Doctor NerdLove asserts we all have types that turn our cranks more than others. The problem is when it goes from simple physical attraction to fetishization.
It seems like it’s been a bumper year for calling out OKCupid creepers via Tumblr—Nice GuysofOKC, OKCupidGoldMine… even FedorasOfOKCupid1 which helped turn another fashion choice into a way that nature tells us “Do Not Touch“.
Online dating tends to mean that people often let their filters down – the anonymity combined with the impersonalization of online communication often leads to people saying and acting in ways that they likely wouldn’t in person; this is also known as the Penny Arcade Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.
A couple of days ago, the newest version of these—Creepy White Guys—was brought to my attention by readers. Creepy White Guys covers the various profoundly uncomfortable and occasionally downright racist messages that Asian women get sent by white guys who have “yellow fever” or a fetish for Asian women. This naturally started an interesting conversation over on the NerdLove Facebook Page about the nature of attraction vs. racial fetishism – who does it more and what’s so bad about it anyway?
Aside from, y’know, the racism and trading on sexual stereotypes.
(Obligatory ass covering: I’m a cisgendered, heterosexual white guy talking about racial issues. Odds are good I’m going to inadvertently shove my foot in my mouth at high speed. I apologize in advance if I say something stupid out of ignorance and I’ll make appropriate edits as needed.)
The Appeal Of The Exotic
The first thing that needs to be acknowledged: the unusual or the out-of-the-ordinary is appealing… and this includes ethnicity. When you have a relatively homogenous society—or one that has a significant ethnic majority—any divergence from the predominant look is going to catch attention. And some of that attention is going to be sexual.
What is common becomes—to a certain extent, boring. We see it all the time and thus we become used to it. Novelty on the other hand, is eye-catching… and appealing. It’s suspected that this is why blonde hair and blue eyes—both of which are caused by recessive genes—survived; the relative rarity and radical difference from the dark-haired majority made it stand out and caused it to be that much more desirable, giving that person a greater advantage when it came to finding mates.
This is also the frequent cause of so many people’s fascinations with other cultural groups—why so many prep boys seem to have a thing for alt-punk girls, for example. The alt-punks stand out from the usual and represent a change from the expected.
This fascination with novelty actually at least partially hardwired into us, if you will pardon the brief dip of the toe into evo-psych territory; a phenotype that is radically different from the predominant group represents a fresh supply of genetic stock, which represents greater reproductive health and survival chances for newborns. When you live in a small, contained community, you run the risk of crossing genetic lines that are too closely related and developing undesirable recessive traits.
An injection of genetic material from an outside source helps strengthen the local gene pool, weeding out congenital genetic defects.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that we tend to like things that stand out, whether it’s accents, body types, hair color… or race, for that matter.
The problem of course, is that aesthetic novelty of different ethnic groups isn’t the only issue.
Fetishization Is Not A Compliment
Whenever you have an ethnic majority in any area, there will be people who will make presumptions about the minority. Some of those presumptions and preconceived notions will be sexual in nature, and people will be basing their opinions on them.
In the Tumblr Creepy White Guys, we see a fairly common racial fetish – white guys who have a “thing” for Asian women, finding them more desirable than women of other ethnicities. In and of itself, finding people attractive is neutral; your junk is into what your junk is into, no harm no foul. We all have types that turn our cranks more than others. The problem comes when it goes from simple physical attraction to fetishization. Case in point:
Let’s break this down for a second.
To start with, the man is dripping with entitlement issues; his listing his accomplishments – including being white – are set as evidence as to why he “deserves” a hot Asian woman. Notice how much care or attention he pays to the woman he’s writing to: absolutely none. There’s nothing about “hey, we both Neil Gaiman novels and long road trips across the country! We have a lot in common!” or about what attracts him to her as an individual. Instead, he’s asking her to apply – as though for a job – but only if she meets his stringent requirements. He knows nothing about her and cares even less.
Then we get to the fact that the man is a racist.
“But hey,” I hear some folks say, “he’s saying that Asian women are the best. Isn’t that a sign that he’s notracist? After all, he’s talking about how much he loves Asian women.”
No. No, not at all. This pretty much makes him as much of a racist douchebag if he lead off with jokes about doing his math homework (or his dry-cleaning, for that matter) or martial arts.
Just because these stereotypes are considered “desirable”2 that doesn’t mean that it’s a compliment; it reduces a person from an individual to a collection of stereotypes and presumptions based on race, ethnicity and cultural background.
His ideas of what Asian women are like are based off the idea that all south-east Asian women are docile and submissive—regardless of whether she’s Chinese, Mongolian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Hmong, Korean, Japanese or Pacific Islander… or just plain American. Not only is he trading on racist stereotypes, he’s betraying just how goddamn ignorant he is of her cultural background.
His belief that Asian women are the “best” isn’t because of a love of, say, Thailand’s long and amazing history and rich culture, it’s based off the idea that an Asian woman will be submissive to him and treat him like aking, unlike those uppity white, black and latina women with their insistence on crazy notions like “equality” and “mutual respect”.
In other words: he’s hoping for a pretty, Asian fucktoy who will submit to his every whim, clean his house, cook his food and let him parade her around with his other possessions. She’s not a person, she’s a prop, a literal trophy. Just one that will give him blowjobs on demand.
