For Christine Liwag Dixon and others, the bloodshed in Georgia – six Asian women among the dead who were allegedly killed by a man who accused his “sexual addiction” – was a new and terrifying chapter in the shameful story of Asian women looking at sex objects were reduced.
“I’ve made people assume I’m a sex worker or that, as a Filipino woman, I’ll do anything for money because they assume I’m poor,” said Dixon, a freelance writer and musician in New York City. “I had an old boss who once offered me money for sex.”
Tuesday’s rampage at three massage companies in the Atlanta area prompted Asian American women to share stories of sexual harassment or humiliation. They say they have often had to tolerate racist and misogynist men who stick to a narrative that Asian women are exotic and submissive.
Elaine Kim, Korean and retired professor of Asia-American Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, recalled being severely molested by white young men during her school days. Later in life, one of her white students made sexualizing comments about the Asian women in her class and lurked outside their apartments.
Kim was reminded of those moments when she heard the man who had been charged in the Atlanta area shootings said he acted because his targets had tempted him.
“I think it’s likely that the killer not only had a sex addiction, but an addiction to fantasizing about Asian women as sex objects,” she said.
According to police records, two of the massage companies in Georgia had been repeatedly involved in prostitution investigations over the past 10 years. The documents show that 10 people have been arrested for prostitution, but none since 2013.
The suspect in the shootings, a 21-year-old white man, viewed the women in the spas as “sources of temptation,” police said.
Grace Pai, director of the organization for American Americans in Chicago, described the characterization of the attacks as “a real slap in the face for anyone who identifies as an Asian American”.
“We know exactly what this racist misogyny looks like,” said Pai. “And to think that someone had targeted three Asian-owned companies that were occupied by Asian-American women … and not looking at race or gender is just absurd.”
Blaming the women killed as “sources of temptation” blames the women for those who “were there to tempt the shooter who is only the victim of temptation,” said Catherine Ceniza Choy, University of California, Berkeley. Professor of Ethnology and a Filipino American. She said this scenario reflects a longstanding stereotype that Asian women are immoral and hypersexual.
“So the alleged shooter and murderer might think that you can divide racing in this box and sex addiction in a separate box. But it doesn’t work that way, ”said Choy. “These things are intertwined, and race is central to this conversation.”
Stereotypes of Asian women as “dragons” or sexually available partners have existed for centuries. From the moment Asian women began migrating to the United States, they were the target of hypersexualization, said Ellen Wu, a history professor at Indiana University.
The Page Act of 1875 prohibited women from coming to the US from anywhere on “immoral grounds”, but the law was largely enforced against Chinese women.
“As early as the 1870s, white Americans made this connection, this assumption that Asian women are sex objects,” Wu said.
Asian lives are seen as “interchangeable and available,” she said. “They are objectified and viewed as less human. This helps us understand the violence against Asian women as we saw it this week. “
US military operations in Asia also played a role, according to Kim. She said the military had long fueled the sex trafficking there, beginning after the Spanish-American War when human traffickers and brothel owners in the Philippines bought and sold women and girls to meet the demands of U.S. soldiers.
During the Vietnam War, women from Thailand and many other Asian countries were used for sex by US soldiers in various “recreation and recreation” locations. The bodies and perceived subservience of Asian women have been eroticized and hypersexualized, Kim said, and eventually these racial stereotypes were brought back to the United States.
In American culture, Asian women have been fetishized as submissive, hypersexual, and exotic, said Christine Bacareza Balance, professor of Asian-American studies at Cornell University and a Filipino woman.
A prime example is the hugely popular 1887 novel “Madame Chrysanthème”, a French story translated into English in which Japanese women are referred to as “toys” and “China ornaments”. More recently, an Asian woman has generally been portrayed in films as either a “manipulative seductress of a dragon lady or a submissive, innocent” lotus flower “intended to please a man,” Balance said.
Choy, the professor of ethnology at Berkeley, said Tuesday’s shootings and subsequent efforts to remove race from the conversation were another example of the rejection of the racism and sexism that Asian and Asian American women face.
“In American society, Asian Americans are not seen or heard,” she said. “We are sometimes seen in certain ways, as model minorities, as projections of white male imaginations, but we are not seen as full-fledged Americans. We are not seen as full people. It’s kind of erasure and dehumanization. “