Foreign bodies as sexual playgrounds

This was written by Cycads and originally appeared on her blog.

So there was this American guy, Jake, who sat with Gareth and me at lunch last Saturday and was telling us how much he wanted to go to Malaysia because it’s apparently a great place to meet women, and claimed that the country is chockfull of hot-bodied beauties. He also didn’t waste time to explain that the reasons behind his quest was down to his general lack of luck with women and self-confessed socially-inept ways. And so like the many sad, lonely white men with money to squander, he’d like to try his luck with Asian women because they, y’know, love white men, are ultra-feminine and so willing to please, and all that BS.

Now, this was unflattering and offensive on extreme levels to both my boyfriend and myself. First, while being the target audience for this kind of orientalist fantasy talk, Jake had sensed that he was in the company of a fellow Asian fetishist. Secondly, there was a sense that I can help him accomplish his quest, or rather conquest, by offering tips on picking up women from my remote corner of the world.

He chose the wrong woman to discuss his fantasies with.

Men like Jake perpetuate racism, sexism, and colonialism under a more subtle guise in that it’s not about denigrating Otherness, but rather desiring and yearning for it. Today, foreign bodies (places, women, food) are not the scary and mysterious things of the past anymore. Instead they are to be embraced. They make you hip, worldly, in touch with distant cultures of peoples you may never meet in your lifetime (Yirgacheffe coffee, anyone?). So on the face of it, fascination with the exotic Other doesn’t look like racism and the colonial conquest of yore.

So what makes an otherwise well-travelled, highly-intelligent Harvard-Oxford-educated man like Jake essentialise Malaysian women, and most ‘Asian’ women, as beautiful and ever-compliant? The answer is likely to lie in how we see our world and how we ‘consume’ it. In her essay ‘Eating the Other’, bell hooks articulates the way we are fed with media images in advertising, mainstream film-making, and general consumerist culture that fuel our imagination with the allure of the ‘Spicy’, ‘Demure’, and ‘Uninhibited’ Otherness. These images do nothing but reify the racial and capitalist power that are in favour of very specific groups:

When race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure, the culture of specific groups, as well as as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating races, genders, sexual practices affirm their power-over in intimate relations with the Other.

Malaysian women and girls

Gareth asked me last night that surely where Jake comes from there are plenty ethnic-Asian women around to de-mystify his idea of ‘oriental beauty’. My thoughts about this are that women from distant, foreign lands are perceived to be and treated like untouched, uncharted territory. The last frontiers of MANkind, so to speak. I say ‘untouched’ in the way Madonna had once sang about, in that they haven’t been corrupted by feminism and modern, progressive attitudes about love and romance. Cross-cultural virgins.

Incidentally, another well-travelled man called Christopher Columbus once wrote home during his travels in search of India saying that the ancient explorers were wrong about the earth being round. Instead, he postulated, that it was shaped like a woman’s breast, and that, as you might’ve guessed, was his to conquer.

So, the feminisation of land as sites for masculine conquest is as old as the hills. In Anne McClintock’s Imperial Leather, there is a passage in the first chapter, aptly entitled ‘Porno Tropics’, that encapsulates the Western fascination with unknown peoples and cultures that remain unchanged, and mostly unchallenged for centuries to this day:

For centuries, the uncertain continents – Africa, the Americas, Asia – were figured in European lore as libidinously eroticized. Travelers’ tales abounded with visions of the monstrous sexuality of far-off lands, where, as legend had it, men sported gigantic penises and women consorted with apes, feminized men’s breasts flowed with milk and militarized women lopped theirs off. Renaissance travellers found an eager and lascivious audience for their spicy tales, so that, long before the era of high Victorian imperialism, Africa and the Americas had become what can be called a porno-tropics for the European imagination – a fantastic magic lantern of the mind onto which Europe projected its forbidden sexual desires and fears.

  • Meg

    Upon telling a former high school classmate that I was engaged to a Malaysian man who was immigrating, hr told me off on two counts:

    1. My fiance would steal a job from an American worker.
    2. My fiance was stealing an American woman (you know,me, the woman this twit was talking to) from American men, which wasn’t fair.

    I knew for a fact that said classmate had been on a sex tourism trip to Pattaya beach a year ago. Apparently, American men are entitled not only to American women,but to all the other ones too.

  • http://s2solutions.us/wordpress Seth Strong

    I like your post and it’s thought provoking. However, I wonder how big of a deal it actually is to want to travel to a new place in hope of unspoiled opportunities. Jake’s goals are clearly undeveloped, but wherever he goes he’s got to do all the work of establishing a relationship the hard way. Going where the women turn him on does objectify the women at this stage of thought but there also exists a certain practical aspect. If you’ve seen enough Asian beauties to want to get to know one, it’s only natural to look east to relocate. It can’t really be a foul to start with “I want to be in a relationship with a woman I’m attracted to.”

