Growing up as an East Asian woman in a White country, there’s so much they don’t prepare you for. They don’t tell you that you will always be seen as the ‘other’, or that your race will always be weaponized against you in conflict. You’re expected to assimilate without question, erase all parts of your heritage just to be seen as normal.
There’s no guidebook on how to date as an Asian woman. We’re just thrown into the mix without knowing that there are certain things that we alone should be wary of – fetishization, or ‘Yellow Fever’ being one of them.
If you aren’t aware, ‘Yellow Fever’ is a derogatory term used to describe non-Asian’s obsessive sexual fetishization of East Asian women. ‘Yellow’ being a historically racist word associated with the warmth of Asian complexions, ‘Fever’ likening this obsession to a disease. We’re stereotyped as docile, submissive and domestically skilled with ‘tight’, ‘sideways’ vaginas. The ‘perfect’ idea of what women should be, according to Conservative men. Our typically fair skin puts us in close proximity to Whiteness, making us the ‘ideal’ standard for women.
Yet despite this, I never considered my race to be a detriment to my love life. Stylized as some sort of myth, I truly believed that it was just something Asians like me rarely experienced. Like a faraway legend that had no bearing on my life. Until I found myself in this exact situation.
I’d entered an almost-relationship in my 20’s. My first ‘something’ with a person outside of Asian culture. I turned the red flags into pink, wearing rose coloured glasses. I was enamoured with this person, completely taken in by their strong ‘appreciation’ for my Chinese side. They wouldn’t have pursued me if I wasn’t Chinese like they’d assumed, so I should be grateful for their attention, right?
It started with them constantly telling me how they loved my eyes and how petite I was. Showing me their Chinese-inspired tattoos, watching their admiration turn into disappointment when I revealed that I can’t speak or understand Chinese.
To them, I was an object. Once the novelty of their ‘Chinese girl’ wore off, the cracks started to show. My Chinese heritage was the string that bound us together, but as time passed, the quicker it began to fray. Accusations of fetishization were brushed off, buried beneath the mountains of arguments we found ourselves in. We disagreed on almost everything and although they claimed to love my culture, they couldn’t comprehend the parts of it that didn’t align with their own. I’d make myself smaller, stop bringing up issues that were bothering me, all for the sake of keeping the peace.
As I came to terms with what was happening, endless thoughts were running through my mind. Did they actually like anything about me, outside of my race? Do I make myself smaller and fit their ideals, so that we could be together and not get into so many arguments? Was it my fault that the relationship wasn’t working out?
Of course, the answer to all of these questions was clear. And it broke my heart at the time to realise it. I had to grow from it, process it properly and fix my relationship with my race. I’d gone from accepting it and then resenting myself once the ‘relationship’ ended.
Being called their ‘Chinese girl on their Chinese arm’ is something I could never forget. As if I was merely their accessory, an extension of them rather than my own person with autonomy. And so I made a point of speaking up and making my voice louder, without them. No longer would I shrink myself into that mould of what women like me are expected to be like. I’d be outspoken and embrace myself. I’d make more of an effort to learn about my cultures, accept myself for who I was and stop trying to live up to others’ ideals.
I am Asian, but that isn’t all of who I am. I am all of my opinions, my likes and dislikes. I am whole, with or without a partner and I am my own home. I can be loud. Cooking isn’t my thing and I can lose my temper. Maths bores me to tears and Science scrambles my brain. But that’s okay. Because this is who I truly am, and I will not shoulder that responsibility to live up to your expectations.
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Davina Dang is the Founder and Creative Director of Omisté. An aspiring freelance writer based in the UK, she tends to focus on topics that concern the current political landscape, identity, mental health and culture.