

In recent years, an increasing number of Singapore men, unable to find love at home, have sought their brides in Vietnam, China and Indonesia. Many are convinced that foreigners make better wives because they are perceived as more domesticated, less arrogant or materialistic compared to their Singapore counterparts.

The website of one of the bride businesses enthusiastically reproduces the following bullet points from a Singaporean news story (page two here) on the subject:

  • “Mr. Yeo said that he is getting old, he need someone to take care of his 73-year-old mother and himself.”
  • Foreign brides are more demure and accommodating.
  • “I want woman who will put the family and husband first, rather than demand cars, condominiums and credits.”
  • Willing to bear kid. …
  • His wife takes care of the kids and all housework.
  • Her requests are simple, “care for her, don’t bully her and don’t go out look for other women.”
  • Although racial fetishes in dating are not directly comparable to the purchase of mail order brides, the similarities in legitimising rhetoric are striking. As a woman from Asia, myself, I find essentialising language about “Asian women” far from complimentary, but rather dehumanising and Othering. The Western characterisation of a homogenous bloc of “Asian women” as ciphers of femininity – as delicate lotus flowers of mind-reading, uncomplaining wish fulfillment fantasy – has a particular resonance in light of the exploitation by the bride trade of the economic hardship faced by many women in Asia.

    Quite aside from cases of outright fraud or coercion in the “bride trade”, for many women, marriage is their only or primary opportunity to secure a level of material provision for themselves and their families. It is unsurprising that some would look to richer countries to make the most of it. Once in an unfamiliar society, dependent on their husbands for economic provision and often immigration status, possibly unable to speak the local language, these women are in a position of great vulnerability. When marketers in the “bride trade” speak of women who are “demure and accommodating”, they are promoting this very powerlessness as a key selling point.

    So the glowing tributes to “femininity”, here, are not descriptions of women – any women – “as we really are”, whatever that means, but celebrations of powerlessness. (We might well ask, of course, if tributes to “femininity” are ever anything but sops to inferior classes under patriarchy.)