Sunday, April 17, 2005

Sexual Fetishization and Culture

The Yale Daily News has a column by Sallie Kim and Shannon Stockdale on the sexual fetishization of Asian women in the U.S. The article draws our attention to events that define a phenomenon, often characterized by the powerful as essentially benign, or, sometimes, as a mere annoyance:

i) "Recently, Princeton graduate student Michael Lohman admitted to police that he had been silently terrorizing more than 50 Asian women on campus by clipping snippets of their hair, spraying them with his urine and pouring his semen or urine in their drinks at university dining halls when they weren't looking. After three years of these repulsive acts, investigators finally caught up with and arrested Lohman last week. They searched his campus apartment and found stolen underwear and women's hair stuffed into mittens that he had been using for sexual self-gratification."

ii) "For example, in 2000, two Japanese college women were abducted, raped, videotaped and told that if they told anybody what had happened, the videotapes would be sent to their fathers. The three white assailants admitted targeting Asian women precisely because they had a sexual fetish for "submissive" Asian women, but also because they believed that this same submissiveness and cultural shame would prevent the women from reporting the assaults. In 2002, N.C. State University student Lili Wang was stalked and murdered by Richard Borrelli Anderson, a white classmate who was infatuated with her and had admitted to a colleague that he had an Asian fetish."

iii) "Not only are Asian women disproportionately targeted in sex crimes, but they are also the least likely to report such incidents. Sex crimes are already grossly underreported, with only an estimated 26 percent of rape victims coming forward, but the percentage of Asian women who do so is even lower, at a mere 8 percent. Police hope that the Asian women will come forward about their harassment in the Princeton incident; however, the statistics tell us that it is not likely."

The article offers two bits of cultural criticism:

i) "Though it may be difficult to identify the exact origins of violence targeted at Asian women, there is no denying that media portrayal of this minority population has had an effect on building preconceived notions and shaping stereotypes of Asian women as passive, exotic and more easily dominated. Images of the Japanese Geisha girl, the South Asian seductress and the China doll pervade American culture and add to the misconception of Asian women. This has had disturbing results. For instance, in 2002, Jennifer Lynn Gossett and Sarah Byrne conducted a content-analysis study of 31 pornographic Web sites that advertised scenes depicting the rape or torture of women, and found that nearly half of the sites used depictions of Asian women as the rape victim."

ii) "Part of the reason why Asian women are not likely to come forward about their victimization in sex crimes is that many Asian cultures put the blame for such crimes on the women. They feel a sense of shame for having been the target of such attacks and feel that they might have done something wrong to invite the attack. It is these ideas and this culture that we must fight and abolish. The stigmatization of rape victims must end."


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