Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Thought on the Sexuality of the Main Characters in the Books

There is a huge stereotype of Asian Women. They are often portrayed as mysterious and over sexualized. We have talked about this idea a few times in class. I think many tend to feel that this is a negative for the group. So, I have been puzzled as to why every book we have read so far has had some over sexualized woman in them. All of which fit the stereotype.

To Review:

In Dogeaters, Lolita Luna captured the imagination of the men on the islands with her soft core pornography. She seemed to be a capable of standing up to the General and Severo Alcaran, but most of the time, she seemed like their puppet. She was also one of the few female characters in the play that wasn’t very strong. She was of great contrast to people like Rio, who seemed to skip past the normal ideas about Asian women.

In The Interpreter, Suzy has an affair with not one, but two white men. She represented a sort of fantasy for both of them. In away, this book progressed the negative ideas about Asian women the most. Two white men see Suzy as their fantasy, and she allows them to.

In The Interpreter of Maladies, Mrs. Das is the one who tells the interpreter about her sexual past. She is the one who tries to seduce the man, however unintentionally.

In School for Hawaiian Girls, Lydia is the one that seems to be the most sexually seductive. She even seduces her own brother in a rather shocking sex scene. Later, Moani has sex with her second in command, saying that she felt entitled.

So here is my question. Why are all of these characteristics important to the characters? Don’t they progress the stereotype.

I think that the authors intended use the sexual ideas around Asians as a way to further explain their characters. Though they were progressing the stereotype, the women in these novels were much more complex.

Lolita Luna was sexualized, but the author informs us about her drug habit and her sad relationship with both the General and Severo. She is in contrast to the other female characters, like Daisy and Rio, who both end up defying their male counterparts. This could be a way for the author to show that even though certain women do have traits similar to the ones perceived, there are plenty of strong women as well.

Suzy, though she had sexual mystique about her, dealt with constrictive parents and was constantly trying to figure out her identity. She had a reason for having problems.

Mrs. Das was a lonely housewife, not very happy in her marriage and living an all too common life. That was some explanation for her history.

Lydia was just a girl, one that didn’t know any better. Her sex scene with her brother made her look innocent, which in some ways explains her actions. Moani was a powerful woman and often didn’t want to engage in a relationship. She projected a sense of loneliness, one that she was filling the night she slept with her second in command.

Though each of the characters had interesting sexual habits, the authors took us around those ideas to reveal more complex people. Perhaps, they were all trying to make us look past the stereotype that dominate us, and see that these women are much more than meets the eye.


Q said...

This is a captivating blog that raises a lot of questions about sexual stereotypes in the novels we have read in this class. I was interested especially in your thesis that concerns sexuality developing characters further. In School for Hawaiian Girls, sexuality seems to be present all throughout the novel, especially more than the other novels we have read. Why is this? The temptation for sex in an all-girls school is easily explained, but why does Pu have such a drive to have a baby? Some of it is explained as a sense of jealousy on the part of Moani, but it seems almost unrealistic for an eight year old in a thirty-five year body to comprehend the process of sex and sexual desire. But then there is Sam and the other boys on the island who seem to have a strong sense of sexual desire at an early age. Even Dixie and her desire for sex on the kayak trip with Henry are easy to see. It seems as though sex is a very strong and persuasive theme that runs throughout the entire novel, especially more prevalent than the other novels we have read.

Max said...

I had some of the same questions regarding the way that the characters you illustrated were quantified sexually; namely, they seemed to be perpetuating the stereotype rather than opposing it. I wondered whether or not the author had intended to write the characters that way, or if they (the authors) had unknowingly written protagonists that seemingly reinforced our preconceived notions of Asian-American women. For Suzy Park, to me it seemed she represented a clash of the two ideas. Her kept-woman status certainly enhanced her sexual objectificaiton and eventual role as mistress to both Damian and Michael, yet her passivity suggests that perhaps Suzy is indeed in control of each situation, and is using the men to gain her own sexual fulfillment regardless of how she is viewed by the world. I guess you could read it either way, and the question, as you've pointed out, arises in nearly all of the texts we've covered.

Mari said...

