Weeaboos Not Welcome: The evolution of Asian fetishization through pop culture

“You kind of look like a loli,” he says.

For the lucky ones who don’t know what that is, a loli is an anime term used to describe a small, Asian, girl who is definitely a minor but is portrayed in deeply inappropriate ways.
It was during a field trip last fall. All I could think to myself was Why did he say that? Was I supposed to take that as a compliment?

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time I was to encounter this type of comment. Many are familiar with Yellow Fever, the racial fetishization of Asians, particularly East Asians.

Originating from tales of Japanese and Vietnamese prostitutes seducing US soldiers during WW2 and the Vietnam War, it is the fantasy that Asian women are quiet, submissive, yet sexually promiscuous. In short, a misogynist’s wet dream. Literally.

It has since manifested itself into stereotypes, books, movies, and plays such as “Ms. Saigon” and “Madame Butterfly,” both which are sexist romances about relationships between Asian protitutes and American men.

This idea that Asian women would gracefully embrace male dominance whilst being an exotic sex toy spread like an epidemic, hence the name Yellow Fever.

Some believe that those days of Asian fetishization are long dead. And while the days of the hooker who squeals “me rikey” seems to be numbered, Yellow Fever, as popular culture and the Internet can attest, is still very much alive.

When you search up the word “Asian” on Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr or any popular image-sharing website, the first thing you get is porn. This fact alone is telling about how Asians, especially Asian women, are viewed as sexual objects. Fetishization hasn’t gone away, it has just evolved.

But who exactly are these new generation fetishizers? A large number of them are Weeaboos: people, mostly men, obsessed with Japanese culture, particularly anime to the point of bastardization and fetishization. Although the butt of many internet jokes, they run free in their toxic environments, able to normalize casual racism and the the objectification of East Asian girls via anime.

I should clarify that watching anime alone does not make anybody a racial fetishizer; however, participating in the objectifying culture, which is unfortunately prevalent in the anime community, does.

The problem isn’t just that these are a group of Internet losers who stare all day at lewd drawings of anime girls, but how this objectification translates into reality.

It’s more than subreddits that are dedicated to racy pictures of Asian girls, or threads that go on and on about how much the contributors want a submissive Japanese waifu (a Japanese twist on the word wife, which often refers to anime characters). It’s more than posts describing in disgusting detail their plans to woo the closest East Asian girl, or the katana collections and sexy half nude figurines (hallmarks of some of the worst weeaboos). It has a real impact.

Robin Zheng, author of the article “Why Yellow Fever Isn’t Flattering: A Case Against Racial Fetishes” for the American Philosophical Association, illustrates the damages of this behavior.

“Yellow Fever places disproportionate psychological burdens on Asian women.” Zheng told Anthro. “Women confronted with Yellow Fever often feel homogenized, that is, treated as interchangeable with other Asian women. They also feel otherized, that is, separated from and held to a different standard compared to White women,” she says.

“Since women often internalize their own objectification, learning to see themselves as the object of others’ desire, they may be vulnerable to low self-esteem, body shame, eating disorders, and other physical and psychological harms.”

She goes on to say how these communities contribute to said damages.

“The emergence of online communities such as [ weeaboos ] have played a role in increasing the prevalence of racial fetish and hence the harms it causes. Just as consumers develop particular brand loyalties with which they self-identify, watching certain categories of racialized pornography may license people to self-identify with certain sexual preferences — which can strengthen the preference and make it even more exclusive. So, participating in such a community can contribute indirectly to harm, irrespective of how a particular individual behaves in their own life.”

And it doesn’t just stop there. Although sexual objectification is an issue that affects all women, yellow fever promotes sexualized stereotypes, making it worse for Asian women as according to Zheng. “[Asian women] are more likely to be subject to sexual harassment and violence; indeed, some research has focused specifically on the role of stereotypes when men inflict sexual violence on Asian women.”

In other words, it’s not as if Asian women are being ‘too sensitive’ on the issue. There is a real mental and physical harm that comes with this behavior.

It was real for Saki Kondo, a Japanese woman who was decapitated by her American Tinder date in Japan last year as reported by Nextshark. It was real for Quyen Ngoc Nguyen, a Vietnamese woman who was tortured, raped, and then burned alive in the UK also last year according to the Independent. It was real for the 10 Asian women who were stalked then raped by a single man in California over the course of 20 years, also reported by NextShark

Fetishization dehumanizes, hurts, rapes, and kills. It creates a culture that
starts with lewd comments under a drawing of a 12-year-old wearing cat ears and a maid uniform. And continues with yelling random Japanese words at any unsuspecting East Asian woman or girl on the street. And it ends with bloody violence against Asian women. As reported by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 41% to 61% of Asian women experience sexual and physical violence from their intimate partners.

The worst part? The issue isn’t taken seriously. A lot of the atrocities cited above were not even ruled as hate crimes, despite the glaring evidence, including the use of racial slurs and the targeting of Asian women. Addition- ally, the incidents mentioned above barely had any media attention, except for Asian news and culture outlets.

Our experiences and the violence we go through are often silenced by the model minority myth. Many other people of color continue to claim that Asians are not POC because of the “model minority” myth that all Asians are successful.

Although East Asians have privilege, we still experience racism and suffer from violent hate crimes, but because of this privilege, many people excuse Asian racism and fetishization.

The common dismissal and joking online about weeaboos and other Asian fetishizers are enables weeaboos to continue to harass Asian girls. If their actions are not being taken seriously, it sends the message that this is acceptable behavior and that Asians should be viewed as 2D sex objects to drool over.

When someone writes about the effects of fetishization and how it must end, hysterical men stampede the comments. They defend their stereotyping and racism, claiming that it is “just a preference.” As you’d expect from someone who stares at catgirls on the Internet all day, they don’t know the difference between a preference and fetish.

A preference, as defined by the dictionary, is liking something more than another. While a fetish, is built on hurtful racial stereotypes that say that we are only here for your fantasies. A preference is harmless, a fetish, in its worst form, kills.

But we are not your dolls.

We are not your rare collectible body pillow.

We are not your submissive trophies.

We are not your porn category.

It’s time that we took fetishization seriously and see these weeaboos as not just online nuisances, but as the threat they really are.

The first draft of this article was published under the same name at Overachiever Magazine, a magazine made by and for Asian women.