Sometime over the summer, an Anime House opened up at my local Westfield Mall. I wandered in one day to peruse the merchandise, and came face to face with— well, other faces that made my gut twist.
Specifically, dozens of ahegao faces collaged on sweatshirts, tees and hoodies. The caricatures’ eyes were crossed in the throes of orgasm, mouths hanging open and literally drooling, with absurdly circular, flimsily-covered breasts bouncing just below.
The Pākehā guy behind the counter said hello to me, and I returned a quick “hi” on my way out of this goddamn store.
Asian women in societies where the white male gaze rules supreme have all seen their fair share of similar objectifying representations, and Yuen Ling Elaine Chun, theatrical newcomer, and Gemishka Chetty (Go Home Curry Muncha) are no exception.
Chetty is one half of the creative team that devised Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn?, a play that hunts down the stereotypes and tropes about Asian women, holds them to the light and shoots them dead.
I caught up with Chun and Chetty to talk fetishes, relationships and navigating the space between reality and stereotype — which sometimes gets very cramped.
“We’re either hyper-sexualised, like Bollywood, Kama Sutra, and Aishwarya Rai,” Chetty explains. “Or, there’s the derogatory, xenophobic remarks, ‘I bet your pussy smells like curry, I wouldn’t ever go for an Indian girl’.”
Chun agrees that Asian women are often subjected to a dichotomy. One just has to look to Hollywood for a general idea of how such narratives are structured.
The archetypal Asian woman is black-haired, brown-eyed, sexy-but-doesn’t-know-it, exotic and demure. Any deviation from those behavioural characteristics (i.e. if they’re masculine, rebellious, or angst-y) also requires a deviation from those physical characteristics, hence the birth of the hugely problematic Asian hair streak trope.
“This is something that I didn’t realise until joining the crew, which is the fact that there are two main ways Asian women are presented to us — hyper-sexualised, or not sexual at all, and both are dehumanising,” Chun says.
The reason Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn? offers an incredibly necessary commentary — despite most everyone acknowledging that the Asian fetish exists — is that not everyone sees the imperialist, objectifying Asian fetish as a particularly bad thing.
“I’ve got a lot of Pākehā male friends, and they’ll ask ‘is it really racist if I like how you look? It’s really a compliment, right?’,” Chun says.
That’s eerily similar to my own experiences, where the Asian fetish has been passed off as a preference, or a compliment, or — at the very least — ‘harmless’ by friends and strangers alike (none of which I agree with, as I’ve said before).
Chun adds, “When you’re dating, you almost feel like you’re someone’s bucket list item. Like, ‘mm, yes, now I’ve been with a Chinese girl — check!’”
The 21st-century romance-scape — where everything is digital, and pornography, photographs and the dating pool are as accessible as air — exacerbates the way Asian women are treated, mainly because of the fact that anyone can seek them out.
Chun reflects, “You’re immediately marked as Asian by your profile pictures, and before you can meet anyone in real life, they’ll kind of message weird stuff like ‘I just love your small body, smooth skin, hairless skin,’ or they’ll call you cute for doing nothing at all. It’s like you either have to fight against that, actively try to be loud and brash as an antidote to the little China Doll image, or you end up being boxed in.”
But being boxed in — that is, limited in what you can say, do and experience in a relationship and sexually — is sometimes the path of least strife because Asian women, like many women, still want to feel desirable, and have someone fall in love with us, and fall in love in return.
“We want to be desired, but sometimes the only way to be desired is to live up to the stereotype,” Chetty says. “Okay, he’s expecting this, feminine, submissive thing, so I’ll just be submissive — maybe I’ll orgasm, maybe I won’t, maybe we’ll get married, maybe we won’t.”
She continued, “I remember this guy in high school who only dated Asian women and everyone knew he had Yellow Fever and it was ‘cool’. ‘He’s so cool, he’s so cultured’ and then, as an Asian woman, you want to get to know this ‘cultured’ guy. I don’t know, is that Stockholm Syndrome?”
The conversation is a complex and blurry one — especially as mixed-race relationships become more prevalent in our globalised society. Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn? asks the important questions.
How does porn, film and television influence young Asian women as we grow up?
What parts of our identities and habits are internalised misogyny, and how would we navigate interpersonally if this conditioning was dismantled?
How do we set up healthy power dynamics in our love and sex lives?
Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn? tackles these awakenings, self-reflections and shared experiences with an unapologetic candour and full ownership of one’s true identity.
Chun’s small hope for the play is, “even if a guy in the audience goes ‘Oh. Oh, I never thought about it like that.’ Starting that little seedling of questioning, reflecting, is a super place to begin. They might leave the theatre and start noticing things like I have.”
“Hopefully through this platform, we can give audiences the opportunity to articulate their own experiences,” Chetty tells me. “And validate their right, if someone ever makes a comment to them, to go ‘no, excuse me. What you just said was actually disgusting. Don’t ever say that to me again.’”
Have You Ever Been With An Asian Womxn? will be at the Basement Theatre for two nights only – 28th and 29th February. For tickets and more information, click here.Support Villainesse