This topic was actually what I wrote about for my first essay. I discussed the way in which Suki Kim uses Suzy to explore the difficulty of Asian American women to create an identity that is not defined by stereotypical American expectations. I actually think that her relationships with Damian and Michael exemplify Suzy’s inability to fully embody an American identity. On some level I think that Suzy realizes that she can never really embody this identity, despite how much she wants it. This parallels the men she chooses to have relationships because she can never have them all to herself.

It’s interesting, Q, that you bring p how many sexual scenes are in School for Hawaiian Girls. First of all to attempt to answer your questions about Pu, I think it’s entirely possible for a woman who is 35 with a mentality of an 8 year old to have sexual desires. Despite the age of her mind, it’s really her body and hormones that are at the level of a 35 year old, which I think might be the sexual peak of a woman. It’s not necessary for people to understand the process of sex, in order to have sexual drives. But more than that, I think that the author uses these sexual experiences because aside from being an Asian American stereotype, it is very much a stereotype for Hawaiian girls. For whatever reason, especially in kids that stay in Hawaii as opposed to going to college, there are still a decent amount of teenage pregnancies. In the case of the book, it could be understood that this was a stereotype that the missionaries had of Hawaiians for having babies at a young age. This is probably what led Sarah to check the girls bloody cloths each month because she was ensuring that they did not turn out this way. Do you think that we just notice the sexual themes throughout the books because we know that there these stereotypes of Asian women exist? Because these stories could easily be about Caucasian women who are sexual and we would probably not think much of it.

lauren_oliver said...

For some reason sexuality and Asian women have become synonymous, at least in popular culture. When we talk about Asian women and sexuality I think that it is just as important to take away the Asian and focus on women. Throughout history sexuality has been used by women as a source of both economic freedom, and social rebellion.

Even today when women have the resources available to participate in all levels of society the sex industry still attracts women of all economic and racial backgrounds. Why? I think to fully explore this issue we need to analyze the power of sexuality. What power is given to a woman who uses her sexuality as means that is not given to women who do not? Now apply immigrant where Asian has been taken away; how does this apply?

The Asian can also be replaced by Russian and we can see the same dynamic with the mail order bride system and the use of sex as a means of escape from Russia and the Male/female dynamic that takes place their. Now switch back to Asian women. How has immigration into the United States and the want to come to the United States played a role in the sexuality of the Asian woman? Why has the Asian woman become a symbol of sexuality?

Lucas said...

Wow, there are a lot of really great ideas here.
Going along with what Q said about "Hawaiian Girls" being sex saturated, there is one scene in the book that I've been thinking about a lot. It's almost at the end, when Sam is having the Moani's "hotel" torn down. I believe there is a reference to him having an erection and he reaches between Dixie's legs. I've been really trying to get the significance of that scene. One thing is for certain, Sam sure doesn't seem to have lost his sexual appetite despite what happened with Lydia and despite been roughly in his mid-70's. I think it says a lot about the link between sex and power, and it says a lot of other stuff that I haven't figured out yet.
Secondly, I thought Mari hit it right on the head with her last two sentences. Miranda in "Sexy" in "Interpreter of Maladies" embraces being a mistress just like Suzy does, but she is white. I don't know that the sexuality of any of these characters has anything to do with being Asian.
I think one reason that sex seems to be so prevalent in the books that we've read is that all of these books are very honest and unflinching. And in real life, sex is one of those topics on which we are rarely honest and forthcoming with each other. In my non-fiction writing workshop last night, one of the students was expressing some embarrassment over admitting in her paper that she had sex. Our professor's brilliant response to put her at ease was, "Most of us do it eventually." And so of course sex is going to be a major component of these characters lives because it is a major component of our lives. Maybe we find their sex lives "abnormal," but if they were "normal," would we be talking about them right now?

Carey said...

I noticed that about Sam too, and I am also still trying to decipher everything the author tells us about his sexuality. There was another instance in Sam's narrative that deals with sex and power, and it's on page 167: "He smacked my face. Oh yeah. My dick was pointing straight up. 'You do that good, Reverend.'"
I was confused by this part- why would being slapped by a grown man arouse Sam? I never thought about it in the context of power, props on that observation Lucas. Perhaps there is a link between the fact that he had no control over Lydia's death, and he longs for control in his sexual relationships after that, and being a man, aggression becomes the power he can exert over women. That may explain the way he treats his many wives. But then... Why would the Reverend slapping him have that effect on him? If any display of aggression and power turns Sam on, wouldn't we have heard about it in other instances?