Let’s look at another example from another classy gent:
This is another common approach from folks who have racial fetishes: assuming stereotypes about the men of another ethnic group and trying to set yourself in opposition to them.
We get a double-whammy here: the idea that all Asian women are submissive man-pleasers held in subjugation by chauvinist Asian men who will only abuse them, cheat on them and (super classy move, bro) rape them.
(Anyone else get the impression that this winner jerks off to the idea of “rescuing” his Asian princess after she’s been viciously gang-banged and getting ALL THE SEX as a reward?)
But of course, he wants to save her from all that and put her up on the pedestal where she deserves to be. So maybe he’s ignorant but his heart is in the right place, right?
Again: no. Much like the first creeper, this isn’t about her as a person, it’s about his idea of what Asian women are like. Just because you’re promising to “worship” and “cherish” her doesn’t make you better than the guys who are up front about wanting their geisha fantasy doesn’t make you any better. Just as with people who elevate geek girls to goddess status, it’s stripping the woman of her individuality and personhood and reducing her to component parts. By putting her on that pedestal, she’s no longer an individual, she’s a collection of fantasies, expectations and stereotypes (who dishes out killer blowjobs)… and expecting her to be grateful for it.
It’s worth noting: while I’m focusing on white guys creeping on Asian women, this is hardly limited to folks with “yellow fever”; Creepy White Guys has just provided a convenient jumping off point with plenty of examples at hand. Racial fetishism covers the length and breadth of ethnic groups – there are people who fetishize African-American women, Latinas… pick an ethnic group, someone out there has decided they have a “thing” for them.
MRAs And Fanboys – Why People Fetishize Race
There isn’t any one group that ends up fetishizing other ethnic groups; you are as likely to find hard-core Nipponophiles3 who have an obsession with Japanese women as you will find men who have “given up” on white women because they’re too “independent”.
In fact, there are many Men’s Rights Advocates who fetishize women from India, south-east Asia and Arabic countries because of their supposed “docile” nature; they are—supposedly—“uncorrupted” by pesky modern ideas like feminism and equal rights and are more likely (or so the theory goes) to treat men “with respect”. After all, why deal with Western women who won’t put up with your shit when everybody knows Asian women would be so grateful that a white guy will deign to rescue them from their third-world homeland that they’ll treat him like a king.
Fanboy-ism is often another cause of fetishization. Many otaku, for example, go through a stage of Nipponophilia. Some reach a level where their interest in all things Japanese goes to an extreme; they want to be Japanese. They pepper their speech with pidgin Japanese, eat Japanese snacks almost exclusively, curse their Western heritage for not having the “luck” to be born Japanese… and look for Japanese partners exclusively. To them (and other fanboys; this is hardly restricted to otaku), a Japanese girlfriend—Japanese specifically, Chinese and Koreans need not apply—is the ultimate status symbol. It makes them Japanese by injection, living out all of his Love Hina fantasies with the symbol that he has achieved the Nihonjin apotheosis.
To be fair: there are also complicated social pressures that can lead towards racial preferences; the current western standard of feminine beauty puts emphasis on northern European features, for example. There is also a great deal of discussion about social coding that corresponds with interracial dating, especially in the African-American and Asian communities. This tends to fall somewhat outside of the remit of this site, but it is worth noting that it does exist.
The Difference Between Attraction, Preference and Fetish
After all of this, it can sound like I think that people who are open to or interested in interracial dating are hiding racial fetishes. I don’t. I do, however, think that people who are interested in interracial dating need to be aware of the potential. There will be times when it can be fun to be objectified; after all, we’re not just people, we’re pieces of meat and we like to feel desirable. The problem arises when a person’s interest goes from a preference to an active fetish; it goes beyond a fondness for an aspect of someone to becoming the foremost necessary quality.
For example: I, like many nerds, have a thing for redheads. Personally, I blame exposure to Molly Ringwald and Space Ace at an impressionable age.
When all other things are equal, red hair can be a factor that pushes me towards one person or another. However, just because I like red hair doesn’t mean that I only date gingers, nor do I believe that redheads are somehow superior to all other women.
A preference can come from any number of places—familiarity, a positive experience, a negative experience, even pop-cultural exposure. A preference can color a person’s choice of partner but doesn’t necessarily overwhelm it; a woman might have a preference for tall Nordic men but be equally happy with her husband if he were short and Mediterranean because he’s himself.
With fetishes, the race and/or ethnic background of the person involved is of supreme importance. It puts the emphasis on the ethnicity and culture—and perceived stereotypes—rather than on the individual. It isn’t that a person’s race is one factor in a host of others that attracts them, it’s the sole factor. If the fetishist’s Chinese girlfriend was suddenly white or latina, his interest would evaporate. The dudes featured at Creepy White Guys aren’t interested in individual women who happen to be Asian, they’re interested in Asianwomen; if they were black, Persian or white, they would never have looked twice.
Attraction is a complicated beast; we can’t know everything about why we prefer certain features or aspects about someone. It’s a complex mix of biological, evolutionary and cultural issues that can’t be picked apart easily. It is important, however, that we examine just what it is that attracts us to people… and the behaviors of the people who claim to be attracted to us.