Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Myth of submissive Asian women ensnares the unsuspecting

 •  Previous About Men/Women
 •  Join our About Men/Women discussion

By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

It kills me that Asian women are stereotyped as submissive. I have never met such a creature beyond the age of 25.

The topic got me into a flame war in my early days on the Internet, lurking on a newsgroup about travel in Asia. Every few days, this character would post ads for his book about how easy it is to pick up chicks in Asia, and how grateful those women are to be rescued from their fates — unlike white women.

I posted my own ad, for a book about how easy it is to lure pasty, middle-age American tourists and relieve them of their wallets in the middle of the night. Or to marry one, get U.S. citizenship, then disappear with his credit cards.

Suddenly, white men were sending me notes filled with sadness and disappointment about how they deserve love, too. What's so wrong about that?

In fact, there is a certain equality to this modern cartoon, the rich white guy and the poor Asian girl, just as there is in the "traditional" Asian marriage. Any white guy who has scored his geisha or lotus flower will tell you he was in for a surprise. Along with the little kindnesses — pouring your beer or fluffing your pillows — come a chain of little extortions.

I have always maintained that rice-loving haoles come in two flavors: the newbies, who harbor some Hollywood fantasy of male domination; and the veterans, who already accept the fact that they need a personal manager.

Stereotypes notwithstanding, in the Japanese families I know, Mom controls everything in the household from finances to appliances, and it's only a matter of time until she beats the fight out of Dad.

Beneath the appearance of formal courtesies — the man gets the best seat at the table, where he can sit like a samurai and bark commands — lies the truth of a grown man becoming less and less able to fend for himself. It is not uncommon for men in Japan not to be able to pack their own suitcase or cook themselves a meal.

And so it is, still, in many Hawai'i families: The boys are coddled, the mother fussy, and a man comes of age too helpless to sort his socks without a mother or wife.

"Soft chains are hardest to break." The philosopher G.W. Hegel noted that the master depends on the slave to establish his identity, but the slave does not really need the master, and so is, in a sense, more free.

I muse on this aphorism when I hear the tales of girls left to fend for themselves in Seoul, Bangkok or Manila, and what they had to do to get out. You have to be pretty tough to make your way alone in the world as a maid or prostitute. You really have to want to survive.

It's not just a class thing, either. The naïve Japanese "English student" needs a certain determined pluck to travel abroad after hearing that naïve Japanese girls are the juiciest targets for robbery. This girl really wants out, and she's not likely to settle submissively in some man's prison.

Asian women who survive in the West — amid all of the propaganda that we are victims ripe for the taking — have learned to make good use of every weapon in our grandmothers' arsenals.

Be that steely persistence or soft kisses.

Reach Keiko Ohnuma at kohnuma@honoluluadvertiser.com.