i dream of being possible

<-- home

Rice Queens, the colonization of the Asian body, and self-orientalizing, Part 2

(Originally posted at Womanist Musings. Posting here for archival purposes.)

This part of the post is part stuff that has been in my head for a while and part response to the question posed in this post:

But why, when Hollywood looks to Japan, must it so often come down to a white man immersing himself in Japanese culture, always through the love of an exotic Japanese flower, then becoming the one person upon whom the fate of the Japanese people, their code of honor, etc. rests?

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the existence of anti-Asian racism in the gay community. I left off with the observation that the feminization of the Asian man (and, thus, the source of their unique unattractiveness in the gay community) was a result of colonialism, as well as its justification.

The answer to the question posed above is because Japan itself is conceived of as a metaphoric woman. But this is also true of how many of the other Asian cultures were perceived. Colonialism the world over was partially based on the notion of the white saviour. White people needed to be all over Africa to save those poor people from savagery and hellfire. White people were needed in Asia to help save those poor people from their stagnant, weak cultures.

If you read any amount of Western scholarship on Asia, you’ll see many recurrent themes about how it is portrayed, conceived of, and represented in the west. But as a small, contemporary example, here is a clip from Kung Fu Panda:

[the clip has Master Oogway doling out wisdom in that stereotypical way that mysterious Asians have been giving in American cinema since the beginning]

The portrayal of Asia as being mysterious, illogical, and weak is exactly what was used to justify colonization. But also notice how neatly this aligns with the usual man/woman dichotomy. A quick look over this article about Edward Said’s Orientalism you’ll see that the Orient (in this case the Middle East) was constructed as being the opposite of the West. Since the image the West has of itself is being enlightened, white, strong, rational, and male, it is clear to see that the opposite, Asia, is/must be emotional, weak, illogical, and female.

And this is *exactly* why Japan, one of the places very heavily constructed within this binary as being illogical and female (see the West’s fascination with Zen Buddhism and the impact this has on the representation of Japan), needs to be constantly saved by a white man. In movies like the Last Samurai, we see reflections and echoes of the colonial projects of the past. We are encouraged to see all of its people as being instantiations of the Western notion of female. The men are weak and unable to save/protect their country from invaders and the women are (perversely) constructed as ideal women (i.e., the way the West would like all women to behave): utterly docile and servile to white, male needs.

And this is exactly why Asian men are feminized, generally, and in the gay community, specifically. The rice queen is simply a colonizer looking for territory. They are white men who have so bought into whiteness and it’s constructions of other cultures that they are no longer capable of seeing individual Asian men as humans. But the way we are treated/constructed is similar to how I’ve seen women’s experiences described. The need to be constantly available to sexual advances, being silenced, being talked over and down to, being expected to be grateful of abusive behaviour, etc. There is no room for the butch Asian man. Indeed, such a person is impossible, since the butchest Asian man who ever butched will still be about 10x more femme than a white guy.

*There should be about 198 more citations for me to really ground and support the argument I’m presenting here. Unfortunately, these are notions I’ve developed after doing an MA in Asian studies. It is also influenced by Said’s Orientalism and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t quite credit or know how to. I also know that I’ve done a not so great job about illuminating the parallels between sexism and the construction of ‘Asian.’ *shrug* This isn’t an essay and the research is out there for really keen readers.