Monday, January 15, 2007

On Yen Le Espiritu's Essay

The first point that Espiritu raises is that of sexual stereotypes and how they perpetuate the overall racial hierarchy. Sexuality is used to both classify (and thus segregate) and demean either sex of a particular race, whether it be by the examples used ("wily Chinese detective..., sexless, hairless Asian male...," pp1 etc) or by others. I feel that the way a race's sexuality is portrayed directly impacts the level of racism they face from their oppressors because it immediately sets the stereotyped race apart from what is culturally the norm, creating an atmosphere of misunderstanding and irrational fear of a somehow sexually deviant race. Sexuality in American media has become such a huge part of our culture that to paint an entire race in this negative sexual light thrusts that race out of what is seen as the cultural norm, making reentry into the positive social mainstream very difficult.
I had a question as to the validity of the statement on page 1, where Espiritu says that " of color are viewed not as the protector, bur rather the aggressor-a threat to white women." While I agree that the overarching theme of racism is directed mainly toward those of color, I wondered why men of color are specifically a threat to white women, and women of color are not seen in the same light with respect to white men. I thought it might have something to do with either the sexism that exists in our male-dominated culture and that somehow a white man isn't as susceptible to so-called "sexually aggressive" women of color, or that Espiritu was saying men of color are more sexually aggressive than women. I might have read it wrong, but I was a little unsure as to what was going on there. Another question I had was how the male and female Asian American stereotypes have double-standards as is stated ("hypermasculine" and "effeminate", "superfeminine" and "castrating"). Castrating? Ouch.
As far as my own feelings about this essay, I really took to heart the idea that the Asian American culture within America actually perpetuates racial stereotypes that exist in the mainstream society. As Espiritu says, even a traditional Asian American family, existing in and of itself, can unknowingly help further stereotypes about Asian American sexuality and gender roles. In light of that, you can see Espiritu's point of intertwined lines of sexual and gender domination and how only a comprehensive overhaul of both cultural racism and sexism can shed light on the repression that effects the Asian American population.


1 comment:

Priya Jha said...

What might also be interesting to analyze is the commonalities and the divergences between the social construction of Black masculinity and Asian American masculinity in the U.S. In Le Espiritu's essay, when she talks about Asian American men being a threat to white women, I had to wonder if it was in the same ways as Black men and the quick response I had was "of course not!"
We know that the history of slavery in the U.S. and Black men's helplessness in protecting their women from the slaveholders fueled the threat of black manhood during the reconstruction period. In this sene, that threat seems so apparent. But, in terms of Asian American men?
I think for someone who'd be interested in exploring Asian American feminism for their final project, this might be a good area to explore. I know that there is an emergent body of scholarship that is now theorizing Asian American masculinity. In fact, we had a job candidate in Race and Ethnic Studies last week who works on this very topic.