The Emasculation of the Asian American Man in the Media – Megan Junglander

The class discussion we had about the absence of minority roles in movies and that the textbook mostly covers black vs. white characters, made me think about the lack of Asian & Asian American representation in the media, and especially about the stereotyping of Asian males. My boyfriend is Vietnamese-American and he told me that growing up he never saw a character on TV that he could relate to. Asian male characters are often emasculated and portrayed as nerdy math geniuses or inarticulate and socially awkward. How often do we see an Asian man portrayed as the "bad boy," hunk, or the hero of a movie? Never. The only movies I’ve seen where the Asian man is the hero or the lead character are martial art movies, which, once again, reinforces stereotypes.

I’ve also noticed that Asian men hardly ever are part of love stories or sex scenes. According to the article Hollywood’s Real Problem with the Asian Male, “the problem with the representation of the Asian male in Hollywood is not that he fails to ‘get the girl’, but rather that he fails as a viable object of desire by another believably whole character.” Some examples of movies where this is evident are Romeo Must Die (2000), where Jet Li never has a kiss scene with his on-screen female lead; The Tuxedo (2002), where Jackie Chan only has an implied relationship with Jennifer Love Hewitt; and Sixteen Candles (1984) where the character Long Duk Dong is an inept loser who can’t get the “attractive” and popular girls. And did you know that Mulan is the only Disney "Princess Movie" without a kiss scene?

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According to an article published by The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), “Asian men are almost never positively paired with women of any race. Western society still seems to view Asian male sexuality as a problem. Consequently, Asian men are usually presented…as eunuchs lacking any romantic feelings." I found this very interesting and bizarre. Could the reason for the media’s emasculation of Asian men be the lack of Asian males in interracial relationships? Most of the articles I came across on this matter claim that women of other ethnicities, and especially Western women, are opposed to dating Asian men due to negative stereotypes perpetuated by the media, such as Asian men being short, weak, socially awkward, effeminate, nerdy, and the classic one: less endowed in a certain area (ahem.) So I’m confused: If the media is inspired by the predominant patterns of society and society is heavily influenced by the media, isn’t that just a circle of pure evil and inaccuracy?

The article Hollywood’s Real Problem with the Asian Male mentions that“a lack of realistic portrayals of Asian American men onscreen can…affect the way young boys see themselves, and how we as a society see them.” This has become a serious issue because some Asian American men respond to these stereotypes by taking out their resentment on women. They respond to the emasculation by acting extremely masculine and misogynistic. One example of this is David Choe, a Korean-American artist, who talked about how he raped his masseuse on a podcast. The lack of diversity and stereotyping in fiction is important to address because it increases racial biases and can cause lowered self-esteem and resentment in teens and young adults, which can have a serious impact on society as a whole.

My question to you is: Why do you think Asian men have been emasculated and portrayed as sexually undesirable through the years?

Read the full articles here:

Hollywood’s Real Problem with the Asian Male (hoodedutilitarian.com): http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2015/01/hollywoods-real-problem-with-the-asian-male/

Stereotype Busters (The Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA)):

http://manaa.org/?page_id=543

Also: Effeminine, really? I think not.

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2 thoughts on “The Emasculation of the Asian American Man in the Media – Megan Junglander

  1. This is a really interesting observation. I think the reason that we don’t see a lot of dynamic, sexually desirable Asian protagonists (in the sense that they are casted to be sexually undesirable), is because Hollywood relies a lot on tropes. It’s much easier to make a movie that casts the woman as a damsel in distress, the lead role as a white, conventionally attractive man and the Asian man as a nerd. Hollywood produces and reproduces controlling images because they sell and because they appeal to people’s conceptions about certain demographics, even though those are only stereotypes. Stereotypes about Asian men is that they are smart and sexually submissive or like you said, that they are Jackie Chan like characters. It’s easier to write a character that we “know” than a character that we don’t know and it’s much more difficult to write about a character that might challenge white hegemonic masculinity. If you think about it, who are the people behind films? Predominantly white men. So movies are often told from the experiences of white men. Because there is not a lot of representation of Asian men behind the camera or writing scripts, how can we ever expect to see a strong Asian protagonist? I can’t remember which director it was, but he said that directors and producers are told to write about “what they know.” Men who are not Asian do not know what it’s like to be Asian, and thus it is more difficult to tell that story. That is not an excuse for them but I just think that that could be a reason why we see these misrepresentations play out on the screen.

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  2. This is a very interesting blog post and I agree with you that it is a shame that there are not many, if not at all, Asian male leads in major blockbuster films or on television shows. Hollywood, unfortunately, continues to cater to the majority of audiences that are going to the movies and watching television (Middle Class, White Men). They are continuing to produce and finance movies and television shows where this type of audience can see themselves being represented because we still live in a society where the white middle class male is the dominant group. At the same time, like you mentioned, it makes everyone else who is not a white man, specifically Asian men, in a position where they feel left out. They feel as though they do not see themselves being represented; as if they are looking in a mirror but they cannot see their own reflection, and a positive one at that. Instead they see their reflection being stereotyped when in reality, that is not all they are. I hope we move on into a time where Hollywood can be more inclusive when it comes to the representation of Asian men as leading men with real love interests and going through real issues like everyone else. When it comes to Hollywood, they are “othering” Asian men.

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