    However, I wholeheartedly agree that it sucks when a rather insensitive man is keeping a submissive woman with a foreign accent. Respect is important, and dudes (or ladies) shouldn’t be able to opt out by finding whole cultures of people with more submissive values. I think you are spot on that Jake is a bit ignorant to how he is coming across. But if that’s the motivation that gets him to move to a whole new country, I have hope that his multicultural experiences will grow him in a better direction even if they are initiated by such base and simplistic desires.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    Seth: what do you mean by “unspoiled opportunities”?

    I disagree that relocating to Malaysia is the place to find an Asian woman. There are large diasporas of women from Asian countries and communities of ethnically Asian women in the West. What Jake’s looking for is an Asian woman who acts in stereotypically Asian ways (i.e., “willing to please.”).

    I also disagree that moving to Malaysia would “cure” Jake of his racism and sexism. It didn’t do much for the British when they moved to India, or the French when they moved into North Africa, or the Dutch when they moved into South Africa. What Jake wants is a mail-order bride at best, and sexual tourism at worst.

  • Rayhana

    Mail-order brides and sex tourism are two sides of the same coin. Some time ago, there was a campaign called “Don’t Buy Thai” because of the Thailand government’s passive encouragement of foreign men (and they weren’t all “Western,” though admittedly most of them were) patronizing establishments that offered prepubescent children for sexual purchase. Even now, wealthy Arab Muslim men purchase Indian girls, prepubescent (the “Aishas”) and not for m’utah marriages, while pathetic Americans peruse catalogs and dream of compliant wives who don’t speak much English.

    All that said, doesn’t Anne McClintock’s screed remind one of what one hears in some Muslim venues about Western countries? That all the women are wearing bikinis and hooker heels to work, disobediently mahram-free, taunting men with their uncovered, vibrating hair and exposed flesh, daring to speak and excite men with their purring voices? If that isn’t “libidinously eroticized,” I don’t know what is.

    There’s as much a market for lies about Western women in the Muslim world as there is a market for lies about Muslim women in the West. Crap is crap, and everytime someone starts spouting it they should be called on it.

  • http://cycads.wordpress.com cycads

    Rayhana,

    “All that said, doesn’t Anne McClintock’s screed remind one of what one hears in some Muslim venues about Western countries? That all the women are wearing bikinis and hooker heels to work, disobediently mahram-free, taunting men with their uncovered, vibrating hair and exposed flesh, daring to speak and excite men with their purring voices? If that isn’t “libidinously eroticized,” I don’t know what is.”

    Totally agree with you! Although, are these fantasy women from the “West” good enough for marriage? Most likely not despite the more lax attitudes towards marrying non-Muslim women (the reverse not so much). That said, I also have to acknowledge the fact that if there’s fantasy involved, marriage is not always part of the package for all men, regardless of where they come from.

  • Rchoudh

    East Asian women have always been fetishized in America since the end of World War 2 thanks to America’s various military adventures in the Pacific. This is the first time I’m hearing about Malaysian women being fetishized however, since much of this fetishization concentrates on Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, and Filipino women. Since Malaysian women are predominantly Muslim, I would assume any fetishization over them would involve those involving Muslim women stereotypes (which are somewhat similar yet different to those involving East Asian women and thankfully not as pervasive). I think it’s really sick when white Western men fantasize about “conquering” women of other lands because they’re deemed to be passive and submissive and all too willing to please their white masters. And I think it’s terrible that there are women out there would willingly fulfill such stupid fantasies.

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  • Joe

    Fetishization goes in (nearly) all directions, and there’s unfortunately plenty to go around. There are major issues right now w/ sex tourism and ‘bride tourism’ with Northeast Asian men in Southeast Asian countries… and you’re starting to see what roughly equates to female sex tourism from places like Britain becoming big in African countries. Not to mention plenty of non-Caucasians who’ve emigrated to “the West” and arrange to marry women from “back home” under questionable circumstances.

    My point is basically that there’s a lot of awfulness to go around, and that conceptualizing this problem as being primarily about Caucasian Westerners does a disservice to all the other people hurt by this sort of thinking in other scenarios.

  • Alderson Warm-Fork

    “I wonder how big of a deal it actually is to want to travel to a new place in hope of unspoiled opportunities”

    I think the ‘big deal’ is that we can see a certain mentality expressing itself here as well as in all kinds of other places, from foreign policy to fashion magazines, and persisting across the centuries. If this attitude exists, then that is a big deal because it’s liable to affect how people behave towards those countries and peoples. To learn that potentially-military policy towards your community is being based partly on sexual fantasies is terrifying.

    Also, there’s always the possibility that Jake will ‘indulge’ in a few pre-pubescent or coerced ‘beauties’.

    “conceptualizing this problem as being primarily about Caucasian Westerners does a disservice to all the other people hurt by this sort of thinking in other scenarios.”
    I don’t think there was any explicit suggestion that none of these other things happen, they just weren’t mentioned, and I think that’s perfectly reasonable because this mentality is the single most powerful one – European imperialism is not the only form (you mention, for example, North-east Asian) but it is the dominant one.


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